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HISTORIC INAUGURATION - REPORT FROM WASHINGTON

I traveled to DC to witness the inauguration. It was the most incredible event I had ever experienced, rivaling only watching the news on the evening of November 4th, 2008. For those who aren't familiar with the National Mall, it's a large strip of land, 2 miles long, devoted to the Capitol and national monuments. At one end sits the Capitol building, upon the steps of which Barack Obama was sworn into the presidency. There is a large arc-shaped pool that sits in front of the Capitol, a memorial to former president Ulysses S. Grant. Beyond the pool there is a series of large square grassy areas, separated by streets. Farther back is the grand Washington Monument. The WWII Memorial and Reflecting Pool lie between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

I walked all over the city on Monday before the inauguration. Already the city was beginning to swell with people, and I have never seen more people wearing Obama buttons than I did while I was there. Lines to buildings for the House of Representatives and Senate flowed from every entrance, wrapping around the buildings and down the streets. Most people lucky enough to get a ticket had to pick it up at their Congressperson's office, and so the lines at times were hours long. There must have been hundreds of vendors selling everything Obama: buttons, shirts, hats, mugs, blankets, hand puppets. Restaurants had two hour waits. Police officers had to direct heavy backed up traffic so that the crowds of people weren't threatened by the scores of charter buses pouring into the city.

This entire expanse, all 2 miles long, was filled with people on Tuesday morning. I was staying at a friend's house in DC, six stops away on the Metro (subway) from the city center. I entered the Metro at 4:30am, and within three stops on the way to the city, the subway cars completely filled up. DC was smart enough to run the Metro system from 4:00am to 7:00pm Tuesday on a rush-hour schedule. Even at 5:00am, the city center station was completely packed with people. I had an actual ticket to the swearing-ceremony, so as soon as I left the subway I ran to the entrance gate for my type of ticket. There were hundreds of people there already. It was still completely dark outside, and the wind chill dropped the temperature below -11 degrees Celsius.

The inauguration of Barack Obama
The crowd in the National Mall listens to State of the Union Address

We waited for over three hours to get into the secure perimeter. We were scanned, our bags were searched, and then we ran to get the best spots we could. This particular crowd had silver tickets, which were the farthest and most abundant of all the tickets given out. We were allowed to stand just behind the Grant Memorial Pool. We waited another two hours in the bitter cold, facing the front of the Capitol as it filled up with the lucky people who got seated tickets. As for those without tickets, they filled in the rest of the mall behind the silver section. There was no line for security screening, but they also could barely see the capitol building. Wisely, to keep the crowds happy, massive TV screens, or "jumbotrons", had been set up all along the length of the mall. It provided a constant high-quality video feed of the events happening right on the Capitol steps, as well as the different past and current members of Congress, the White House cabinet & staff who were walking around inside the building on their way out to the steps. As then-current President Bush made his entrance, the entire crowd booed loudly. They also booed when then-current Vice President Cheney appeared, as well as Senator Joe Lieberman. Loud cheers erupted everywhere as such Democratic leaders as Bill and Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Diane Feinstein appeared. Colin Powell got a huge cheer as well. Of course, the biggest cheers were reserved for Michelle, Malia, Sasha and Barack Obama. The crowd around me was happy. People cracked jokes; they shared stories about their involvement in the campaign. Complete strangers could strike up conversations with anyone around them. Everyone was there to witness history, and we all felt a bit of ownership in making this event come to pass.

The San Francisco Boys & Girls choruses started singing sometime after 10am. During lulls in the program, the crowd would start up spontaneous chants of "Obama". The highlight of the program was of course the oaths of office for Joe Biden and Barack Obama, separated by beautiful music from some of the best musicians in the world.

If you watched President Obama take the oath, and you saw both him and Chief Justice Roberts stumble, let me make something clear. If you haven't heard already, it was Chief Justice Roberts who twice incorrectly said the oath, and President Obama caught the mistakes and waited for Roberts to correct himself. It's a pity that the ceremony wasn't absolutely flawless, but the beauty and the historic occasion filled the moment so breathtakingly that there was no room for disappointment.

President Obama then delivered his inaugural speech, which is basically a State of the Union Address that happens to fall on an election year. It soared in parts, and sobered in others. Every country in the world understands that the global economy is at a low point. There's so much work to do, and Obama's speech explained his dedication to stemming and reversing the factors that brought us here. It made me proud. As an American citizen, it has been hard these past eight years to reconcile natural patriotism with the images from Abu Ghraib and the stories from Gitmo. Now we're a country of laws again, and principles, and real leadership, and I can't tell you how excited I am. We're back!

The inauguration of Barack Obama
People sliding on the Grant's Pool

Back to the inauguration: As his speech wrapped up, people were starting to discover that the huge pool in front of the Capitol was frozen solid. Once he finished and the following poet was done, giant exit maps went up on the jumbotrons and the crowd started to move in bulk toward the sides of the mall. An increasing number of people started slipping and sliding on the ice of the pool, as a way to pass time while hundreds of thousands rushed toward the subway. I stood for a while, watching the Capitol and the impromptu skaters underneath, and struck up conversation with a man standing near me. He had gotten his silver ticket by rushing into a Senate building that very morning and going into every senator's office until he found one with an unclaimed ticket. That's industrious. I bid him farewell and went to seek the subway. After 10 hours in the bitter cold, standing with no food, water, or bathroom, I was ready for a couch and hot chocolate. It was an incredible day.

Morgan O'Neill

 

poniedziałek, 02 lutego 2009, usa2008

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Komentarze
Gość: Ivonka, *.adsl.inetia.pl
2013/06/25 12:26:51
nice article, hope to see more from you
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rolkowa
2014/02/04 14:36:59
Dzięki za ten artykuł. Ivonka nie musisz pisać po angielsku, bo autor jest polakiem, wkleił tylko wypowiedź amerykańskiego polityka ;)
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kowalski.adam.75
2014/02/17 14:16:14
Bardzo ciekawy artykuł.
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Gość: Marudek, *.adsl.inetia.pl
2014/12/10 21:45:58
Ciekawy artykuł? No co ty? Spójrz na to z perspektywy Polski.

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