Obama Euphoria Overshadows Residents’ Concerns About Inconvenience

Howard University News Service

Ward 2 resident Oscar Sparrow, 60, sat on the front porch of his row house, greeting neighbors passing by as he has done many times before. But, like many other residents of neighborhoods in Downtown Washington, the swearing-in of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States next week was on his mind.

NeighborhoodInfo DCa project of the Urban Institute and Washington DC Local Support Corporation (LISC) last estimated the population of Ward 2 as 68,000. But on January 20, well over 2 million people will squeeze into this area to witness the historic swearing-in of Obama as the first African American president.

It’s an event that has some worried about how residents of downtown DC will cope with such a massive crowd.

“I don’t have any safety concerns for myself, other than to stay out of it and see what I can see on TV,” Sparrow said. Originally from Northeast Washington, Sparrow has lived in the Northwest area for around 25 years. Currently residing on the corner of Corcoran Street and 15th Street Northwest, he is disabled after suffering a stroke a few years ago and having a hip replacement. According to published reports, the Metropolitan Police Department along with the U.S. Park Police, U.S. Capitol Police and other local and federal agencies will team to ensure the safety during the Inaugural festivities. Security screenings will be a precautionary measure that the United States Secret Service is taking to ensure safety.

According to a Secret Service press release security is prohibiting common everyday items such as; coolers, thermal or glass containers, backpacks, and oversized bags. “The biggest concern is overcrowdedness,” Ralph Williams, 60, said. Williams is a Northeast resident but has worked in maintenance for 19 years at the Jewish Community Center in Northwest D.C., at 1529 16th Street. He plans to watch the inauguration events on TV with the 300 guests who will be staying at the center.

“I have small children and it’s going to be a lot of people, and I’m afraid if something were to happen, you have a big crowd and a lot of chaos,” said Aaron Nelson, a resident of Southeast who commutes to Northwest. He agrees that inauguration poses some problems for residents.

He continued, “I do worry that it gets to a point where it’s hard to manage when the crowd gets to be a certain size.” Nelson said that he, his wife, and children plan to remain at home. Williams also mentioned bathroom availability in the downtown area and robberies as potential problems. “Predators will be out roaming around. They may be on trains or moving through crowds,” he said. Residents are taking parking availability in consideration as well. “Parking is going to be trouble,” Williams, who drives, said. “Once you find a parking space, stay there and walk to where you got to go.” Sparrow said there has been a rerouting of buses for the pass 10 days that will continue for a couple of weeks. The MPD newsletter states that downtown will be filled will vehicle-restricted zones beginning on Jan. 19 and ending on Jan. 21.

Twenty-four-year-old Christopher Gregory, an employee at Book-A-Million bookstore on Dupont Circle, said, “I plan on waking up very early in the morning and walking to the swearing in since I live about three blocks away from the White House.” The last time D.C. attracted such a massive amount of African Americans to the area was nearly 14 years ago for the Million Man March, led by the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Williams said the Million Man March was not as crowded as is expected for Inauguration. Sparrow said the expected attendance is much larger than the masses of people who came when Martin Luther King was in town for his historic “March on Washington” address in 1963. Walter Moore, who lives near 16th Street and Q Street in Dupont Circle, said this is the first inauguration that blacks are excited about. Nevertheless, to some residents it is understandable and appropriate for people all over the country to want to witness the Inaugural events in person. “I don’t mind being inconvenienced for a couple of days because I get to share my city with people around the world and be a part of such a historic event,” Smith said. Inauguration 2009 will have an impact on residents’ daily routines for a week but residents believe that the essence of it will have a lasting effect on all. Williams said, “People will be here to see the first black president. It’s a dream that was never supposed to come true for black people.” “Barack’s name is in the New Testament in the Bible. Barack means ‘bless-ed,’ it’s a Hebrew name. In the book of Hebrews 11:32, it mentions his name along with a few of the other prophets, so I feel he was destined to win. Before, we didn’t really care about who was the president,” said Moore. Most residents believe that the event will unfold smoothly.Sparrow said that people should embrace one another and communicate. “If we have any problems, hopefully it’s the weather,” he said. Brittany Hutson contributed to this story.