Red, white, and blue draped the city wherever you went. Swarms of Americans from all over the nation had converged on the city by Sunday afternoon. Hotels, restaurants, and bars were doing a booming business. Though it wasn’t quite as intoxicating as four years ago, the energy that pervaded the city for this second inauguration of Barack Obama was still quite formidable. Perhaps the only American tradition of such pomp and circumstance, that is, the only tradition of such a sort that becomes a spectator sport for the public, as well as allowing them to play a part in it, the inauguration of the president has a long and dynamic history to it.
In 1801, after the “revolution of 1800” in which the United States demonstrated to the world that the peaceful transference of power was possible, Jefferson decided to walk from his apartment to the White House in an effort to demonstrate to the people that he was not monarchial in anyway, as he had viewed his predecessor John Adams, who had arrived in an elaborate horse-drawn carriage four years earlier. In 1829, thousands of everyday people swarmed the front lawn of the white house to celebrate the inauguration of Andrew Jackson; the first “common man” president. And on the day before Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated in 1913, the women’s suffrage movement organized a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue to dramatically draw attention to their cause.
Of course, these are a just a few examples of the rich history that follows this American tradition, the most recent of which was the inauguration of the first black president in 2009, Barack Obama, which I bore witness to as well. The first time around however, we did not have tickets and had to swarm to the National Mall at four in the morning to get what we thought at the time was a “good spot.” This time around I was super excited because I had managed to score two tickets from my local representative.
In an effort to avoid the exorbitantly priced hotel rooms, we decided to drive down Sunday morning and stay only one night. I had booked a room at the Canal Inn, a little hotel/hostel located on 31st street right in the heart of Georgetown. For $300 a night, this place seemed like a steal compared to what other hotels were asking for. The hotel’s location could not be better, but if one is a light sleeper I wouldn’t recommend it, as the walls are rather thin. If one is fortified with ear plugs however, I would say to definitely stay here if you are trying to save some money. (It’s normally no where’s near $300/night).
After arriving Sunday afternoon, and grabbing our tickets from Peter King’s office on Capital Hill, we met up with some former students at Martin’s Bar and Grill; the place where JFK had proposed to Jackie, and the old stomping ground of many other notable politicians such as Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, and Harry Truman. After lunch, we all headed over to Baked and Wired, a cute little shop that specializes in cupcakes, other baked goods, and coffee. I had the Pretty Bitchin cupcake which was basically dark chocolate cake covered with a crunchy peanut butter topping. Though the size of the cupcake intimidated me, it was delicious!
Later that day, we decided to do a dry-run of the route we would have to take the following morning in order to get to our designated area for the inaugural ceremonies. We headed out of Georgetown on foot to catch the Metro from Foggy Bottom, which dropped us off at Federal Circle. When we emerged from the subway, we could see that everything was fairly well marked for the following morning and it would be fairly simple to get to the security check for green ticket holders. Confident about the next morning, we meandered over to the mall and walked about four miles from Capital Hill to the Lincoln Memorial.
Along the way, we stopped off at the CNN news truck where they were broadcasting live, and we made a special visit to the fairly new Martin Luther King Junior Memorial, on the eve of the federal holiday named in his honor. The memorial, sitting across the way from Lincoln’s Memorial, is a poignant tribute to MLK’s words and fight for equality and peace. A giant statue of MLK carved out of stone is surrounded by a well-lit wall illuminating many of his most memorable and meaningful quotes.
After walking our way back through Foggy Bottom into Georgetown, we stopped off at Miss Saigon where I ordered a big, steaming dish of pho to warm me up before I rested up for the following morning.
After only getting a few hours of sleep, the alarm went off at 4:40 am and it was time to hop up and head out into the cold morning air and make our way back to the Foggy Bottom Metro. By the time we finally arrived at the Federal Circle metro station, it was around 5:30am, so we decided to take our chances and head into Starbucks, along with the other 80 plus people who were either waiting in line to use the bathroom, or were switch-backing their way up to the counter to order hot drinks and some food. It took us almost an hour by the time we ordered, but in retrospect, that was one hour less we would have to wait outside in the cold.
Around 6:30 am we made our way through the security check and into the West Green ticket standing area where we scoped out the best place to watch. After exploring a few different vantage points, we wound up towards the back, under a tree with some fellow friendly political junkies who I was more than happy to spend the next 7 hours with. As we sat there trying to stay warm, we shared stories of political stalking and passed the time making fun of the crazy lunatic in the tree who was waging a one-man protest throughout the entire ceremony. A anti-abortion fanatic, this man climbed a tree with a sign and heckled the crowd for the duration of the inauguration. When the DC police had put a ladder up into the tree to get him down, this man shimmied even further up the tree, like a frightened cat, which is where he stayed till the end of the ceremonies. If nothing else, he was a source of great entertainment while we tried to pass the cold hours before the ceremonies began.
At about 9:30 am,, an ensemble of choirs from different schools began to play music and with that, the festivities began. Throughout the next hour, there would be announcements over the speakers alerting the audience when certain people would arrive, either met with loud jeers, such as when Newt Gingrich arrived, or a wave of applause, as heard when the Clintons made their entrance. Finally, around 11:30, New York Senator Charles Schumer officially began the inauguration ceremony. After an opening prayer, the oath of office taken by both Joe Biden and Obama, the left-leaning audience was treated to a fiery speech by the President, outlining his agenda for the next four years.
After some rowdy cheering with our new-found liberal friends, we darted out of the Mall just before Beyonce sang the national anthem so we wouldn’t be stuck in a human bottleneck like last time. Within the hour, we were back on the idyllic and quiant streets of Georgetown, enjoying lunch at a little french cafe.
Regardless of one’s political leanings, it is hard not to be enthralled by being part of something larger than yourself, by being part of history. Though I doubt I would have felt this way had the results of the election been reversed, I highly recommend that anyone who is remotely interested in history or politics attend at least one presidential inauguration in their life.