The official blog of the 2009 inauguration in Washington DC through the eyes of Andrew Spear, Kristin Majcher, and Johnny Simon. 

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Mall Before the Storm

Here's a few pictures I took on Sunday during the concert near the Washington Monument.

Ticket Fail

So I guess we had it easy over at the Silver Gate - there were no problems getting in. But our photographer Johnny and his girlfriend Risa waited for hours at the Blue Gate (better tickets), only to be turned away. Because the generator to the walk-through metal detector broke down, police forces had no choice other than using wands to check people, and the space filled up before they could get through. Also, Johnny overheard an officer saying that part of the reason why the space filled up is because people were wearing big winter coats (duh) and the fact that more tickets were printed than were available.

Here's a video of Johnny's dad being interviewed on the local ABC station about the hassle of getting turned away. Apparently there were no police to be seen in the area.

Ticket Fail

From Tuesday

The Moment

Here's a quick video I captured right after Obama took the oath of office. Obviously, the crowds of people surrounding the Health and Human Services building, (which has a nice view of Capitol) were excited.

The Moment from Johnny Simon on Vimeo.

My View: Tuesday

I echo everything Kristin said, for the most part. Yesterday was a beautiful day and across the city was a communal feeling of excitement and yes....hope. Washingtonians often see the President merely as the head honcho who happens to live within their borders. But just as Obama has embraced his new home, D.C. has embraced him back. It was memorable day, and I'm glad I was there.

But, all the hype for me was marred by what I can only call (without profanities) a complete breakdown of order. Security checkpoints broke down, people cut in line, thousands of people didn't even know where the line began, I was one of those thousands. Had the D.C. city government spent a little money on more signage, slightly better organziation this would not be an issue. What happened instead were thousands of people forming a slowly moving mass that simply had no where to go. Stuck in the blob of jacketed people with my brothers, dad and girlfriend and my brother's girlfriend, we were simply clueless about where line started, as were again, THOUSANDS of other people. Some people had been standing in their place since 7:30, we entered this line thinking it would be a place to start but there was no one to tell us other wise. No police officers, no volunteers no one. We all make mistakes in directions, but an event of this magnitude and importance to our nation's history shouldn't mess up this bad and literally leave thousands of people out in the cold. Not in America, and not in the District.

Inauguration Day: Democracy Hits the Streets

Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C. was like Christmas, only with thousands of people flying to the Washington Monument instead of a tree. Adults and children alike couldn’t contain their excitement for the word “elect” to be dropped from Barack Obama’s official title.

Getting There
We woke up at 5 a.m., after only about four hours of sleep. Everybody was out the door forty-five minutes later, and the city was already breathing and bustling with excited people. We started our journey up near the Columbia Heights neighborhood, and walked the 3.5 miles down Georgia Ave. to where the festivities were taking place at the Capitol building.
When we started walking, there were a few people also out and about, either walking to the celebration or selling newspapers. Despite how early it was, everyone we passed was smiling and laughing. The only people who weren’t sharing in our joy were those condemned to work, going north on the buses to Silver Spring with long faces. Stopping into a grocery store for breakfast, we noticed that the employees at the bakery had spent hours creating a selection of Inauguration Day cakes with “Obama: The 44th President” in blue and red icing.

Downtown, Everything's Waiting for You
As we got closer to the center of the city, we noticed more and more people joining us to go downtown. Our caravan full of strangers, bundled up wool coats and hats to brave the 20-degree temperatures, merged with all the others from different directions to turn the first few numbered streets into a sea of humanity. It was barely 7 in the morning, and it seemed like the whole country abolished any responsibilities they had to come out and party.
But despite the throng of people that had joined us, the sense of urgency for people to find places to watch the swearing-in did not overshadow the joy of the day’s events, and most people in the crowd were living in the moment instead of trying to push each other out of the way for prime seats. Most seemed excited just to be a part of the biggest party that most of us had ever seen, and even people like ourselves who weren’t sure of where to go didn’t seem to be too worried.
The expansive crowd seemed intimidating at first, but everybody knew that it was more important to be cordial and grateful for the chance to participate in the event than to start pushing and shoving. In fact, the most unpleasant people we came across in the crowd were the policeman and other various authority figures that thought they could execute the task of parting hundreds of thousands of people to squeeze a line of police cars and black SUVs through the crowd. We watched a police car almost hit a little kid after forcing everyone to squeeze together. And the police forces at work must have been out of state, because none of them knew where any of the streets in D.C. were, or wanted to help ticket holders find their appropriate entry gates. For any other event, the poor planning may have caused a disaster, but few let it discourage them. After all, most had been waiting for this day for a very long time.

Notes from the Underground
We figured out that we had to go under the 3rd Street tunnel to reach our gate for tickets, and crammed in with thousands of other people making the pilgrimage across The Mall underground. It sounds corny, but the sense of togetherness was unrivaled with anything I had ever felt before, with strangers joining in on their own renditions of “Let it Shine” and “This Land is Your Land”, along with chants of “Yes We Can!” at various intervals across the route. After the past few years, it was really strange to feel such a positive atmosphere, when people mostly got together to complain about politics rather than rejoice. You heard people saying things like “Look, it’s the light at the end of the tunnel! Where’s Obama?” as we got closer to the end, and we emerged to the exit ramp just as the sun was coming up. Watching so many people walking on the highway reminded me of the magnitude of this event, and was a reminder that we were all making this journey to witness history together.

The Pearly Gates
The ticket gates were supposed to open at 8 a.m., but they didn’t until almost 9. But again, the people waiting were too excited about being in D.C. and having tickets than to complain, so most just chatted and waited patiently for the floodgates to open. I heard strangers striking up conversation and things like “Where are you guys from?” and “Let me get your e-mail”, something that doesn’t usually seem to happen too much anymore.
When the gates opened, the police asked that everyone hold up their tickets, but didn’t check individually – there were simply too many people. And the security going inside was pretty sparse, with guards barely checking people. One lady in line said that the guard actually just patted her on the back in place of patting her down, and didn’t look into her purse at all. “What if I’m a terrorist?” she exclaimed, afraid that other people could have been up to no good. But in reality there was virtually no opposition to Obama in D.C. throughout the whole weekend, and most people were too excited to be afraid of something bad happening.

If You Build it, They Will Come (Tear it Down)
We got through the gate and realized that we were still pretty far away, and our tickets let us go across the 3rd Street. We finally and ran to the other side, noticing that some people had trampled some barriers to move up. We followed them like we were running a marathon to the Capitol Building, and as I was running I noticed a policeman who was eating a donut (no joke) look up, with sheer terror on his face. He knew that Obama mania was causing people to destroy any barriers between them and the Capitol building, and realized there was nothing he could do about it. We ended up finding a place in front of the reflecting pool (which was still too far away to see much) and waited for two more hours for the festivities to start.

Damn, It's Cold
We watched footage of who was coming into the building as it happened, and the crowd went wild when they saw stars like Oprah and BeyoncĂ© joining all of us normal people watch the ceremony. Eventually the Clintons came out, receiving applause, and so did the Bushes, who were greeted with boos that echoed all over town. It wasn’t the first of them. Eventually the Obama family rolled up to the Capitol in one of many black cars in the motorcade that we could see speeding past the trees across the street, and, when the screen showed Michelle, Sasha and Malia, the crowd started going nuts. “Those are the flyest little girls in the country!” one person shouted. Ladies started talking about how much they loved Michelle’s sparkly, gold coat, and “Where’s Barack?” echoed until the screen showed him coming in a few minutes later. A few minutes later he came out of the second floor of the Capitol. The reaction was loud cheering and applause, and the crowd started cheering “Yes we can!” It was, for lack of a better term, pure insanity.

The Moment We've All Been Waiting For
The crowd calmed down to watch Biden’s swearing in, and then it was Obama’s turn. Of course the sound cut out at the exact moment that he was receiving his oath, but everyone’s gazes were still fixated on the screen. When it was understood that we had just witnessed the making of our new president, people started going absolutely nuts. American flags went up above the heads of screaming, jumping people, and for a moment, it seemed like nobody else in the world could possibly be having as much fun.
The crowd calmed down again to listen to Obama’s 18-minute speech, in which he made it perfectly clear that things were going to be different in America from now on. When he mentioned that we now find ourselves in a “new era of responsibility”, people shouted “yes!” in approval to his call for American citizens to change themselves and take responsibility for helping to get out of the “midst of crisis” that he referred to in the beginning of his speech. And if the hundreds of thousands of people crying, rejoicing and laughing were any indication of whether or not the public has accepted his challenge, then it is safe to say that most people are ready to do their part to make their country a better place.

A New Era of Responsibility: The First Few Hours
Most started leaving as his speech was done, completely elated. The throng dispersed to get out of the gates, and people tried their best to navigate the labyrinth of barriers surrounding the streets to find alternative routes. Union Station became a hub for venders of Obama merchandise who were selling every type of commodity available, including one guy standing on the corner with Obama Hot Sauce in one hand and Obama Water in the other. The subways were extremely crowded, but people patiently waited on the platform for their trains, even if they had to watch a few go by first. People shared their tables with strangers at restaurants and danced with each other throughout the tunnel on the way back home. It made me think that maybe Obama’s call for us to be better citizens was actually going to work.
Watching D.C. transform into a chaotic hub of activity over the weekend and watching the inauguration events made me more optimistic that maybe the ideas of “hope” and “change” are actually becoming real. People from all races and walks of life joined each other last weekend to watch the making of history, and peacefully invaded the streets of D.C. to party without causing any violence. This is proof that for many people, politics has gone beyond the realm of the closed off, high security buildings and into the streets. Many people said that they never had an interest in seeing the inauguration before this year, simply because they felt they weren’t being represented.
Whether or not Obama will follow through with his specific promises, most people say they believe he will, and have replaced negative views of politicians with the attitude that Obama is just a regular person with an agenda to help regular people. Walking down 2nd street, we met a man who was also coming back from the ceremonies, and pointed out to us the nation’s biggest homeless shelter right in the heart of the city. “You wouldn’t think it, but stuff like this is right next to the White House,” he said. People here have been looking for someone who will look past the grandeur of stone buildings to see things like that, and in the eyes of the millions who gathered to watch the Inauguration from around the world, Obama seems to be the one who can.

1/20/09: Crowds

1/20/09: Metro

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day Brief

Hey everyone. So we have just returned from downtown, which is still teaming with crazed Obama fans. For the most part, everything went smoothly, and despite the millions of people out and about at the same time, the events were peaceful. The weather was really cold & almost everyone was stomping around by the time of Obama's speech to keep the blood flowing in their feet. We left from the north side around Columbia Heights sometime before 6 this morning, and walked about three miles to where all of the action was going on. There were people up at this time, scrambling to get newspapers and walking with friends to the event. More and more people joined us as we made our way, and by the time we arrived there was quite a crowd. Thousands of people walked through the 3rd Street tunnel get to The Mall early this morning, and we emerged on the other side of town as the sun was coming up with thousands of confused people looking for where to enter the Inauguration ceremony. The ticketed gates were pure chaos, and nobody seemed to know where to go to get in. But eventually we figured it out, and it was amazing. Although it was freezing and took hours to get through, the crowd fell silent for Obama's speech, hanging on every word. They also fell silent when Bush came out in the beginning, but it was quickly filled with boos and snide remarks. Some people thought it was poor etiquette, but a lot more found it appropriate.

Right now we're going to drive back to Ohio and update more pictures and accounts when we get back. Look for more stuff about the inauguration tonight, when we'll have some time to get our act together.

Andrew Spear

Andrew Spear
Andrew Spear is a Midwest-based photographer currently studying photojournalism at Ohio University's School of Visual Communication. A junior in the program, Andrew is also a staff photographer at The Athens NEWS, in Athens, Ohio. He splits his time between Athens and Cleveland, his hometown. Please click the image to view Andrew's portfolio. (Photo courtesy of Matt Eich)

Kristin Majcher

Kristin Majcher
Kristin Majcher is a junior studying magazine journalism at Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Communication. Currently a staff writer at The Athens NEWS, she has also worked with The Post (Athens, Ohio) and Cleveland Magazine. She splits her time between Athens and her hometown of Cleveland.

Johnny Simon

Johnny Simon
Johnny Simon is a Midwest-based photographer currently enrolled as a senior photojournalism major at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. His work has been regcognized by the Southern Short Course in News Photography, NoTxt Magazine, the Corcoran Gallery FOCUS on Photojournalism and his adoring parents. Please click the image to see Johnny's portfolio.
All content © 2009 Andrew Spear, Kristin Majcher, Johnny Simon, and The Athens NEWS.

No reproduction without permission of the authors under penalty of law.