Inauguration begins with volunteer work

Obamas, Bidens pitch in around D.C.

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama said Saturday his inauguration will be a symbol of U.S. democracy, as well as an “affirmation that we’re all in this together.”

Grabbing a paintbrush and pitching in at a volunteer event to spruce up an elementary school in northeast Washington, Obama invoked Martin Luther King Jr. – whose birthday is celebrated Monday – the day Obama publicly takes the oath of office for a second term in front of hundreds of thousands on the National Mall.

“I’m always reminded that (King) said everybody wants to be first, everybody wants to be a drum major; but if you’re going to be a drum major, be a drum major for service, be a drum major for justice, be a drum major for looking out for other people,” said Obama, who will take the oath using a Bible that King used, as well as one used by Abraham Lincoln.

Obama was joined Saturday by first lady Michelle Obama at the Burrville Elementary School event – and by thousands across the country at other events, including Obama Cabinet officials, marking a National Day of Service. The Obamas in 2009 started a tradition of holding a service day the weekend before the swearing-in.

Obama called the volunteer events “really what America is about. This is what we celebrate.”

He said his inauguration will be “a symbol of how our democracy works and how we peacefully transfer power,” but he added, “it should also be an affirmation that we’re all in this together and that we’ve got to look out for each other and work hard on behalf of each other.”

Vice President Joe Biden, his wife, Jill, and a dozen of their children and grandchildren joined volunteers at the D.C. Armory for a Unite America in Service event organized by the Points of Light organization, which Biden noted was inspired by former President George H.W. Bush. At his 1989 inaugural address, Bush called on a “thousand points of light” to help others.

Volunteers at the event packed 100,000 care kits filled with necessities for deployed and wounded U.S. service members, veterans and first responders. The kits included lint rollers, dental floss, toothbrush and toothpaste, wipes, bandages and cotton swabs.

Biden called the day “so important” and noted that service members are “not looking for anything, but knowing that we remember is an important piece of the equation.”

Biden also invoked King. He said the late civil rights icon instilled “this notion of absolute service.” And, he added, “We have to move back to reaching out to people.”

A day before Biden takes the oath for a second term, he declared the U.S. is “on the cusp of doing some really great things.” The country is known for possibilities, he said, “and the possibilities are immense.”

The folksy Biden paused frequently to pose for pictures with volunteers and at one point, apparently unable to resist the temptation, lobbed a bag of cotton swabs at the reporters trailing him.

Volunteers were to participate in events in every state in the country. Outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was to join department volunteers and youth from the Student Conservation Association to work on beautification projects at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington.

Though attendance is not expected to rival Obama’s 2009 inauguration – when 1.8 million people crowded into the city to be a part of his historic swearing-in – there was a festive feel in downtown Washington on Saturday. Tourists bundled for the January cold snapped photographs of themselves in front of the inaugural parade viewing stand at the White House, and thousands attended pre-inaugural parties.

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