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Witness to change in America

By Staff | Jan 23, 2009

Barack Obama took the oath of office at noon Tuesday from the West Front of the Capital.

As he completed the oath a loud roar went up from the throngs of people who had come to see the ceremony.

The day was sunny and very cold. Several families were in attendance with young children. A black couple from North Carolina with their children and a baby in the mothers arms had just driven in that morning and had taken the subway from Gaithersburg down to the Inauguration. “We voted for Obama and wanted to see him sworn in,” she said. “This is history in the making.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday celebration was this past Monday, and many that I spoke with thought the swearing in of Obama was “the dream” fulfilled.

In his Inaugural address, Obama spoke of the challenges ahead. “On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics …” He went on to say “This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions – that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”

Getting to the event was a chore – streets were jammed with people trying to move in four different directions, at the center was a large mass of people, moving one way then a different way and finally reaching the direction they were trying to go in.

Though hundreds of thousands of people were crowed together, I heard not one complaint. Several minor injuries were reported, but the crowd itself was one of the friendliest many had ever seen. People close to the Capitol had to have color coded tickets that admitted them to different sections of the grounds.

If your section was on the other side of the Capitol or Pennsylvania avenue, then you had to walk around or use the Third Street Tunnel, which was closed to vehicle traffic. Once you got to your designated gate, there was a crowd ahead of you that seemed endless. Each person admitted to the Capitol grounds had to go through metal detectors. Because of a gate malfunction at gate Blue, several hundred local newspaper and periodical writers and photographers were not able to get to their assigned spots. The ceremony could be heard through loud speakers. The security was very tight.

Throughout the crowd, there were several police officers and Army personal patrolling, all armed with assault rifles. And for the first time in memory, metal fencing was put up around the entire Capitol and other government buildings that surround the Capitol. The fences were about 10 feet tall and made viewing the event difficult and the taking of pictures even more difficult.

Getting out of Washington was just as hard. Many had come to town by train or the Metro. At 4 p.m., many had started to head for home. When getting back to Union Station, many found that it was closed to the public because it was hosting one of the inaugural balls. A large crowd numbering in the thousands began to gather outside the station. There was a police officer with a megaphone who tried to make himself heard over the noise of the crowd. He was trying to explain that there needed to be three lines, one for the people getting on the Metro another for the Amtrak passengers and a third for people who were traveling on the Marc Train Service. From 4 p.m. on all you could hear was this poor man yelling through his bullhorn. “Amtrak passengers to the right, Marc passengers to the left!” Finally, at 6:30 p.m. everyone was allowed to board their trains.

On the ride back to Brunswick, Md., many spoke of the day and what a great day it was for America, and many seemed hopeful that the future will look brighter. One thing I did not hear was of all the difficulties that the day presented. There was not one complaint, other than complaining of sore feet.

– Jim Whipple is the Chronicle’s editorial