Debra Toppeta, co-founder of Woman Around Town, attended the Inauguration and the Mid-Atlantic Ball.
What does a crowd of 1.5 million freezing people sound like when the 44th President of the United States is being sworn in? Absolute silence. And when Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman are playing a rather somber musical piece? Absolute silence. And when Dr. Rick Warren is giving the Invocation or Aretha Franklin is singing? That’s right, absolute silence. The crowd of 1.5 million who gathered on the grounds of the Capitol today did not come to party. They came for the very serious business of watching history being made.
Long before the actual ceremony took place, lines were stretched for what seemed like miles as people waited patiently for hours in the bitter cold to get into their designated viewing areas. But those who filled the Capitol grounds did not mind the wait. They shared hand warmers and food, but mostly they shared stories about themselves, where they were from and what a great day this was. Many people with tickets were turned away due to over-crowding after waiting for hours to get in. Most took the disappointment in stride and went as a group to a nearby restaurant to watch the Inauguration. Their consolation was that they were warm and could see the Inauguration better than those who were there in person.
The most striking thing about the day was not the anticipation or Michelle’s vibrant yellow dress or the Chief Justice’s mistake (which ruined what should have been a perfect moment for Obama). The most striking thing about the day was the shared humanity. People of all races gave each other hugs and “high fives” when Barack Obama was sworn in. They bowed their heads together in prayer with Dr. Rick Warren, and they marched in step with the United States Marine Band (although that may have been to keep warm). There were no distinctions in the crowd—no one was old, no one was young, no one was white, no one was black. We were all one.
So what does a crowd of 1.5 million people sound like when the 44th President of the United States is finally sworn in? Pandemonium.
When they warmed up, many headed to the parade or back to their hotel rooms to prepare for the balls. The balls are more like high school proms than real parties. At the Mid-Atlantic Ball, for example, people mulled around the room waiting for the Obamas and Bidens to show up. They feasted on the several bowls of potato chips spread throughout and lined up at the bar to buy a $9.00 glass of wine served in a plastic cup. When the Obamas arrived, the crowd pushed toward the stage to watch the President and First Lady dance for a minute or two. The President thanked us all for our support and wished us a good night. Then all 2,000 attendees headed for the exit. What a fabulous night!