Faculty Blog: Witnessing Inaugural Preps and Gathering in D.C.
Monday, January 19th
by Dr. Carla Eastis, Assistant Professor of Sociology
I have a leisurely morning with my friend and don't get to the Metro station till 11 a.m. The train is full — some people are standing — but not crowded. I get off at the Smithsonian station and ride the escalator to the surface. I hardly recognize this as the same place I was just 3 weeks ago on vacation!
As far as I can see in either direction, towards the Capitol and back towards the Washington Monument, there are all kinds of structures up that aren't usually there — fencing between the sidewalks and the grassy middle of the Mall, the longest lines of port-a-potties I've ever seen, Jumbotron screens, speaker towers, AND temporary broadcasting set-ups for every network and cable news channel.
MSNBC seems to have the largest and most popular set-up — there's a mob down below the closed-in booth (which is about 10 feet off the ground); a camera on a dolly pans and zooms over the throng every time the program goes to commercial and you can hear the cheers and whoops a quarter-mile away.
Parked all along the side of the Mall are vans and trucks from every network and cable news channel AND local channels, too, from New York and Charlotte and Atlanta and ... well, I just lost track.
On the Jumbotrons, a recording of Sunday's concert is playing. In the course of walking around this morning, I'll hear from John Mellencamp, Joe Biden, Sheryl Crow & Wyclef Jean, Tiger Woods, and more.
The souvenir sellers are out in force today, trying to stay a step ahead of the Park police (they are not allowed to sell anything on Park property). Buttons, calendars, T-shirts, flags — an amazing array of takes on the themes of "hope", "yes we did", etc. No two vendors seem to have exactly the same stock. I take note that a TON of this stuff is drawing explicit comparisons between Obama and Martin Luther King, Jr. (and it is his day today after all).
There are many groups out today getting the lay of the land, from families of 4 to huge church youth groups. Several seem to have some kind of system for keeping track of one another, from colorful hats to a leader holding up a flag. But none I see go so far as to dress completely alike, except for the unit of camouflaged soldiers from the Iowa National Guard.
I walk back toward the Lincoln Memorial, and cut away from the Mall down a side street with the intent of swinging around the back of the White House and coming in as close as I can get. Lafayette Park, that bastion of free speech and protest and crazy folks, is almost completely fenced off; news trucks and trailers and other structures related to the inaugural parade (Tuesday afternoon) are taking up most of the space.
BUT, God bless America, the space that IS open is indeed housing folks exercising their freedom of speech. There's a guy dressed in a robe and sandals who's got a life-size cardboard cut-out of President Bush and a sign that says "Shoe Them the Door." Passersby are urged to take off their shoes and give the exiting commander-in-chief a parting shot. There's also the same nuclear freeze poster/camper that I remember from my first D.C. visit 10 years ago. And back on the Mall, I had a close encounter with the Revolutionary Communist Party whose representatives urge us, via bullhorn, to fight imperialism and patriarchy.
To Be Continued...
My close encounter with Forest Whitaker AND an Obama Cabinet Secretary...
PHOTOS: Inaugural Preps and Gathering in D.C.