I arrived down in Washington D.C the saturday before the inauguration with a few friends. We left a few days early to beat traffic and also because a few of us wanted to get some film footage of the weekends festivities. I went to the American University in Washington from 1999 and 2003 and i have to admit that the climate during those four years was much different then the climate now in 09 with President Obama coming to office. In my four years we experienced 9/11, the Iraq War, Anthrax, Sniper attacks and the beginning of what would be a failing economy. Although those memories were certainly present the optimism and hope would prevail amongst the masses this weekend in D.C.
Everyday there were more people arriving. We experienced only mild traffic congestion but every new day we had friends report that it was a bit more difficult for them to get into the Capitol. Everywhere we went people would cheer “Obama! Obama!”, it was much more reminiscent of the Beatles then an incoming President, although cheers for pop stars are generally reserved for their presence. Obama could have been in another country, people were still cheering his name. At one point i walked down Adams Morgan and cheered with the crowd of people that lined up and down the bars on the street. A young woman and i looked at one another and immediately embraced in a strong and heartfelt hug. I had never met the woman before. The energy was infectious.
The night before the inauguration we were all out till 3 am partying, dancing, drinking. Unfortunately we had to wake up at 6 am to drive further into the city so we could get close to the Mall. We all dragged our weary and mostly still drunk bodies from our slumber and got in my car. We made our way down past Howard University before Soldiers prevented us from getting any closer and asked us to park in the neighboring area. What marveled us most was that none of them had weapons on them, Obama had requested that all soldiers not carry armed guns (at least noticably to the public). We parked the car and began our trek in the bitter cold. We were not alone. The streets filled with people singing and dancing in the wee hours of the morning. The sun had yet to greet us, it was 20 degrees outside, yet everyone was in high spirits.
As we made our way closer to the Mall the crowds grew and momentum carried us. There were no real signs directing us but just a general direction we were all being pulled. We came across the highway that leads under the Capitol Mall, it was closed to automobiles but open to citizens. Thousands of people, like herds across the plains migrating to see this historical event. It was surreal and eery. You only see people walking down highways like that in movies and usually its apocalyptic imagery.
We arrived at our blue gate around 8 am only to find no signs of direction and thousands and thousands of people lined through the street. We immediately placed ourselves in line and waited. The wind was blistering and all of us were huddled together. Yet the mood was jovial. People told jokes, sang songs, hugged one another and chatted as if they were long lost friends. The hours went by though and it became quite apparent that we were not going to get through the gates in time for Obamas Speech. Basically it was general chaos and complete disorganization. Luckily our fortitude lead us to explore and we arrived through the silver gate just in time for an awful song by Aretha Franklin.
Obama came on, like most of us know by now and gave a somber and realistic speech on the state of our country and world. Although his words lacked the hope from his earlier speeches you wouldnt find its effect apparent on the faces of the millions watching live. People were crying, but with those tears were smiles.
Here are a few pix from the weekend: