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Witnesses to history

President-elect Barack Obama, his wife, Michelle Obama,  and their daughters, Sasha, 7, and Malia, 10, greet the crowd at an Election Night rally in Chicago.   (File Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
President-elect Barack Obama, his wife, Michelle Obama, and their daughters, Sasha, 7, and Malia, 10, greet the crowd at an Election Night rally in Chicago. (File Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)

No ticket? no problem. they can still say, ‘I was there when.’

When Evelyn Anderton’s grandson was born 20 months ago, she would hold him and tell him he’d be the nation’s first black president. Since Nov. 4, she’s had to tell him, “Someone else has taken your job.”

But that’s OK, the Spokane homemaker said recently. She plans to be present Tuesday to watch the job be filled.

Like dozens of people from the Inland Northwest, Anderton and her husband, Willis, are making the trip to Washington, D.C., for Barack Obama’s inaugural celebration.

They started planning the trip with their best friends, Peggy and James Troutt, even before the election was decided.

“I was confident that history was in the making either way,” Peggy Troutt said. If Obama hadn’t won, the nation would have had its first female vice president in Sarah Palin, she noted.

But as someone who attended precinct caucuses and county and state conventions as an Obama delegate, this was clearly the more exciting result for Troutt. A former civilian employee for the Washington National Guard, she wasn’t sure she’d live to see an African-American elected to the White House.

James Troutt, a retired Air Force senior noncommissioned officer, had been active in one previous presidential campaign, as a delegate for Democrat Jesse Jackson in 1988.

He supported Obama last year but initially wondered if the Illinois senator had a chance.

“Not because he was African-American, but because nobody had ever heard of him,” James Troutt said. “I like the fact that he could come out of nowhere. I was one of the people he fired up.”

Justin and Maj StormoGipson, of Coeur d’Alene, will attend the inauguration with their three grown children. The couple were inspired by Obama in August, when they attended the Democratic National Convention in Denver. They immediately booked flights to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration.

“We were that confident he would win,” Maj StormoGipson said.

Tyler Whitney, a Whitworth University sophomore studying political science, was excited about voting in his first presidential election – he took a photo of his ballot. He ultimately voted for Obama, but didn’t decide between him and Republican John McCain until their final debate. And as the president of Whitworth’s Political Activism Club, Whitney wanted to stay as bipartisan as possible.

But after the election, he was “part of that early scramble” to try to get a ticket to the swearing-in ceremony. He sent a request to the congressional offices, which distribute the tickets, but didn’t hear anything for weeks.

When he got a call from Sen. Maria Cantwell’s office Dec. 17 informing him he’d receive a ticket, “I had completely forgotten about it,” Whitney said. But he quickly changed his mid-January plans to witness a moment in history.

He’ll be one of more than a dozen Whitworth students at the inaugural, although most won’t have tickets to the swearing-in ceremony.

Jim McPherson, a communications professor, has a group of journalism and communications students who signed up last spring for a two-week course on the media’s impact on the United States. They knew they’d meet with journalists and news executives in New York and Washington, D.C., but not that the class would land them in the nation’s capital the week of the inauguration.

The students don’t have tickets to any of the events, McPherson said, but those who can stand the crowds – estimates suggest attendance at the ceremony and parade could top 2 million – will hit the National Mall.

Jasmine Linabary, an editor at the school newspaper, the Whitworthian, got a taste of politics when she covered Sen. Hillary Clinton’s visit to Spokane last February. “But this will definitely be the biggest event I’ve ever attended,” Linabary said.

Derek Casanovas, another Whitworth journalism student, welcomed the chance to go to D.C. “Years from now, you’ll be able to say ‘I was there when,’ ” he said.

Twenty-three students from Mt. Spokane High School have tickets to the grandstand area, said Paul Kautzman, who teaches a government and politics class at Mt. Spokane and is one of two adults who’ll accompany the group.

“We’ve been planning (the trip) for about a year and a half now,” he said.

The trip would have been worthwhile regardless of the election’s outcome, Kautzman said, “but (Obama’s) inauguration in particular – it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Nathan Empsall, of Coeur d’Alene, a senior at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, met most of the presidential candidates as they traveled through during that state’s primary and served on the Biden for President Steering Committee in the state. Although his first choice finished second, he’s excited to have a ticket to the swearing-in.

“I considered skipping it because of the crowds, but keep reminding myself that there were no front row seats to Neil Armstrong walking on the moon,” Empsall, a former Our Generation correspondent for The Spokesman-Review, wrote in an e-mail. “How could I tell my kids I skipped this event?”

The journey is not without its challenges, both logistical and financial.

Gene Fitzpatrick, of Spokane, looked into making the trip in November after requesting tickets to the swearing-in ceremony. He wanted to go with his daughter Erin, a student at American University in Washington, D.C., who worked as an Obama volunteer for the Iowa caucuses.

Fitzpatrick found hotels were charging as much as $700 a night and requiring three-night minimums. Then he heard about how hard the tickets were to get and didn’t worry too much about needing a place to stay.

But then he got a call from U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ office saying his request for two tickets had been granted, and most rooms were booked.

He found an Arlington, Va., recreational vehicle rental agency on the Internet, booked an RV for $500 a week and got permission to park it in a lot at American University. The RV is winterized and has sleeping space and a small propane stove; it’s not very fuel efficient, but Fitzpatrick only plans to drive it the 10 miles from the rental agency to the university and back.

“I feel very fortunate. It just fell into place,” Fitzpatrick said.

Chief J. Allan, chairman of the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Business Council, will join a delegation representing Indian tribes from Idaho. Representatives of the Nez Perce, Shoshone-Bannock and Kootenai tribes also will either march in the Inauguration Day parade or attend the swearing-in.

A photo of the chairman and Obama, taken during the campaign, hangs in the waiting room of Allan’s office in Plummer, Idaho.

He said many American Indians supported Obama, who has promised to respect tribal sovereignty.

Said Allan: “I am just so proud of the country, that we can look past race and color of somebody’s skin to elect a person of color as president.”

Staff writers Alison Boggs and Kevin Graman contributed to this report.

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