Maryland resident Carolyn Lee took the Metro’s orange line to the Foggy Bottom station early Sunday afternoon. Her intention: to celebrate the opening ceremonies of the 56th Presidential Inauguration.
“I’m hoping to meet up with my nieces,” Lee said, “but it’s a long shot.”
Lee isn’t being a pessimist but rather a realist. By the time she reached Foggy Bottom, walked along 23rd Street Northwest and crossed Constitution Avenue to the National Mall, the crowd had swelled to more than a half million.
The opening ceremony featured history-themed speeches and musical performances by some of the biggest artists and celebrities in the world including singers U2 featuring Bono, Beyoncé Knowles and Bruce Springsteen and actors Denzel Washington and Jamie Foxx.
Lee, however, had even more motivation for getting on the Metro that day. “The excitement,” she said. “Change.”
Symbols of President-elect Barack Obama’s mantra for change, indeed, were everywhere. Lining the streets from the Foggy Bottom station to the Mall were vendors selling pins, buttons, calendars, T-shirts, hooded sweatshirts, wristbands and even infant apparel that bore the president-elect’s likeness and his maxim “Yes we can!”
One vendor offered cashmere scarves for $10 each and farther down the street, a group of four women shouted out the prices of hand, feet and body warmers to provide some relief from the bitter cold.
The masses that poured out of the Metro station like a herd of cattle managed to swerve around the persistent vendors but were kept on the sidewalks by the men and women in army fatigues who blew their whistles and used their hands to gesture “get out of the street.”
Not all civilians were forced to the pavement. Bicyclers carried some event goers to and from the Metro station for a fee, while others brought their own bicycles to get through the crowd quicker.
One such traveler was one of the few people on the Mall to have a ticket, which allowed him quicker and closer access to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where the action of the day would be taking place.
“How do I feel about today?” he pondered while zipping the ticket he showed to an inaugural worker back into his fanny pack. “It’s about time.”
As when Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech in March of 1963, the crowd on the Mall stretched from the foot of the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument — about a mile’s distance.
The concert, titled “We Are One,” started promptly at 2:30 PM. Yet, some members of the swollen crowd had been on the Mall since 6 or 7 in the morning.
The artists who agreed to perform, Obama said, understand that the concert is “not a celebration of the election. It’s not a celebration of my candidacy; it’s a celebration of America.” [run-on sentences]
Once the president-elect, vice president-elect and their respective families were seated, Denzel Washington opened with a strong speech.
Tom Hanks followed, speaking of leaders of the past who fought for freedom and equality and focusing on Abraham Lincoln as a man and president. Other orators made Lincoln a central topic, as well.
Comedians Steve Carell and Jamie Foxx were in contrast. Carell, usually laid back in his demeanor, showed a more serious side. Foxx, however, stuck to his usual routine — imitating Obama’s speaking voice, much to the president-elect’s amusement. When he said “Chi-town stand up,” the Obama family rose to the crowd’s enjoyment and applause.
Actress Laura Linney joined Martin Luther King III as he talked about his father and Obama declaring the King holiday a National Day of Service. He quoted his father, saying, “Everybody can be great because anybody can serve.”
R&B singer Mary J. Blige was backed up by a choir as she sang “Lean on Me” and Bettye LaVette was joined by Jon Bon Jovi for a rendition of “A Change Gon’ Come.”
Obama and his wife, Michelle, stood up and clapped when artists Usher, Shakira and Stevie Wonder performed Wonder’s hit “Higher Ground.”
Vice president-elect Joe Biden provided the crowd with a history lesson during his short spiel, saying that the famous infrastructures on the Mall were “all built stone by stone by American men and women.” Generations of the present, Biden said, owe thanks to those workers.
Actress Queen Latifah took the stage to tell the tale of opera singer Marian Anderson, who sang “under the protective gaze of Abraham Lincoln” after being invited by Eleanor Roosevelt. The Daughters of the American Revolution denied her access to Constitution Hall.
Actors Cal Penn talked about “celebrating our differences,” while George Lopez remembered the late Dr. Barbara Jordan, the first black woman from the South to serve in the House of Representatives.
Artists Will.I.Am and Sheryl Crow were accompanied by Herbie Hancock on the piano, performing Bob Marley’s song “One Love (Get Together)” and mixing it with the Black Eyed Peas’ hit song “Where Is the Love.”
The navy made many contributions to the Opening Ceremonies, providing an orchestra, flag bearers and a selection from the Naval Academy Glee Club.
Tiger Woods doted on the armed forces, remembering his father. He reminisced on having a “military dad” and said “I’m a better man for it.”
U2’s lead singer, Bono, spent time speaking praises directly to Obama during his band’s performance. “Forty-six years ago, MLK had a dream,” Bono said. “On Tuesday, that dream comes to pass.”
Obama came to the podium toward the end of the ceremony and addressed the crowd, saying, “You proved once more, that people who love this country can change it.”
The character of a country, Obama added, is determined “by the right we do when the time is hard.”
After Knowles sung “O Say Can You See” and was joined on stage by the fleet of celebrities who had participated in the day’s events, the president-elect and his party left to chants of “Obama” echoing throughout the Mall.
Standing on the platform inside the Chinatown Metro station, 19-year-old Dorian Wattower, reflected on the day.
“They could have set it up better,” he said. Wattower commented on the number of people, saying “I knew that was gonna happen.”
Wattower said a few fights nearly broke out when one person would barge in front of another. “It was crazy,” he said. “People was climbing in trees to see stuff. A couple of people fell out of trees.”
Having traveled from Clark-Atlanta University and arriving at the Mall five hours before the concert started, Wattower was pleased with the promptness and the quality of the orations.
“It was part of history,” he said, “so it was worth standing out there.”