Seeing President Barack Obama be sworn in for the second time wasn’t what I expected. It was better.
In 2009, I pulled myself out of my warm bed on a cold, dark January morning to get to the National Mall to see America swear in its first Black president. I headed out with a coworker bound for a press riser just beyond Washington D.C.’s Chinatown. After being blocked by a broken water mane and being re-directed (several times) to walk nearly the entire length of the Inaugural Parade route, my partner and I were separated. I wound up watching the Inauguration at the Washington Monument, where I had arrived moments before the ceremony began. At the time, the significance of the occasion overrode all the aggravation of getting there.
Four years later, I found myself riding almost eerily empty metro trains to the Capitol South stop. Unlike last time, the metro wasn’t teeming with tourists cramming themselves onto train cars at 6 a.m., eager to get out for the momentous occasion of President Obama’s inauguration. In fact, some reports stated that while his first inauguration was attended by well over 1 million people, estimates this year were between 500,000 and 700,000 attendees.
It was an odd experience for me and my senior editor to get to our destination with a relatively sparse crowd. While we made it in around 7 a.m., we assumed that perhaps most people would be arriving later. Despite a swiftly moving line for check-in that literally went around the block, the most trouble we had once there was finding all of our electronic devices to turn them on before walking through a metal detector. From there it was easy to find our seats. Although we were seated in separate sections, we each had our pick of prime spots from which to witness the swearing in.
It was all a welcome change to the experience I’d had getting there the time before. But with more than four hours of free time on my hands, I had no clue how I was going to keep myself entertained until the ceremony began. I had been completely unprepared for the possibility of having a smooth arrival. Not that I would have traded my seat at The U.S. Capitol for any of the shenanigans from the last inauguration.
After reading a couple of articles in the local Express paper, my neighbors and I were alerted to some commotion in just beyond the ticketed area. A protestor, who had likely been posted up on the mall since the night before, had climbed up into a tree with a sign and was shouting incredibly loud just before 8 a.m. Although it was unclear what he was saying, he was very obviously not there to cheer President Obama into his second term. On a nearby rooftop sharpshooters could be seen training their scopes on him.
A line of security guards streamed down to the tree to try and get the man down. After a while, some secret service members even came out, and a ladder was brought out so that authorities could pluck him and his sign from the branches. Not to be deterred, the protestor simply climbed higher into tree, where he remained through out the rest of the morning as authorities could not get him down.
People eventually began to ignore the man and went back to their conversations, asking their neighbors where they are from. I was seated with a family from New York, a mom with her daughter and the girl’s friend from Massachusetts, and father from Texas that was attending the inauguration with his son (a fully uniformed student from Annapolis).
We spotted celebrities like Tyne Daley and Yolanda Adams passing by on their way to their seats further up. But it was Kerry Washington, who caused a commotion in my section when she showed up seeking a place for her and team to sit. The "Scandal" star was incredibly kind to her seemingly endless stream of fans that just wanted a picture with her or to tell her how much they love her show. Even people that didn’t know who she was wanted to snap a shot with her.
For those wondering, "Who doesn’t know Kerry Washington?," the answer to that question would be one of my neighbors. While I won’t out which one was a little clueless about Kerry (because they had never seen the show), they were determined to get a pic after I told them who she was and why she’s so awesome.
When someone asked Kerry if dealing with all of the fans was too much, she simply said, "No, I’m gratreful for it." And you could see that gratitude with every fan she met. Kerry joked with them, graciously accepting their praise and excitement. She even messed with one photographer, quipping that he’d gotten enough shots of her with fans to fill an album.
Later Victoria’s Secret model Chanel Iman only added to the excitement by sitting right next to Kerry–three rows behind us! If anyone can pull off early-morning chic it was those two! My senior also mentioned spotting Steve and Marjorie Harvey in her section as well as Rosario Dawson, who was honored at the Hip Hop Inaugural Ball just hours before, and Cicely Tyson.
Everyone’s attention shifted to The risers at The Capitol and the big screens beside it once the entrances began. As expected there were big cheers for Jay-Z and Beyonce once they were spotted making their way to the seats at the Capitol, but it was former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that got the biggest reaction from the crowd outside of the Obamas themselves.
First daughters Sasha and Malia made their way out with their grandmother first, and in the crowd there was chatter of how much the girls had grownup since 2008 and how lovely they looked. When First Lady Michelle Obama, a chorus of "oohs" and "aahs" washed over the crowd as she stunned in tailored jacket with her new bangs. She coordinated with her daughters, who dressed in a palette of purple, by wearing aubergine leather gloves.
Naturally, the crowd went wild as soon as the man of the hour, President Barack Obama, came out to take his seat beside his favorite ladies. Not only were they excited to see him, they were excited that his arrival signaled the beginning of the ceremony they’d been waiting to see for months.Fingers frozen, teeth chattering, people whooped and hollered when the president finally arrived.
Before he could be sworn in again, there was the matter of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor making her inaugural debut to swear in Vice President Joe Biden. With the exception of a minor flub in his oath, he corrected himself and kept on with the ceremony.
It was hard for me to decide between looking to The Capitol stage to see the event in front of me or looking to the big screens for a close up of the moment. So I wound up looking like I was watching a tennis match. But the decision of where to look when President Obama took the stage was clear cut: I kept my eyes on the Capitol. Who else would get to see something like this live ever again?
My vantage point gave me a clear line of sight to the president as he took the oath of office once again and kissed Michelle and his girls once it was done. I wasn’t going to miss seeing it first hand for anything.The moment was far too important to watch it on some screen.
Then the crowd sat captivated as the president gave his second inaugural address, challenging the country to make good on Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision of equality. Even some of the lines of his address harkened back to the tone of MLK’s I Have A Dream speech. He also made it a point to tell his detractors that he was ready to have real conversations and action on advancing the country, stating that the nation cannot mistake "name calling for reasoned debate."
Despite lovely performances by James Taylor and Kelly Clarkson and a wonderful poem by Richard Blanco, everyone was waiting on Beyonce to wrap up the 2013 inauguration with her powerhouse rendition of "The National Anthem."
It was early, I was cold, and I was exhausted after a long weekend of Inauguration coverage. But to be at the swearing with a seat at the capitol amongst my fellow Obama supporters and two of my favorite celebs made it totally worth it!