Inauguration Report 2
Posted January 25, 2009 4:56 am (about 3100 days ago)
Woke up pretty late and mainly visited with Ann and Doug until about 4 PM, when I headed back to DC to pick up my ticket from Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s office. I decided to dress up a bit, throwing on a tie and a trench coat. I definitely need to do this more often. I was blatantly hit on by a number of women and overall, people thought I was someone important! At one point actor Delroy Lindo came up to me and asked me if I had has tickets ready. My mind spun as I tried to figure out if I even knew him and he wasn’t just messing with me. I wondered if I had met him at one the Chicago Steppers’ sets. After an awkward exchange he apologized and ran off. He look completely stressed out. Although he’s one of my favorite actors, he didn’t look like he was in the mood for pictures, especially since I didn’t have his tickets!
At any rate, there was quite a commotion outside of Lee’s office as people clamored for last minute tickets, of which there were none. One of the aids came out and asked if any of us had received a call and I said “yes.” She asked for my name, returned with my ticket and said congratulations. I asked her if she wanted to see some ID and she said “don’t worry about!” People gave me high fives and asked me if they could take pictures. I finally wandered downstairs, where Lee was holding a reception for her district and again, the hallway was packed! I struck up a conversation with some people around me and we could hear a commotion at the other end of the hall. It sounded like a group was performing and I guaranteed to the woman I was speaking with that I knew at least two people doing the rabble rousing. I eventually went over there and saw the headRush crew and some affiliates, all of whom were from the Bay, including Susie, Maya, Javier, and Soulati. Inside the reception itself, I saw familiar faces, including Davey D, attorney John Burris, Dr. Elnora Webb of Laney, and even Frederica from the Chicago Steppers’ scene. Across the board, everyone was super friendly and I wish I could’ve taken this feeling of unity back to Oakland. I can’t even begin to describe how good that felt. As they began to shut the reception down people began making plans to get together and headRush made their way to the MSNBC area. I was tempted to go in a number of directions but was reconnecting with Ernie and Andrew in Alexandria for an early departure to the Inauguration the next morning so I bounced. The Vienna Metro station was absolutely packed as people waited in line to buy tickets for the Inauguration the next day.
I had to pick up my stuff from Ann and Doug’s and we had a farewell dinner at a fabulous Lebanese spot. I’m truly spoiled by all the good folks in my life and today highlighted this fact again!
Now it’s the big day: The actual Swearing-In Ceremony! We got up at 3:45 and added another person to our three-man crew, our host Linda. I grabbed some papers on the way to the Metro and stashed them behind a sign. It was about 5 AM at this point and we had no problems getting on the train as we were pretty far out. However, the train filled up quickly, to the point where I could barely lift my arms over my head and the plastic partition I was leaning on practically had my face print on it. I began to feel like one of those movies when everyone’s trying to escape a city, but there’s no more room and we were the last train. Some people were practically begging us to let them on, but we simply had no more room. The train ride was fairly quiet. It was cold and early, but I think everyone was just praying that they’d actually get to the ceremony. Remember, by some estimates TWO MILLION people were trying to be in D.C., ticket or no ticket. There were no guarantees.
So, we didn’t make it to our stop as someone apparently fell on to the tracks (no major injuries), which backed everything up. We made a decision to get off several stops before our original stop. Someone said it was about a mile and a half walk, so we gambled. As we stepped on the platform, the announcer said that some of the stations were reopened, but there was no way we were going to be able to get back on the train as the lines were out the door. This was just the first of many security and transportation changes throughout the day.
Once we made it above ground, it was incredibly cold and ridiculously crowded already. People were lining up as the security check points weren’t set to open until 7 AM. The capitol building is at First Street and we were at 12th so we were trying to figure out the best way to get as close as possible. We asked some cops, and some were more useful than others, another theme for the day. Firstly, one cop said that there wasn’t even an official line, people were just lining up on their own. Apparently there were a number of streets that were going to be opened up so people could get to the actual security lines. It didn’t quite make sense to me, but she said that since I had a ticket I could go down to Fourth Street and enter there. I gave the crew a pound and took off, watching the crowd grow in size. It seriously seemed to grow exponentially and I began to wonder if having a ticket even mattered. I was directed to lines that were several blocks long. Finally one cop directed me to the “silver ticket line” which involved walking on the closed off 395 freeway tunnel. I felt like I was in some post-apocalyptic movie. The other side was just as hectic, but I finally made it to security around 9 AM. There was NO wait. I walked straight up, was patted down, and even brought in a bag of food and a water bottle. Although I was asked if I had a ticket, I never actually showed it to anyone the entire day. I almost gave a shout as I entered the Mall. I tried to send Ernie a text but the cell towers were already overwhelmed. I was also supposed to meet up with my boy Juan, but had no way to get in touch with him.
So, it was still painfully cold. Not just bitterly cold, but my toes and fingers hurt, despite two layers. Nonetheless, I was excited. Interestingly enough, there was so much empty space in our section. In this area, the Mall was divided up by a series of fences, leading up to the Capitol. At this point I was probably near Seventh Street. I wandered for a bit, before coincidentally coming across a mass of people standing near a fence. Within a few minutes a cop open a gate and we all walked to the next section, which was on the other side of Third and went to as far as The Reflecting Pool. Some people were trying to leave this area as they said it was too crowded and there were no good views. However, once I got past the bottleneck, there was so much room we could’ve played a football game on the left side. At this point there was nothing to do but wait as there were still a few hours before the ceremony started so I just walked around, trying to stay warm and looking at everyone else trying to do the same. But good fortune came again.
I wandered near some porta potties and noticed a volunteer telling people to stay back as there was a purse near one of the potties that had been there for like 10 minutes and he was concerned. This was right next to the fence closest to the capitol building, which blocked us off from The Reflecting Pool. Well, at this point I noticed a guy and his girlfriend go around the fence, near the porta potties and began walking toward the capitol. There were no guards around. Other people soon noticed and a small trickle began to follow them. The plastic fence was still up (not to be confused with the chain linked fences on the perimeter) and a couple of guards came running up to get people to stop. This worked for about 10 minutes and the cops were pretty jovial about the whole thing. A small crowd began to gather in this area and people plotted on how to cross, with the common theme being “they can’t catch us all!” Some people, including some older ladies began walking whenever the guards turned their backs and people offered them up as bait to distract the guards. The idea was that the guards would chase the bait and others would sneak in. It was all a big game and people began playfully snitching on each other. Someone made a joke about the border and we all laughed. Still, it was getting uncomfortably crowded so I worked my way out to the back. A short time later I wandered back to area and I guess the guards got the call to let people pass as there were hundreds of people walking. The fence in this area was trampled. I quickly crossed over into this “forbidden area" as well (for the record, on the diagram on my ticket this area behind the pool was still the silver area-where I had a ticket to. I have no idea why it was empty until this point). I walked past the Pool, towards the series of statues on First Street as it was nearly more dangerous to stand still or go against the current of people. It was already packed, with people crawling up the statutes like roaches. It was exciting to be this close! However, crossing First Street to the next section (including the infamous “purple section”-see Huffington Post link below) wasn’t going to happen as there were metal fences and more guards, including some with M-16s. However, according to this Huffington Post article, there were some undesirables there as well. (Here's a link about some of the security issues.)
By this time we didn’t have to wait long for the ceremony. The mood was upbeat, but not as festive as the concert on Sunday. It’s hard to match the energy of Stevie Wonder, Usher, and Shakira teaming up for a song with a choir or Yo Yo Ma. I say that with all due respect, but this was a more formal event. Essentially, anytime an Obama was announced, there was a roar of approval. Anytime a Bush was announced there was a chorus of boos. People were actually respectful when Pastor Rick Warren spoke. Obama’s actual swearing-in was so short that the only way some of us knew that it was completed was by all the cheers. At many points there was a lemming syndrome going on as some people cheered whenever others did and booed when others did. But people acknowledged this, especially since we couldn’t always hear what was happening. Some people just didn’t know anyone except for Bush and Obamas. When asked who Mrs. Reid (wife of Senate Majority Leader Harvey Reid’s wife) was, and why he was cheering for her, some guy happily said “I don’t know, but I had a Mrs. Reed in second grade and she was my favorite teacher so I’m cheering just in case!”
Once now-President Obama finished his speech, people began to leave, pretty much ignoring whoever else came out. Now that he was official, people began to celebrate again. The Reflecting Pool was frozen and people began to skate, dance, and pose for pictures. The ice was thick but still began to crack so even the most fun loving people began to get off, or at least spread out. Then, the hell began.