As you may have gathered from my twitter feed, I went to the Inauguration events on the mall yesterday. I thought I'd take a stab at my impressions, etc. of the event.
Our day started out early-ish - we had ambitions to go, but they didn't start before dawn or anything. Gina and I stayed with Kandi, who lives pretty far north of the mall/museum/downtown area, but there weren't any closed bridges between her house and our destination. We got up, had an excellent, Kandi-made breakfast, and then drove to my office to park in the garage and head down. My office is approximately 2 miles north of the mall, assuming you have a straight shot down (which we most certainly did not). First of all, it was a bit weird to see every single parking spot filled on the street - on any other sort of holiday, that area would be a ghost town. And then, we started walking, and there were tons of people, all walking south. It was pretty fun - everyone was in a good mood and people were waving flags and smiling and generally enjoying themselves.
I figured we would have some trouble getting to someplace to watch the swearing-in, largely because we didn't really know where to go, and because our route was directly blocked by the barricaded parade route from the Capitol to the White House. We ended up wandering west of the White House, about to 19th/20th Street, and then headed south to the mall. We landed right behind the WWII Memorial, and there was still a lot of room to start towards the Washington Monument. So we made our way there, heading towards a jumbo screen so we could watch the speech and all. At this point, it was about 10 am, and the area that required people to go through security screening (just ahead of us at 14th Street) was already full. We were definitely too far away too see what was going on in person, but all things being equal, we had a decent vantage point.
The crowd was an interesting mix of people - I definitely heard some other languages (Spanish, French and Russian for sure, as well other accents I couldn't exactly place). The crowd was young-ish, pretty racially diverse although from our spot it was mostly white people in their 20's and 30's, with a few black families with younger children mixed in. Things got started a little late, and the walking in and announcing of Important People seemed to take forever (our feet were cold!). There was an especially annoying couple next to us (white yuppies...the race is important in this anecdote), who kept trying to start chants and singing and such. I hit my limit when they tried to lead everyone nearby in "We Shall Overcome" to no avail. Overcome what, exactly? Middle class angst?
So this is were I will segue for a moment - many people were clearly under the impression that this was a political rally, not an official ceremony. I tried to not be too annoyed by it, mostly because I was expecting such behavior, but people constantly booing any screen shot of Bush or Cheney started to wear on my nerves. Even if you don't like the outgoing administration or their policies, I think you should at least respect the Office and refrain from obnoxious behavior as the transition happens. That particular moment, in my mind, has nothing to do with politics or policies or what-have-you, and everything to do with upholding tradition and celebrating a peaceful transition of power.
We watched the swearings-in of both Biden and Obama (aside: they also booed Rick Warren), and then the Inaugural Address. That was particularly interesting in the crowd, because people really were very, very quiet - listening intently, with only some interjection for cheers and things. It was pretty eerie to hear what I now know to be about 1.5 million people get close to silent to catch every word. After the speech started, a girl in a pink hat stepped just next to me, and I recognized her! Someone I work with! I was really hoping to see at least one of the fifty-odd people I knew at the event, but in crowds that size, I wasn't too optimistic. So that was cool.
As soon as Obama finished speaking, everyone was moving again - few people waited to hear the closing remarks/benediction or anything like that. We decided to hang around for a bit, mostly because there were literally a million people that were going to be walking north, and we thought there was really no rushing that crowd. And no need to put ourselves smack in the middle of it. We were able to get a bit closer to the Capitol to take a look down the mall and see the crowds, and we also waited to see Bush's helicopter take off and pass over the city.
Apparently we made a good choice in the end as to location, because several of my friends managed to get into the 14th and east area, but when everything was over, there was no way to get out. We had to retrace our steps back up to 19th Street, where we had to wait on the wrong side of a very long line of charter buses that were transporting the bands to the parade start, but we were back to our car by 2:30 or so after walking a bit and catching a bus.
All in all, I'm really glad we went. Not only was it historic for a number of reasons (inauguration of the first black President, biggest crowds ever for an inauguration, inauguration of a President in general), it was a fun experience. People for the most part were very friendly and polite to each other, and seeing the mass migration to and from the event was amazing.
And in the end, I felt inspired. Not because I think Obama is a miracle worker, I actually think a lot of people are going to be disappointed because their expectations of what he can accomplish are unrealistically high, but because people (including me) want to be part of things again. I'm sure there are lots of other good reasons, but I feel like this administration will at least be open to doing things outside of the usual DC mechanics. And that they don't have such a focused worldview, particularly in relation to foreign relations. Whether or not they are successful remains to be seen, but I'm going to enjoy being hopeful for the moment.