As we arrived in Chicago early Wednesday morning, my mind was still racing, and, frankly, a little cloudy after getting only 10-15 hours of shut-eye the entire weekend.
I quickly tried to process everything I had experienced during arguably the most historically significant presidential inauguration to date in our nation's short history.
Then, I simply listed words--both positive and negative--that I thought best captured the essence of inauguration weekend: exhilarating, inspiring, exhausting, frigid, patriotic, politeness, selflessness, jubilant, frustrating, carefree, surreal and proud.
Of course, words are limiting. When we need them the most, they often fail us. And after this weekend especially, I'm reminded that it's the captivating images and electric atmosphere on the Mall that I'll remember the most.
Fittingly, the last picture I took on my camera speaks to the idea that it's the images that can and will instantly transport me back to a time when this country took an incredible and monumental step forward in the right direction.
As thousands of pre-selected students arrived in D.C. for the Inaugural celebrations on Saturday, January 17, many believe they were misled by the University Presidential Inaugural Conference (UPIC) to "directly participate in the pageantry and ceremony of the inauguration."
Vera Bowman, 42, a student in DePaul's School of New Learning, was one the of the selected students. In April of 2008, she received an email from the Golden Key International Honour congratulating her on "being accepted to be among the thousands of students" to "witness first-hand the Inauguration of the 44th President of United States" as a result of her affiliation and academic achievement with Golden Key. She was told that 400 other Golden Key students were invited and that 20, the most they ever had from one school, were from DePaul.
"I was so excited when I got my letter," Bowman said two days before leaving for D.C. "I couldn't believe I had been nominated." However, when she found out on Monday that there would be no tickets to the swearing-in ceremony, even after said she had called months before ensuring there would be, Bowman was outraged.
Amongst things mentioned in acceptance letters to "Inaugural Scholars" like Bowman and others, which was also listed on the UPIC's website were:
• "Exclusive and private inaugural events"
• "Activities with world-renowned keynote speakers," including Colin Powell and Al Gore, "and interaction "with White House veterans, press secretaries, political powerhouses, Washington, D.C. insiders, presidential historians, policy makers, documentary film makers and other prominent and sought-after personalities and political experts."
• "Public ceremonial events, such as the official swearing-in ceremony"
• Admittance to the "exclusive Black Tie Gala Inaugural Ball" on Tuesday night.
Another DePaul student, Kaitlyn Schaefer, senior education major, said, "We all kind of felt like we misled by it--we paid tuition for the conference, speakers for the hotel, and a gala which we thought was going to be an official ball."
The UPIC claims that they place the strictest limitations on available space and eligibility. Inaugural scholars, not only had to pay a $2,870 for housing, program materials, and 2 meals a day (for a four day trip, not including airfare), but had meet the academic requirements of select honor societies. Opportunities for fundraising and limited scholarships were available to help some offset the expenses.
Bowman also thought she would be going with an intimate group of people; however students reported numbers of 5,000 students being squeezed into 30 tour buses, which was far more people than the UPIC was prepared to handle. Many students were more upset about what they believe were misleding acceptance letters claiming admission to the "ticketed" seating section.
Frustrated students are currently collaborating through Facebook in groups like "UPIC scam," "Where did our money go!?!" "UPIC 2009-Official Complaint Group" and a group designed for students to post their draft letters to the head of UPIC, newspapers, government officials and President Obama. A part of one letter from Heather O'Conner, a student at Roger Williams University:
"We were never told directly we did not have tickets and many people were still questioning when we were actually being given the tickets up until the day prior to the Inauguration. This was extremely deceitful by the UPIC. Instead, were on our own to find transportation to the event...many of us were left wondering the D.C. streets at 3 in the morning trying to get as close as possible.
It is bad enough that this organization grossly misrepresented what we were actually paying for, that they fraudulently led many people to believe that we were paying a great sum of money in order to reserve a ticket for the Inauguration as well as to 'rub elbows' with the political elite of the government."
Students also reported that they were never asked to turn in their sheets of medical information containing medical problems, insurance and students' emergency contact information, which was stated mandatory to bring with them when they checked in.
On Monday night at their various hotels, students organized petitions to send letters like O'Conners to complain about their treatment. Many have requested a full refund. So far, students claim they have received 500 signatures and expect more.
Before departing for D.C., Bowman said, "I was two years old when MLK was assassinated. I feel like Obama is this generation's King and I want to experience and remember the magnitude of people together feeling inspired." For Bowman, who took out extra loans to pay for what she thought would be the experience of a lifetime, she is left feeling frustrated and disappointed.
Please note this story is still developing as I am waiting to hear back from UPIC and Golden Key reps
Crowds flood the intersection of 18th and E Street as they exit the District on foot.
The intersection of 18th and E Street, NW looked like a scene from ABC's popular reality show "Extreme Makeover Home Edition" on Tuesday, as thousands of trapped visitors pleaded with authorities to, "Move that bus!" As it turns out it was the District's crowd control strategy that needed a makeover.
National news reports out of Washington, D.C. have boasted that Tuesday's inaugural ceremony went off without incident and without a single arrest. The credit for that success should go to the citizens and not law enforcement authorities, who kept hundreds of thousands of visitors trapped in a maze of barricades for hours following the inaugural ceremony.
As one of the mice trapped in that maze I can say the situation teetered on the edge of patience and defiance as visitors came to realize that law enforcement had no cohesive plan for how to get millions of people out of the District.
Jumbo-trons on the Mall instructed visitors to exit via 12th or 14th Street, however both were barricaded off to anyone heading north across the parade route. "We tried to be nice and walk and now we're trapped," one couple said.
With little to no communication between law enforcement and the public, crowds relied on word of mouth the help each other navigate a way out.
Military police create a human barricade at the intersection 18th and E Street.
As we stood shoulder to shoulder at 18th and E Street, one man revolted, "Let's just take it back!" Going by numbers it would have been easy for a crowd of thousands to overthrow a handful of military police standing guard and it crossed my mind several times that I could soon find myself in the middle of a riot.
Thankfully the spirit of goodwill and unity that defined the weekend-long celebration held true and the public gave the District the glowing statistic it needed.
As both a participant and journalist, here's what I found most memorable and least memorable about my stay in D.C. during Inauguration festivities.
5. Role of Twitter: Not only did dannythedemon play a key part in starting this blog (how we made initial contact with the Sun-Times), we gained 400+ followers in just two weeks, including the Washington Post. The Chicago Tribune's ColonelTribune gave us a shoutout. Canada's National Post live-streamed our tweets. And Radio-Canada contacted me to request an interview through Twitter (which led to this story). Besides the media attention, the amount of replies and direct messages we received was overwhelming.
4. Patriotism: The pride and sense of nationalism was a recurrent theme throughout the trip. Red, white and blue was everywhere, and seemingly every local business decorated for the occasion. Flags were on every block and people would often bellow random renditions of patriotic tunes in the streets, like God Bless America.
3. Brunch with Lonnie Bunch: The fact that we were able to set up an interview with the prominent historian and former Chicagoan was one thing, the fact that he invited us into his own home in Northwestern D.C. was something else entirely. He was so kind and very knowledgeable. He didn't have to take the time out of his busy schedule for us. But he did, and the next day he spent some eight hours providing analysis for ABC.
2. Lincoln Memorial Concert: Worth the trip alone. The 2nd biggest event I've ever attended in my life in terms of crowd size, only to Inauguration Day itself. The overall atmosphere was just awesome: chanting, laughing, smiling, and everybody with a camera or cell phone in hand. The list of celebrities didn't hurt, nor did Obama's speech, and the performances were out of this world. I didn't expect this event to be as great as it was.
1. Sense of Community: Everyone who made the trek down D.C. had a common bond immediately and the opportunity to share in the festivities. And people did too, often exchanging stories of travel troubles or exciting encounters with celebrities, striking up conversation with complete strangers. The Swearing-In ceremony topped it all off as shared in the mess getting out of the National Mall and Capitol.
5. Wireless/cell access: This could have been a lot worse, of course, but making calls and sending texts wasn't as easy as 1, 2, 3. At peak times, I had to do something five or six times before it went through. Other times, sporadically, I would have no service at all. Fortunately, it turned into nothing more than a minor inconvenience.
4. Not enough grub: One common complaint was that there wasn't enough food to go around. Most restaurants had 1-2 hour waits during lunch or dinner hours. Even McDonald's had huge delays - it took me an hour and 20 minutes to place my order shortly after the Swearing-In Ceremony. There weren't nearly enough vending machines or street stands. But there were plenty of port-a-potties.
3. Overcrowded landmarks: Want to take a stroll to the White House to try snap a few pictures? How about visit the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday night? You can go, as I did, but you're going to spend plenty of time standing around. Long lines were extremely common and nearly impossible to avoid.
2. Blatant disrespect: Fortunately, this was only limited to pockets of the crowd, but some on Inauguration Day poked fun at Dick Cheney upon seeing him and a wheel chair and others booed George W. Bush whenever he was shown on the jumbotron. It just didn't seem the place or the time for any sort of mocking or negativity.
1. Metro Station overload: Emergency and transit officials did their best, but no matter who you are, nobody is going to be able to accommodate for 2 million+ people. The headaches were compounded by the accident involving a 68-year-old woman who fell onto one station's tracks, the bitter cold air, and the fact people grew tired of standing, standing and more standing.
Written by Matt Monahan, a 2008 DePaul University Alum and a past editor for The DePaulia's National/Global section.
"Let it be told to the future world ... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet (it)."
With these stirring words from George Washington, Barack Obama came to the penultimate moment of his inaugural address. Choosing to reference the nation's founder said volumes about the challenges Obama sees as he takes office, the importance of avoiding partisan, "childish" fights and more importantly, viewing his election to the presidency as an affirmation that challenges seemingly so great and enduring as to be set in stone, can and will be overcome by the values and spirit of sacrifice etched into the fabric of American history.
The challenge for any inaugural address is not to deliver an immediately immortalized catch phrase, but to explain and introduce your approach to government and the moment as you see it, all while respecting and incorporating the historical significance of the ritual by which the president is invested with his powers.
It is for that reason that I found myself sitting on the edge of my frozen seat on the Southwest lawn of the capital yesterday morning. Though the address had no headline grabbing lines or legacy establishing moments, it so stunningly captured the moment, reflected Obama's personal approach, and so effectively captured the spirit of American history and values essential to the transition of presidential power.
Obama's speech literally rang with the cadences of history, both of his own and that of country. In making his address so much about history, he tied his success not so much to his own achievements and ambition, but to generations of Americans whose self-sacrifice at Gettysburg, Normandy and Khe-Sahn, and whose dreaming in Selma and Washington D.C. made January 20th, 2009 possible.
And yet how telling it was that on a serene, sunlit morning, when millions gathered to watch him place his hand on the Lincoln Bible, Obama painted a picture of storm clouds
Facing an uncertain economic crisis and forced to deal with two unfinished conflicts stretching across the central and southern Asia, Obama echoed Churchill and Roosevelt while he reminded the American people of its role in ushering in the "gathering storm clouds."
Historical indeed that Obama would chastise the sea of people stretching before him, uninterrupted from the Capital lawn to the Doric columns surrounding the man to whom Obama most often draws comparison.
Rather than focus on what so many have labeled the "historical" nature of his election as the nation's first African-American president, Obama instead focused on the historical nature of the challenges we face, and reasons we face them.
In that way, Obama's speech sounded a bit like a teacher reprimanding his student body for logical inconsistencies in his or her homework, for elevating childish fights to unnecessary importance, for a clear failure to make sacrifices, and a shying away of hard work in hard times.
To my understanding, Obama's speech was less a critique of the administration whose architects sat near him, but rather of a collective failure of leadership on the part of every American who neglected to understand the limitations of our actions and perspective.
To my ears, he placed the failings of the Bush administration not in a Texas ranch compound, but in a misplaced American desire for richness and independence without heed for those around us.
He called us to take a part in our communities, to think about the ramifications of our actions both at home and abroad, and to understand that no explanation can excuse complacency or mismanagement in daunting times.
In many ways, Obama's first inaugural sounded a lot like a teacher handing out a syllabus on the first day of class as both an introduction to the year, and an invitation to participate in the process.
He told that crowd quite plainly that the president alone is not the solution, nor is he himself historically significant simply because of his race. Instead, Obama explained that his importance is as a model of sacrifice, hard-work, tradition and family. Moreover, those in the classroom will fill in the specifics of his class slowly as his term unfolds and only if they participate and take ownership over their work will anything come of his time in office.
Everyone has something to talk about at Dulles Airport while waiting for their early Wednesday morning flights back home. From the long check-in lines (about 30-45 minutes) to the airport security line to the gate (another 20-30 min), travelers can't help not to talk about yesterday's inaugural events.
Whether it was former Vice President Dick Cheney being rolled out onto in a wheelchair, Obama slippiing on the words of his oath of office, or George W Bush's expression when Obama made a explicit criticism of the last administration in his first speech as president. "As for our common defense," Obama said about national defence as the screen zoomed in on Bush's face, "we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals."
If you're claustrophobic, anywhere near a Metro Station early this morning and late this afternoon was a bad place to be.
But at the Capitol South stop this morning, transit and emergency officials put together a catchy song to keep people's moods up as their patience was tested. "Keep it moving, keep it moving, walk through the gates," which momentarily evolved to "Yes we can!" Have a look:
The worst of Metro Madness came after the Inauguration Ceremony, when everyone at once tried to push their way to the stations. Buses and barriers were planted in their way, as were emergency officials. Some remarked that while the morning commute went relatively smoothly, there seemed to be little plan as to getting people out of the National Mall area.
Thousands of people flocked to the L'Enfants Metro Station following the Inauguration Ceremony, only to be motioned away by cops and the National Guard. The station was closed, along with many others for some time after the event, according to one officer due to an investigation of the incident at the Chinatown Station.
The metro station closures forced me to stop in McDonald's to stay warm. There was standing-room only at this corner location near the Mall, as about 10 lines congregated and people were literally touching waiting to get to the counter. It took me an hour and 20 minutes to order 10 nuggets and fries. How's that for fast food?
Then, to stay indoors, I journeyed to a nearby CVS Pharmacy. Apparently many others had the same idea, and some people were even camped out in the aisles. I found a nice spot in the medicine aisle and took an hour nap. Why not?
Fortunately, after that, the metro stations were finally back up and running again. I took Federal Triangle Station back to my host's home in Landover Hills, Md.
Bernard Lilly, 40, of Chicago's Austin neighborhood, poses with one of his favorite cousins James Williams, 15, of Atlanta, Ga. during today's event in the National Mall. Williams, an honors student at Kennesaw Mountain High School in Atlanta, made the trek to D.C. with his parents (Chicago natives), two sisters, and aunt. "We had to come to the Inauguration," Lilly said.
Flags were waved throughout the Mall during the ceremony. Here's three of them from spectators in the non-ticket area between the Capitol Building and Washington Monument, just moments before Barack Obama was officially sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America.
A few observations about today's event:
- Security concerns: Unlike the intense screenings and checkpoints at Grant Park on Nov. 4, members of the general public were allowed to pour onto the National Mall without a ticket without going through any metal detectors or check-points. Kind of scary if you think about it.
- Audio echo effect: Crowd noise echoed off the buildings that surround the National Mall, providing a rumbling thunder every now and then for those in attendance (much like NFL stadiums, for example). But the coolest part of this was when Barack Obama gave his speech - his voice resonated in a way that could only give you shivers.
- Look up above: About eight helicopters could be seen circling above the scene, and snipers could be spotted atop roofs. Planes and plenty of birds could also be seen in the distance, providing an interesting contrast amidst the bright blue sky.
- Obama's speech: Many said it was longer than expected and I agree, but he hit up a ton of major policy points, including those that could please both political parties. If one thing could be said about his address, few people use the English language better than him. He's masterful with the language and incredibly inspirational in the process, both as an orator and motivational speaker.
- Booing Bush: People may not like him or his decisions, but the loud boos heard when George W. Bush was shown on the Jumbotron and subsequently introduced were absolutely uncalled for. This was NOT the place for that sort of behavior, and the Canadians to the right of me agreed. Show some respect.
After only two hours of sleep Monday night, I began Inauguration Day at 8:30 a.m., trekking from Arlington, VA. with my hosts to the Memorial Bridge--the place for cyclists and pedestrians headed to the ceremony on Tuesday.
Walking to the bridge was a tranquil, awe-inspiring buildup to what became a gripping, profoundly patriotic event. I was positioned on the west end of the Mall--between the Washington Monument and the National World War II Memorial.
The bridge provided easy access to the inauguration and picturesque views of the Lincoln Memorial. The right lanes of the bridge were closed for the eventual motorcade of buses transporting the bands for the parade.
Chris Brandon, 63, of Plainfield, MA holds a sign her nephew made. Brandon was active during the civil rights movement, marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1966 and 1967. "This is like an alternate reality," she said. "It's unreal."
Davies said the weekend's atmosphere was "absolutely fantastic and hopeful, especially in the midst of a crisis."
Davies also said Obama's speech was a "rallying call" and likened it to some of Winston Churchill's speeches.
"Words matter, and it is words that inspire," he said.
"At events like this, history is made in a flash, and if you miss it, you miss that moment."
Like so many others, Davies raised his country's flag in support of President Obama.
After the ceremony ended, however, the Mall was not treated with the greatest care. This pile of garbage was at 17th. and Constitution St.
Still, the crowds were invigorating and inspiring in spite of the frigid temperatures. Those who couldn't get to the parade continued to celebrate at 17th and H St. well after Obama's speech ended.
After a late night of get-down grooves with George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelics at a pre-inauguration reception honoring Obama and the Congressional Black Caucus, it was time to retire and attempt an hour or two of zzz's. The next morning would bear more emotion and excitement, so some rest was needed before making the long trek out to Capitol Hill. However as I called a time-out, the streets of DC remained buzzing for hours, full of people who most likely knew there would be no time (or for some, place) to rest.
My eyes were crusty and head fuzzy as I woke up at 6AM to the sound of helicopters. I felt guilty for oversleeping. The Mall had just opened up the gates to the public and I was already behind those had been there since 3AM camping out. By suprise my inauguration plans manifested into me scoring two admission tickets just four hours earlier. My sister's friend, a DC native, had no desire to make the hike and spend hours outside in the cold on Capitol Hill. I won some time back, considering the gates in the tickted area wouldn't open till 9AM.
Tickets in hands, my friend and I were off! What on any normal day would have been 10-15 minutes to walk from Chinatown to Capitol Hill, took us over an hour. The streets felt sublimely surreal as people appeared to be sleepwalking on the carless streets towards the Mall. Street vendors bustled with various Obama paraphenelia from Obama hand warmers to "I was there" T-shirts. And at any given moment, individuals would begin to chant "O BA MA, O BA MA;" a sort of piercing reality check that no T-shirt needed to remind us that indeed, we were here.
Finally, we arrived to orange security gate before it opened at 9am, but not without an hour and half line, which went by fast if you had good coversation with the people waiting with you. Undoubtly, this was the majority of the inauguration experience--building community with those around you. And if it at any moment I had a doubt about the worthwhileness of being amidst this excessive event, a good conversation or kind gesture could quickly disinegrate the thought. Afterall, most everyone in that line and in the Mall knew the kind of chaos they were getting themselves into. And given moments here and there of frustration, I was overall impressed with the patience people possessed.
I will be posting more about the swearing in ceremony and people's reactions. It's been an exhausting and hectic last 24 hours.