WASHINGTON, D.C. — In 2009 Chris Washington was living oversees. Like many Americans he watched the Presidential Inauguration with pride and admiration. But also a bit of jealousy at not being able to attend.
That will not be the case this year. Having moved to the D.C. area, Washington told himself that if President Barack Obama won re-election, he would make sure and be one of the thousands of on-lookers who will fill up the Washington Mall for the special occasion this year.
“As an African American I don’t know when I will have the opportunity to witness something like this again,” Washington said. “So I’m living in the D.C. area, I think it’s my opportunity to attend.”
The Inauguration ceremonies begin today when President Obama and Vice-president Joe Biden will attend a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. Then, in front of a small group of family members and staff, Obama will officially be sworn in at the White House at 10:55 a.m. It’s a constitutional requirement that it has to be done on Jan. 20.
Obama will do it over again Monday in a public ceremony at the U.S. Capitol. Both times he will be sworn in by Supreme Court Justice John Roberts.
Thousands are expected to be on hand in below 40 degree weather to watch President Obama take the oath for the second time.
“The president, I think, is very appreciative of the fact that the American people have given him this opportunity to deliver a second inaugural address,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters this week.
Many people have come from all over the country and are paying $700 to $1,500 per night at area hotels just to be on hand. That includes Jenny Hardridge-Finley, who came from Tulsa with her daughter.
“We both wanted to attend in 2009, but we weren’t able to,” Hardridge-Finley said. But now everything fell into place so that we could attend the 2013. So we are honored to be able to be here. It’s awesome.”
Hardridge-Finley said it was her birthday Saturday. She celebrated by going to the Oklahoma State Society Inaugural Gala held at Clyde’s of Gallery Place in D.C.
The event, which was helped organized by University of Oklahoma alum Erin Wiley, honored Oklahomans who will serve in the next Presidential administration.
The Oklahoma gala is just one of many inaugural balls planned this weekend. They have become a highlight for inauguration goers.
“I would say the atmosphere has been a lot of excitement,” Washington said. “The fact that it is President Obama’s second term and for those who were not able to make the first inauguration, I think this gives them the opportunity to attend.”
However, those who were around for the inauguration in 2009 can tell there is a difference in the atmosphere.
An estimated 800,000 people are expected to flock to Washington for the event, down from the record 1.8 million in 2009.
Patricia Slade, who runs a men’s clothing store in Virginia said there is fervor, but just not as much as four years ago.
“The newness has worn off,” Slade said. “That’s to be expected.”
The inauguration is also coming off the heels of one of the most heated and divisive Presidential elections in recent history. Even though the swearing in of the president is supposed to mark a new beginning, many do not feel the rhetoric will decrease anytime soon.
“I don’t see it getting any better,” Washington said. “I think an underlying tone is racism. It still comes into play in a lot of the rhetoric you see thrown.”
Regardless, the city of Washington is a buzz with new faces, excitement and hope for the future. At least for a few days.
“It’s thrilling to know that President Obama has been re-elected,” Hardridge-Finley said. “Just actually being in the presence of all the people, to see the people’s choice being inaugurated, the thrill of it. Being here in D.C. for the first time for me. It’s just phenomenal to be in the presence of this type of power. I’m almost speechless.”