Thursday 02 Jul 2020 | 08:47 | SYDNEY
Thursday 02 Jul 2020 | 08:47 | SYDNEY

Inauguration madness

19 January 2009 15:24

Guest blogger: David Knoll researches US foreign policy in Washington, DC, and served as research assistant for former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s last book, ‘Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West.’

George W. Bush still has two days left in office, but the parties have long been underway here in Washington, DC for Barack Obama’s inauguration. One of the biggest concerts in DC history just concluded at the Lincoln Memorial which featured an eclectic mix of music superstars such as Bruce Springsteen, U2, Stevie Wonder, Beyonce, Jon Bon Jovi, John Legend, Shakira and James Taylor. 

In between musical numbers various other stars, Jamie Foxx, Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks and, fittingly, Martin Luther King, read historical passages. Even Tiger Woods got in on the action and he didn’t try to sell anything.

Driving home tonight, I was amazed to see Interstate 66, one of the city’s major highways, shut down and turned into a pedestrian walkway. It seemed that almost half of the roads I tried to take were shut down by DC police, US Secret Service, Park Police, or any one of the 53 law enforcement agencies that are protecting the scene this weekend. Yet, even with all the hassle, the mood is absolutely positive. 

Along sidewalks, people can be seen wearing every type of Obama apparel (these knit hats seem to be the most popular) and can be heard spontaneously breaking out into chants of ‘Obama! Obama!’ Presidential inaugurations in the District are normally big events, but no bigger than other major public holidays. This one is strikingly different — the whole city has been turned into an event venue. Restaurants are serving Obama sandwiches, Hollywood’s elite can be seen strutting their stuff around town, whole areas of the city are shut down to traffic and the conversation heard on the streets is nothing but inauguration talk.

Yet, even with the clusters of stars which shined tonight, the performance was just a sideshow to the real event, the presidential inauguration, which is expected to draw two million people on Tuesday — compare that to the 400,000 people who attended Bush’s 2004 inauguration. With the expected crush of humanity, Washington is preparing all modes of transportation for its guests. The city’s major international airport is shutting down one of its runways to accommodate parking for the expected 500 private planes.

DC metro train system officials are warning people not to even attempt to take the train if they live within two miles of the capitol building! A nice walk doesn’t seem that bad until you consider that the high temperature is expected to be -1°C on Tuesday, with chances of snow the day before.

For the presidential swearing-in ceremony, which will take place on the West side of the Capitol building, officials have given out 240,000 tickets, of which 30,000 are seated. For everybody who doesn’t have a ticket, the entire two mile length of the National Mall will be opened up for standing room only. The city will be setting up a couple dozen Jumbotrons for people to follow the action. Following the swearing-in ceremony will be the traditional inaugural parade, featuring President Obama’s new limo, marching bands from all around the country and even NASA’s newest lunar rover.

From what I’ve heard, many locals are planning on attending the inauguration events, despite the dire warnings from officials. I’ll certainly be there before the sun rises to get my spot. Likely, though, after such an ordeal, we will all want an adult beverage or two, and luckily for us the city has planned for that as well, passing a special ordinance allowing bars to stay open for ‘extended hours’ during the inauguration period.