January 21, 2009 in City

Amid chaos, a sense of unity pervades

Residents who traveled to D.C. report long journeys, long waits and lasting thrills
 

A number of Inland Northwest residents were in Washington, D.C., for Tuesday’s inauguration, and many called, e-mailed or text-messaged their impressions. Here is a selection of scenes from the festivities.

Willis Anderton, of Spokane, thought President Obama’s inauguration was “great.” As an African-American who grew up in the South, and saw crosses being burned as a youngster, seeing Obama sworn in was a sign of the nation’s progress toward equality.

“The country’s turning around. There’s no more ‘We can’t,’ ” Anderton said.

Three generations of Andertons traveled to Washington, D.C., for the ceremonies. Those who didn’t have tickets to the swearing-in went to the parade, he said.

“We could not stay away,” Anderton said.

But as great as the ceremony was, “getting in and getting out was hectic and chaotic.”

The group got up at 5 a.m., started for the National Mall at 7 a.m., and didn’t get to their assigned area until 11:30 a.m. Metro subway cars were “filled to the brim.”

In the Mall, there were people “as far as the eye could see.” Some stood silently, some applauded or wept.

“We met people from all over the world,” Anderton said. “Everybody was snapping pictures of everybody. There were cameras all over the place.”

In picking up their tickets Monday, his wife, Evelyn, spotted Sen. Roland Burris, of Illinois, who was appointed in a controversial move by the embattled governor to replace Obama. She grabbed his arm, and he posed for a photo with her.

“That’s a keeper,” Willis Anderton said.

The Andertons didn’t know how much of the ceremony they missed. They believe they’ll have to sit back and watch it being replayed on television. After a long day of walking and standing, however, sitting back with his feet up and watching television sounded like a good idea to Anderton, he said.

Peggy and James Troutt went to Washington, D.C., to witness the inauguration but spent the morning going in circles and being misdirected to the wrong entry points for their tickets.

Peggy Troutt said they were on a Metro line that was closed after an accident on the track. (The Associated Press reported that a woman fell onto the track and suffered injuries that were not life-threatening.) All the riders on that line were taken off and sent to the surface, where they were told there would be shuttles.

Instead, they were directed to walk. They went a couple of miles to a tunnel, and were told to go to the end of the tunnel for a gate to the entrance to the ceremony. When they got there, they were told they couldn’t enter because it wasn’t the purple area, where they had tickets.

Back through the tunnel, they found directions to the purple area, but when they got there, it was slow going to the gate.

“All of a sudden, they closed the gate,” Peggy Troutt said.

They arrived in time to hear Vice President Joe Biden take the oath of office. They could hear some of Obama’s speech. They heard the cannons for the salute.

“People were angry. They were disappointed. They were crying,” she said.

“I was so disappointed. I had to remind myself what my pastor says all the time: ‘This too shall pass.’ But right now, it just brings tears to my eyes.”

James Spung, a Whitworth University student in Washington, D.C., for a January-term program on the news media, filed his impressions of the capital city and the inaugural.

“We arrived in Washington, D.C., more than two days before the inauguration of new President Barack Obama, and I thought we had stepped into a Ray Bradbury novel.

“Washington was a police state. The red-blue flashes of sirens continually lit the streets and yellow blockades stood at every corner. Police officers watched the growing numbers of tourists warily with their hands on their hilts. Helicopters flew overhead, washing spotlights over the buildings of Chinatown and K Street.

“And, true to totalitarian form, the face of a national leader littered the city.

“It was Obama’s face in Washington, but the T-shirts, posters and water bottles (yes, water bottles) depicting Obama’s profile called to mind Stalin’s face in Moscow or Mao’s face in Beijing. People called his name in the streets and businesses posted his heroic pictures in their windows. Residents and visitors in the District get excited about every appearance or utterance:

“ ‘Obama.’ ”

Derek Casanovas, another Whitworth University student, wrote:

“3:30 a.m. was an early start. But after arriving at the 7th Street entrance with crowds bottlenecked back to nearly 4th Street, it was looking as though an earlier start may have been necessary. We eventually settled about two-thirds of the way to the Washington Monument, nestled in with people from Germany, California and Kent, Wash.

“Despite the diversity of attendees, the crowd was unified by their purpose for turning out. Buzzwords like ‘history,’ ‘hope’ and ‘first African-American’ were used often to describe why people were there.

“It is hard to describe what the scene looked like today. The fever pitch of the event was amazing, as more and more people spilled onto the grass canvas as the clock approached 10 a.m. As each minute passed, the anticipation of the moment heightened for the millions of people who attended.

“The energy was unlike anything I had seen before …”

Jasmine Linabary, another Whitworth student, wrote:

“Inauguration Day was a day of anticipation – whether it was people’s desires to witness a ‘historical’ event or anxiety about getting onto the National Mall or when Barack Obama would step out of the motorcade.

“People covered distances and obstacles to attend the ceremony today. We spoke to visitors from Germany, Brazil and Ethiopia mixed in with American citizens from all corners of the United States who all mentioned hoping the inauguration would be a historical event and that Obama would bring change when he took his oath as president.

“John See, of Wisconsin, was one such person. He and his wife braved the icy roads driving from Wisconsin to see the inauguration. ‘Obama is the love of our lives,’ See said. ‘We really see him almost as a savior of some kind. We’ve been hugging our grandchildren and telling them, life is going to be worth living again.’ ”

Gene Fitzpatrick, of Spokane, was on his way back to his RV from the inauguration ceremony, hoping to put his feet up and watch some of the parade. Here’s what he had to say about the ceremony:

“The ceremony was short. I was really kind of surprised at how quiet the crowd was. … Everyone was patiently waiting and saying, ‘OK, it’s finally here.’ Every now and then there’d be a cheer that would break out.

“It was so crowded that if you put your hand down by your side, you had to wait to pull it back up until the crowd shifted …”

For the speech, “the crowd was generally quiet and listening. I thought (the speech) was just what we needed … that we’ve got to buckle down and take responsibility. It was the right note.”

Fitzpatrick thought some of the strongest parts of Obama’s speech were his calls for personal responsibility and for “the watchful eye of the government” over the free market economy.

Among the African-Americans in the crowd, the references to Martin Luther King Jr. and Obama’s father possibly not being able to eat in a diner 60 years ago registered, Fitzpatrick said.

But “the biggest reaction, which was a negative reaction, was when Joe Lieberman’s picture appeared (on the Jumbotron). He was booed louder than Bush or Cheney.”

The trek out of the Mall took about 2 ½ hours. People who said you could see the swearing-in ceremony or the parade, but not both, were correct, Fitzpatrick said: There was no way to get to Pennsylvania Avenue from his vantage point on the Mall.

“It was a great experience,” he said. “I’ll never do it again. But you can watch it on TV and it’s spectacular, but it’s not the same.

“You meet just the greatest people.”

Compiled by Jim Camden


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