Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration Weekend: 1/20/09

PICTURES! (It loaded in reverse chronological order and would only allow me to post five on here. No worries, more to come!)
From Top:
1. Vendor selling sweatshirts with an image comparing Obama to Martin Luther King Jr. There were a ton of things like this one, along with things comparing him to Lincoln and JFK.
2. Vendor selling pins in the cold.
3. The crowds outside the Judiciary Square Metro Station at 7am.
4. The platform of the Judiciary Square Metro Station at 7am.
5. The crowded Metro.

Hello all. Sorry for the delay on this post, but I have spent most of that time either sleeping or driving back to Boston and have only just now gotten the opportunity to write.

We woke up on Tuesday morning at 4:30, got dressed, ate breakfast, and made our to the Metro station by 6. The crowds on the platform weren't too bad, but the train itself was already pretty full. We didn't have any problems getting on, but within a few stops the train was so packed and the platform was so crowded that people were unable to get into the car. We got off at Judiciary Square, as suggested by the map on our tickets, around 7. The crowds were already enormous. Everyone moved in one cohesive rhythm along D Street toward the corner of the Purple Gate. The atmosphere was clearly celebratory as people in the crowd joked with each other and gave advice on how to get where you needed to go. Along the road were hundreds of vendors, peddling more ridiculous Obama gear, hand warmers, and coffee.

We quickly made it to the corner of D and 1st Street and joined a massive crowd talking about the Purple Gate. People started saying that there was a line forming around the building and headed in that direction, so we followed. The line not only went around a building, but continued for several blocks until it was swallowed by a tunnel and blocked off by police checking for tickets. We showed our purple tickets and entered the unknown depths of the I-495 tunnel.

Alyssa compared the scene to some kind of sci-fi movie emergency scene. Literally, thousands of people we huddled inside this tunnel. We heard from some that those in the MIDDLE of the line had been waiting since 2:30am, leading us to assume that those at the beginning of the line had been camping out for a while in the cold. We walked and walked and walked and eventually sprinted until we saw the light at the other end of the tunnel. Only it wasn't the end of the line. The line continued for another half of a mile. It was 7:30 by the time we secured a place in line.

And that's where we stood until 8:30 when they opened the gates. At 8:30, we knew the gates were open and celebrated every few steps forward. Meanwhile, hundreds more people joined our line, and thousands migrated across I-495 as they rerouted the Silver Section line. We made it back inside the tunnel around 9:45.

Being inside the tunnel was a nice break from the cold. Despite lots of layering, our fingers and toes were soon numb. The entire line seemed to be participating in some kind of spontaneous, simultaneous dancing, until one realized we were simply shaking our hands and legs to keep warm. I thought my feet were safe for awhile in my Ugg boots; however, even those did not offer complete protection. Nevertheless, we spent the majority of our time in the tunnel, so it wasn't all that bad.

However, the tunnel was not all fun and games. As the line moved forward, parts of the crowd shifted at different paces and the order of the mob began to stagger from how it had originated. As everyone got colder and the wait dragged on, tempers started to flair. At one point, a guy in front of us began to yell at an older woman for apparently cutting him. This woman had been standing with us the entire time and clearly had been moving with the line. We got to see mob mentality first hand as the crowd started chanting "Don't cut! Don't cut! Back of the line! Back of the line!" The woman refused to back down, seeing as she hadn't done anything wrong, and so the man stormed into the tunnel threatening to get her kicked out. I would have loved to have witnessed the conversation between him and the police. "Excuse me, someone in the tunnel of 10,000 people just cut me. Please kick them out." "Well we have other things to worry about, like getting millions of people into the Mall safely." Except there were no event personnel or police anywhere near the tunnel. The police who checked our tickets when we went inwere the only officials I saw throughout the entire process.

If you've read anything about the "Purple Ticket Fiasco" or the "Purple Tunnel of Doom" it is clear that the estimates of how many people were shut out are way off. At first, the police reported that everyone with tickets got in. Then, they said about 4,000-5,000 didn't get in. In reality, the numbers were much larger than that. It's clear that the police had no idea what was going on because they were nowhere near the action. But more on that later.

Around 11:00 we finally emerged from the tunnel. We made our way back to the exact corner where we began when the crowd started to disperse. People were turning around and heading towards the Mall, saying that the gates were closed and our only chance at seeing the Inauguration was to try and find space on the Mall. Other stayed in line convinced that the people leaving didn't know what they were talking about. Finally, after about 10 minutes of just standing around not knowing what was going on, a man with "Special Events" credentials came by and told us that the gate was closed, they weren't letting anyone through, and we might possibly be able to see something if we headed toward the Capitol Building.

We basically started trucking it toward the Capitol. Ignoring our frozen toes and dampened spirits, we weaved through the masses until we saw another purple banner. This time we were at the Purple section exit, I think. There was another mob assembled against the barriers chanting "Pur-ple! Pur-ple!" After the debacle in the tunnel, I assumed that there were so many people because some were trying to sneak in without tickets. All around us people started yelling "If you don't have a ticket, please leave so that those of us with tickets can have a chance!" Nobody budged. Then someone held their purple ticket up in the air to show the security personnel that this was a mob of ticket holders. Immediately every single person in the crowd was holding a purple ticket above their head. I was shocked that so many people with tickets were still stuck outside the gates at 11:30, as the ceremony was beginning.

At this point, I was getting text messages from my aunt, my mom, my best friend, and an 11-year-old boy that I babysit all saying "Which section are you in? We're looking for you on TV! Wow, there are SO MANY people." Obviously this is not what one is wanting to hear as she stands outside the gates with history unfolding just hundreds of yards away.   I called my mom to at least get a play-by-play from the televised version since I was convinced there was no way that we were going to make it through in time.  She told me everyone had come out except for Barack and that I should be able to hear the crowd soon as he appeared.  "You probably won't be able to hear me when they start cheering," she said.  Soon enough, I heard a soft roar coming from the direction of the Capitol.  Soft, as in barely audible.  "Wasn't that loud?!" she yelled into the phone.  This was when I thought all hope was gone.

All of a sudden the crowd began to push.  At first, the pushing came in bursts where you would inadvertently knock into the person in front of you, go back to pretty much the same spot as before, and apologize to a complete stranger for the recklessness of the mob.  Pretty soon there was no more stopping.  The crowd just pushed forward in one huge motion as, I'm guessing, they started allowing people through the gate.  One of my roommates described the experience saying "I'm pretty sure I could have picked my feet up off the ground, and the mob would have carried me inside anyway."  As the crowd got closer to the 15 feet wide entrance the pushing got harder, and people tried to maneuver their way through the gate.  People then held up their purple ticket to the handful of officers along the edges of the gate.

Once through the gate everyone scrambled to a security checkpoint.  However, calling the process a security check would be an overstatement.  The officials asked everyone to unzip their coats and purses but made really no effort to check anyone.  I had someone barely glance in my bag as I went through a metal detector and it started furiously beeping.  The process what very efficient though.  I cleared the security line and waited for my roommates on the other side.  When they came out we all began a mad sprint toward the Capitol.  Thank goodness I had decided on Uggs instead of heels.  We weaved through the hurried masses of people, shouting every once and awhile to make sure we hadn't lost anybody.

We had finally made it to the Inauguration.  The swearing in began right as we ran up.  There were police standing on the stairs leading up to where the Purple section was supposed to be, but when we tried to get in they turned us away, saying that all the people around us had Purple tickets too, but they were over capacity.  It was unbelievable how many people were "over capacity."  There were thousands of people standing in this random strip between the Purple and Silver sections.  People had climbed up the statues, the trees, and on top of Porta-Potties.  We found a spot to the left of the Capitol with a mostly uninhibited view (meaning unblocked by the hundreds of Porta-Potties) as the 21-gun-salute began.  To be honest, I thought the thousands left in Purple mob had begun to riot because the shots were coming from that direction.  I grabbed my roommate's arm and started freaking out as an older woman turned to me and said "Honey, don't worry.  I've been to five inaugurations and that happens every time.  It's all a part of the program."  I let out a huge sigh of relief and focused on the speech.

So in the end it all worked out.  Despite being blocked out of our actual spot, we were still able to see (mostly) and hear the swearing in and speech, which were amazing.  If you google "purple ticket holders" or "purple tunnel of doom," you'll find a ton of articles and editorials describing the horror stories of the Purple tickets; however, I am hesitant to complain because I am sure that without my Purple ticket, I would not have had this opportunity.  As a freshman in college asking for five prized Inauguration tickets, I highly doubt that I would have been on the top of the list and probably wouldn't have gotten tickets at all had not thousands of extras been printed.  Without the tickets, I wouldn't have even made the trip to DC and wouldn't have this fantastic story to tell my grandchildren.  I sympathize with all those who were left out in the mob, but most of the thousands who were standing with us outside the actual section probably wouldn't have made the trip either without tickets, and I'm sure that they are all thankful to have been a part of the experience.  

Thank you again to Bridget Bush and Senator McConnell's office for this opportunity.  Without your help and consideration, none of this would have been possible.

1 comment:

Lisa Fryman said...

I am sure you will never forget being purple ticket holders ! I am also sure you are glad your mom called you every 5 minutes to give you a "fireside" commentary of everything transpiring on TV. Great photos esp. the one of the Harvard girls at the Capitol - Study hard. Love, Mom