January 20, 2009

Inauguration Draws Millions to D.C.

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WASHINGTON D.C. — Hundreds of thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds flooded D.C. this weekend, soaking up the energetic atmosphere and preparing to play a part in history.
On the eve of Barack Obama’s inauguration, the streets were already buzzing, despite frigid temperatures in the 20s.
“It’s hot. It’s not cold out here, it’s hot,” said Anthony Brown, a photographer for the police department. “It’s a beautiful moment, a beautiful day in history right here.”
Security officials are expecting record crowds today. This is the first time the National Mall has ever been opened to the public for an inauguration, and the necessary appropriations have been made. The portable toilets lining either side of the mall represent the largest number ever supplied for one event.
Compared to the last presidential inauguration in 2004, the engineering of the inaugural ceremony of President-elect Barack Obama is proving to be a much more difficult task for D.C. security forces. More streets have already been closed this year, some as early as Jan. 16. Security has reportedly never been as extensive for an event in the United States as it is today.
Officials are doing all they can to prepare for the expected crowd of about 2 million as America’s capital welcomes Obama to the White House, likely surpassing the record 1.2 million who attended the inauguration of Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965.
The plan of action in case of emergency is for those outside to seek shelter in Union Station, across four rows of metal blockades from the National Mall.
With the large number of people expected, those on the Mall will only be able to witness the swearing in of Obama on the enormous television screens set up at intervals. Nonetheless, supporters are traveling long distances just to be in Washington for Inauguration Day.
“We need to see him,” said Cecilia Gerlach, a volunteer from Allentown, Penn. “We need to be here. We’ll be talking about this to our kids someday, and when they ask us where we were we’ll be able to say ‘We were right up there!’”
The view from the Newseum — Washington’s museum of news — shows people excitedly waiting for the start of today’s ceremonies. At 555 Pennsylvania Ave., the Newseum is a prime viewing and broadcasting venue for the inauguration of America’s 44th president.
The Newseum’s terraces and broadcast studios are hosting CNN, Fox News, local ABC and NBC affiliates, Bloomberg TV, local radio networks and dozens of bloggers and freelance journalists this week. 10,000 tickets, the maximum capacity for the museum for one day, were pre-sold to the public for Jan. 20, and 9,000 were purchased for Jan. 19.
Celebrity encounters in Washington are not uncommon this week, and the Newseum saw its share of big names yesterday, including D.L. Hugely, Wolf Blitzer, Ben Affleck, Dustin Hoffman, Tom Hanks and Reverend Al Sharpton. Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post rented out the Newseum’s ground floor atrium for her “Countdown to a New Era” ball last night, where Beyonce, Will.I.Am and Sting performed.
Gerlach commented on the positive atmosphere in D.C. this weekend. She lost her cell phone on Saturday night, called it from a friend’s phone, and someone picked it up and returned it to her.
“There are just so many positive people, people who are trying to help each other out. Because if you’re here, you’re here for Barack,” she said. “You’re not here for any other reason than to give your support to this man. I’m realizing that almost every person out here has done something. I think because everyone here has that level of commitment to Obama, we therefore have that level of commitment to other volunteers for Obama. I just can’t wait until tomorrow. This will never happen again.”
Gerlach, unable to make hotel reservations, spent Friday night in a shelter, Saturday night in a portable toilet and Sunday night in the subway. She plans on sleeping in the streets on Monday. But for her, the experience is worthwhile.
“You meet so many different types of people,” she said. “You get to talk to them, and you get to know them. We’re all here for the same reason.”
One of the biggest events in D.C. leading up to the Inauguration was the free concert held on Jan. 18th at the Lincoln memorial. Artists included Beyonce, U2 and Usher. The mood of the event inspired Shalini Kelly, program assistant to Jen Stuart, the director general of defense procurement for Canada.
“People weren’t like ‘Hey, get out of my way.’ It was very camaraderie-like,” Kelly said. “They were all there to celebrate something really big that they knew was happening. The energy — even if you’re not out there — you still just feel it inside, and it’s really good energy.”
“The highlight of that concert was that every time they flashed Obama on the screen and he was bopping away to whatever artist was playing, everybody gave him the biggest cheer. That sent chills down my back,” she said.