Thursday, January 22, 2009
(Revelers throng to the Washington Monument for Obama's swearing-in.)
A four-day weekend of high expectations came to a gleeful close Tuesday, as Barack Obama was sworn in as President of the United States. Nearly two million people crowded the vast frozen common of the National Mall to watch the brief swearing-in ceremony, while thousands who held tickets to secure areas at the foot of Capitol Hill found themselves trapped in immobile hordes. Thousands spent the ceremony trapped underground in the Third Street tunnel under Pennsylvania Avenue, after being directed there by confused police.
For the record-shattering crowds who clustered around the twenty-one Jumbotrons erected on the Mall, Inauguration Day consisted of long, meandering walks around an overzealous network of security barricades punctuated by the high emotion of the ceremony itself. Revelers cheered and booed as past presidents and cabinet nominees filed into the bleachers above the inaugural podium. Both Presidents Bush and a wheel-chair bound Dick Cheney drew thunderous hisses and boos from the excited crowd, while Bill and Hillary Clinton and the Obamas received cheers and ululations each time they appeared on the enormous screens. After President Obama finished his oath, strangers hugged one another and people openly wept. When Reverend Joseph Lowery finished his benediction with a call and response of "amen," the call was answered with triumphant excitement.
Sunday's free concert on the Mall augured Tuesday's historical turnout. Half a million people filled the grounds around the Lincoln Memorial to watch Sunday's star-studded performance, more than the entire turnout to George W Bush's second inauguration in 2005.
(Spectators filled the west slope of the Washington Monument.)
(This man came from Jalisco to represent el espiritu Azteca.)
(After the concert, people flooded the streets around the White House.)
Monday, the Mall buzzed with excitement. Visitors took turns throwing shoes at effigies of former President Bush. Throughout DC, officials put finishing touches on complex and overlapping security precautions. Buildings around downtown were searched and sealed. Groups of National Guard troops occupied street corners along Florida Avenue and took up positions outside shuttered liquor stores. The historic U Street corridor filled with visitors who flooded restaurants, clubs and bars. Dozens stood in line outside Ben's Chili Bowl.
Hours before dawn on Tuesday, attendees began the long march towards the Mall or the sidewalks of Pennsylvania Avenue. The streets around the Capitol were closed, forcing uncoordinated streams of tens of thousands into chaotic confluences that left thousands stranded. Barricades and bottlenecks corralled masses of people without clear signs or informed officials to guide them. Happily, they were in a cheery mood.
(Thousands spent the swearing-in trapped in the "Tunnel of Doom.")
(Nearly two million filled the National Mall.)
(People climbed trees and portable toilets for a better view.)
While the atmosphere was jubilant, the crowd clearly harbored resentment towards eight years of Bush leadership. As current and former government officials streamed into the bleachers on Capitol Hill, the masses on the Mall booed vociferously as George HW Bush, George W Bush and Dick Cheney appeared on the Jumbotrons. When Bill and Hillary Clinton appeared, they cheered. President Obama's motorcade, his family and his cabinet nominees received shouts of praise. When the President appeared, the cheers were deafening. After Chief Justice John Roberts bungled the administration of the oath of office, Obama delivered his inaugural address with the surety and rhetorical confidence he demonstrated on the campaign trail, promising renewed national unity in the face of two wars and global economic collapse.
(President Obama takes the oath of office beside his wife Michelle.)
After the swearing-in concluded, exiting the Mall took hours. As crowds bled away, they revealed fields of detritus amounting to more litter than all the litter ever left on the Mall combined, the Park Police said today. While people waited to clear needless and redundant barricades, they were treated to a flyover by the Marine helicopter ferrying former President Bush to Edwards Air Force Base, where he caught a flight to Midland, Texas. Once clear of Mall, crowds dissipated quickly, catching Metro trains to distant hotels, filling bars and restaurants, and walking back to their neighborhoods.
During the Congressional luncheon immediately after the swearing-in, Senators Edward Kennedy and Robert Bird were taken to the hospital after Kennedy had a seizure. Senator Bird was so upset, he was also taken to the hospital as a precaution. After a forty minute delay caused by their departures, Obama left Capitol Hill in his new, highly armored limousine dubbed "The Beast." He seemed happy, despite the unfortunate interruption, and opted to walk portions of the parade route before arriving at the review stand opposite the White House. After appearances at ten inaugural balls, the President returned to the White House with his wife, where they drank champagne with a small cohort of guests.
(After the swearing-in, George W Bush took one last flight over DC.)
(The line into Capitol South Metro Station reached two blocks.)
(Many crowded the homes of local residents, eager to witness to history.)