I watched the main event with my friend Max. Our day started with the Metro ride discussed in a previous post. After that harrowing experience, we proceeded to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, where the nearest gate for silver ticket holders was located. The line was about a mile long, crossing itself multiple time and stretching past Virginia Avenue. Just when you thought you’d found the end of it, you’d round a block and discover even more. Fortunately we didn’t have to wait through it all – the line just sort of dispersed into multiple little lines heading towards several gates.
The crowd at our gate was thick as thieves, and getting in was very slow since most of the attendees had to be searched by hand. There was lots of pushing and even more confusion since most of us couldn’t see over the crowd and had no clue what was going on. It took a couple hours, but we eventually got in. Things weren’t so smooth elsewhere – you may have heard about the Purple of Doom. I know four people who were stuck in it; two Congressional staffers were kept from the Inauguration, but two of Max’s other friends figured out what was going on and got out in time to cut in line elsewhere.
The crowd was something else. We were at the very back of the silver ticketed area near Fourth Street, as you can see on this map. We could have moved up further, but the crowd would have gotten more dense and we had a good enough view of the Capitol and a Jumbotron, as you can see from these pictures. About 240,000 people were in front of us, so another 1.6 million stood behind us. Girl and Boy Scouts had passed out around 300,000 American flags, and it was really cool to see them all waving like crazy. Here is a video I took of the crowd as the first President Bush and President Clinton were brought out to the dias. Bush's recepetion is lukewarm, Clinton's much louder:
As you can hear Max saying, the temperature wasn't all that bad - maybe mid-20s? Just a few days before, I'd been waiting for a bus in -14 weather. The temperature did plummet, however, right at the end of the Inauguration - as one friend joked, when Obama left the stage he took his warmth with him.
I was disappointed, although not surprised, when the crowd booed the second President Bush. While I would boo him at any rally or speech, this was a national event about looking forward rather than backwards. I have too much respect for the office and for the man’s personal heart and patriotism to boo him at an event like this, so just gave him a golf clap and kept my mouth shut. I did, however, join hundreds of thousands of others in singing, “Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye!”
(Here is one of my photos of Bush’s helicopter taking off; you can find two more on Flickr.) Although most of my regular commenters feel differently, I did not disapprove of Obama’s choice of Rick Warren to give the opening invocation. Yes, his activism on Proposition 8 and his position on homosexuality in general is abhorrent, and I am rather ticked at him for meddling in internal Episcopal Church affairs. That said, as evangelicals go, he really is a superstar. The difference between him and other popular conservative evangelical leaders is that these positions are not his focus. His focus is on fighting poverty, stopping AIDS, and lifting up children in the third world. We cannot cast out a third of this country just because we find them intolerant in some regards, for they are still Americans. What we must do is find the rational leaders and common ground that do exist and learn how we can work together now as we wait for the more tolerant younger generation to take over. Rick Warren is that rational leader, if nothing else. His inclusion is an excellent way to bring in that third of America and make this a truly national event. When Pastor Rick invited Senator Obama to Saddleback several years ago to talk about AIDS, many influential voices in his congregation howled and said “But he’s pro-choice!” Warren said “So what? I’m not asking him here to talk about abortion.” On that same note, the Inauguration wasn’t about homosexuality, but about unity in a historical moment.
Though it’s a little hard to tell from this video, the crowd got very quiet for the President’s Oath – at the very least, all the chanting and cheering paused. Here is Chief Justice John Roberts swearing in Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States. The camera goes crazy when Max tackles me and starts dancing around. When he saw the video on Facebook he said, “I think that's the happiest I’ve ever seen myself.”
I started jumping up and down like crazy after my main man Joe Biden’s oath, and fourth young black women ran up and said to me and Max, “Hey, we saw y’all jumping and we wanted to jump too!” so we all jumped up and down together. Then they asked us if we had tickets, and when we said we did, they got worried looks on their faces – they’d somehow accidentally snuck in! I hear there was a lot of that, though much of it not so-accidental. As for the President's speech itself, I don't really have a lot to say about it - it was a good one, but without the soaring rhetoric we have come to expect from him, and I doubt it will go down in the annals of Inaugural speech history alongside JFK's or Lincoln's second. The message of overcoming tough times and seeking justice was a good one, though, and I especially appreciated one passage in particular:
We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
Although NBC’s Chuck Todd said there was only one portapotty for every 6000 people, things weren’t nearly so bad in my ticketed area. If that was the ratio and we had it that easy, I’m guessing it must have been absolute bladder hell on the public portion of the Mall. I missed the poet laureate and the closing benediction because Max was anxious to get to the Metro (I was able to make him stick around the area long enough to watch Bush’s helicopter leave), although as saw the crowds we changed our mind and headed to a friend’s apartment to wait out the next couple hours and board a less-crowded train later. This picture is of the crowd exiting south of the Capitol, mostly headed towards the Capitol South Metro station on the House side. My Flickr page also has photos of the 140 tons of trash left behind and of knocked-over security barriers.
For more video including Vice President Biden’s oath, visit my YouTube channel. For more pictures, including insane crowds at Union Station the day before the Inauguration, visit my Flickr page.