Monday, February 9, 2009

Our Anticipated Inauguration - A Dream Fulfilled

By Cheryl Prater, Blog Reporter
Photographers: Felicia Bowser, Renae Edwards-Cruz, Shanah Young, Anthony Walker, Lovera Walker

I flew from Chicago to Tennessee on Sunday, January 18, 2009 and the flight was boring. My connecting flight to Washington, DC started setting the stage for the electrifying experience I was anticipating. People at the boarding gate were buzzing about their election adventures, from first-time canvassing to arriving at this gate. The conversation appeared to be amongst friends, not strangers. We were going to see more friends, about 2 million of them.

Even Dionne Warwick had time for some side conversations on her way to DC. She had planned an American Music Inaugural Ball at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, with tickets starting at $350.00 per person. Christopher "Ludacris" Bridges was to Co-Host the two-part event which was to include an Urban Ball and Legends Ball. The line-up featured: Fantasia, George Clinton, Marvin Sapp, Kirk Franklin, Cedrick the Entertainer, The Cheetah Girls, and Monica. Due to low tickets sales, the event was cancelled.

Once arriving in DC, I expected to join my cousin Renae (from New York) and secure a standing spot at the Inauguration Concert in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Renae had other plans, like pulling off a surprise birthday party for me. (Michelle Obama and I share the same birthday, January 17.) We viewed the concert from the comfort of her daughter’s Maryland home while partying. Several times during the evening, we cousins acknowledged our Mom’s journey through the Montgomery Bus Boycott and other similar events. (We thanked God for allowing them to see this historical moment.)

The Strategy
Sunday provided us time to strategize with another cousin, Felicia (from North Carolina) about finding a standing location on Monday for the Tuesday inauguration event. Secret Service provided a detailed web document about the event with a map which outlined street closures, Metro stations, and restricted areas. The news media strongly encouraged attendees to determine whether they were going to the inauguration or parade. An attempt to attend both events would be hard with the mass of people expected for this occasion.

Tasha, Renae’s daughter, provided us with directions from a native’s perspective about the Metro stations and best place to view the inauguration from the “I don’t have a ticket” zone. Now, it was time for us to talk about the needed clothing for the occasion. Renae and I had bought “Hotties” (a self-warming pack that is used in cold conditions) and layer of clothes. We had Hotties for the hands, feet, and body. The “Hotties” stay warm for different periods, 8 to 18 hours depending on the body area. Felicia only had layers of clothes. However, family came to the rescue and found enough “Hotties” to share with her.

On Monday, January 19, we did a dry run for Tuesday and took the Metro train from Largo Towne Center station (Maryland) to Federal Triangle (DC). There were thousands of people everywhere. People were commenting about the air of positive and peaceful vibes. It was amazing! A small group of protesters were drawing attention because they felt Bush and Cheney deserved to be jailed for our current problems. Their outrage was understood – Bush and Cheney did not represent the unity or peace we so desperately desired. Loads of street vendors lined the sidewalks with all kinds of Obama souvenirs. In addition, thousands of visible security personnel were sprinkled throughout the crowds.

No ticket to 8 tickets
While walking to the White House for pictures, I called my cousin regarding his location and activities in DC. (He is the co-owner of a media production company and has done extensive work for Barack Obama’s campaign.) I left this message, “Hey, I’m in DC for the inauguration event. I know you are here somewhere working and the chances are slim we will see each other. Call and let me know what you are doing.” My cousin called back and stated, “I’m not in DC. I'm working in Chicago. I had two ball tickets and two for the inauguration. I gave the ball tickets away.” I managed to scramble these words out, in front of the White House, “Are you serious? Can I have the inauguration tickets? Can the tickets be transferred to me? Can you overnight the tickets to me?” I had to calm myself down and realize overnighting the tickets was not going to be a good option. The delivery would occur on Tuesday around 10:00 am – maybe. All hopes were dashed.

My cousin provided a glimmer of hope when he said, “The tickets are in DC. Let me make a call and see what can be done”. In minutes, he called back and stated 4 tickets must be picked up by 4:00 pm. Felicia, Renae and I started jumping and screaming in front of the White House, “We got tickets!!!” (Those actions probably played well on the White House security cameras). Our passion drew excitement from the crowds around us and they started saying, “They got tickets!!!” Now we were on a mad dash to catch a cab and get to the ticket location. Once we arrived, I called the ticket holder. She met us at the door with 4 inauguration tickets and 4 parade tickets. Needless to say, we aborted our original strategy and returned to Maryland to develop a new plan – standing in the “Silver Zone” at the inauguration. In addition, we were hosting a pre-inauguration party that evening. My brother, Anthony and his wife, Lovera (from Chicago) joined us for this party. They received two seated tickets for the parade and other tickets were given to guests at the party. WOW!!!

Inauguration Day
The alarm clock sounds at about 4:00 am and our target time to leave the house was 5:00 am. All clothing (3 or 4 layers) are in place to meet the cold temperature of 18 degrees. We arrived at the Largo Towne Center Metro station to see other early morning risers. They were loaded down with smiles, greetings, minks, insulated boots, and even snow pants. As the train moves us closer to our destination, the crowds and lines are beyond belief. Exiting the train was a smooth process but all escalators were out of order which created massive lines to move from underground to street level. Moving through the train stations at a snail’s pace allowed us to notice the numerous happy and positive signs on the walls. The signs express love, soul, joy, etc.

We, along with hundreds of other, walked down lighted streets toward one of the inauguration entry points before sunrise. Capitol Hill, a massive white building with hundred of lights, is in the distance guiding our path. The crowd comes to a halt as we wait for 2 hours (tightly packed together) for the security checkpoint to open at 8:00 am. Everyone appears to be a friend not a stranger, the same feeling I had in the Tennessee airport. This two hour period prompted us to apply the “Hotties” to our hands and feet. The gate opened at 8:00 am and we started running about 500 feet to the security tables. The police requested, “Show the ticket. Open your coat. Open your purse.” I only saw one security checkpoint area for the “Silver Zone” which was behind the Reflecting Pool. The Reflecting Pool became the demarcation for the seated and standing zones. As the sun rises you can see sharp shooters on the roofs, helicopters, one Jumbotron, and rows of port-a-potties. We never saw a concession stand in the secured area.

Now we start a new waiting period for 2 ½ hours until the musical prelude, which is scheduled for 10:30 am. During the musical prelude, politicians and other dignitaries were shown on the Jumbotron taking their seats. The crowd loudly and pleasantly greeted their favorite people like Ted Kennedy, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Beyonce, Oprah, Aretha Franklin, and Joe Biden. Seeing Barack started a rally cry, “Obama, Obama, Obama”. However, the first appearance of President Bush started this chant from the crowd, “Na, Na, Na, Na, Na, Na, Na, Na, Hey, Hey, Hey, Goooodbye.” This chant was repeated several other times to Mr. Bush. Dick Cheney was sent cold goodbyes, too.

During the musical prelude, Felicia and I painfully noticed the “Hotties” on our feet were losing their warmth and our toes were hurting. The remedy became huddling on the ground with some other attendees to gain some warmth. People all around us were sharing blankets, leaning on each other for warmth, and coldly waiting for Barack to take the oath. The ceremonies started at about 11:40 am. By this time, we have been outdoors about 5 – 6 hours and the temperature had risen to 28 degrees with an unknown wind chill factor. The crowds stood quietly watching the Jumbotron as Barack took the oath. When the oath was finished, the hi-fives started, tears had frozen on faces, and bigger celebrations started. The benediction was powerfully provided by Rev. Lowery. As the crowds were leaving the search was on for loved ones, food, warmth and a ‘real’ bathroom.

Can’t Leave?
The city did a good job getting us to the event at 5:30 in the morning; however, they did a horrible job transporting thousands of people away after the event. Homeland Security’s plan included major street and bridge closures, only coach buses inside the restricted area and alternating train station closures. Calling a cab or loved one to pick us up was not an option with all the street closures inside the restricted zone – which covered numerous city blocks. The L’Enfant Plaza and Federal Center SW were both closed at the same time, stations closest to the “Silver Zone”. No one was able to tell the growing crowds when the train stations would be open; security was dumbfounded. The passion and energy we had to stand in the cold was long gone. Tempers were flaring as people felt caged by closed stations. The police and National Guard came to the Federal Center station, to bring peace. After waiting for about an hour or so, the police allowed us to cautiously enter the station for safety reasons. We arrived back in Maryland about 3:00 pm – 10 hours later and FROZEN. The coldness felt like it pierced the marrow in our bones. Thawing out brought warmth to our skin but our bones ached for hours.

Why…
My teenage cousin, Mercedes, while witnessing our discomfort from the cold asked, “Why did you go through this pain?” We reminded her that, “Our family members went through this and more to make sure their voices were heard by people that did not want to acknowledge there was time for a “change”. Our ancestries participated in the Montgomery Boycott from December 1 1955 – December 20, 1956. They lived in fear of the Ku Klux Klan going through their neighborhoods pushing their agenda of segregation in housing, buses, bathrooms, water fountains, schools, and restaurants. Aunt Alean (Jackson), was the Precinct Captain responsible for training the African American community about the 4-page application to become a registered voter and informing them about the poll tax. (The poll tax was levied on people rather than on property, often as a requirement for voting in poor neighborhoods.) As a result, we decided to work for “change” during this campaign and being at the inauguration was priceless for our mother’s sake and ours, too.”

“Change” is the beginning not the end.


The Inaugural & Parade Invitations

Blog Photographers (Shanah Young and Renae Edwards-Cruz) riding Metro to Inauguration before the sun rises

Blog Photographers (Felicia Bowser & Cheryl Prater) on their way to the Inauguration

Two blocks from the Inauguration location

Walking toward the Inauguration location at 5:30 am, the temperature is about 18 degrees

Inauguration attendees seating on blankets in the standing zone of "Silver".

The jumbotron for the Silver Zone section, numerous pictures taken from that view

Sunrise at Capitol Hill

Attendees in the "Silver Zone" section at the Inauguration


Inside the "Silver Zone" section at 8:30 am and the temps are about 20 degrees

Blog Reporter (Cheryl Prater) and Blog Photographer (Felicia Bowser) and other attendees sitting on ground to maximize heat from each other, until event starts.

Inaug Jumbotron view: Beyonce and Jay Z

Inaug Jumbotron view: Former President Bush and First Lady

Inaug Jumbotron view: Muhummad Ali

Inaug Jumbotron view: Senator Ted Kennedy

Inaug Jumbotron view: Former President Carter and First Lady
Inaug Jumbotron view: Michelle Obama bringing Abraham Lincoln's bible to the Inauguration with Jill Biden

Capitol Hill during the Inauguration

Inaug Jumbotron view: Aretha Franklin singing her version of 'My Country Tis Of Thee'

Inaug Jumbotron view: Joe Biden taking his oath of office

Inaug Jumbotron view: Obama's view of the crowds

Attendees watching the Inauguration

Inaug Jumbotron view: The Obamas preparing for the Presidential oath of office

Inaug Jumbotron view: President Obama starting his acceptance speech

Inaug Jumbotron view: Rev Lowery providing the benediction

President Obama exiting Capitol Hill

Inaug Jumbotron view: President Obama and Former President Bush

Inaug Jumbotron view: Former Vice President Dick Cheney

Inaug Jumbotron view: The First Couple and the Former First Couple

Inaug Jumbotron view: The other side of Captial Hill after Inauguration

The Bushes exiting by air to Texas. The crowds are singing "Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na, Hey Hey Hey Goooodbye!!!"

Tree viewing the Inauguration

Attendees taking final pictures after the Inauguration is over

The artwork displayed on a coach bus


The Inaugural Parade Ticket

President Obama's car


Numerous security personnel


Lovera Walker passing through a security checkpoint at the parade site for ticket holders


Sharp shooter on roof overseeing the parade route


The Biden family walking in the parade


Vice President Biden and his sons walking in the parade


Vice President Biden's car

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