Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Swearing-in ceremony

Today was the most incredible day. Incredible because of the occasion, but also in the stunning disorganisation of what you might think is an event run to military precision.

After much discussion about what time we should get up, we got up at at 6.30am and left at 7am. There was no metro access, so we had to walk to our entry point - we had 'blue' tickets, for the West Standing area - so far, so very well organised. Roads were closed to allow for pedestrians - we walked for about an hour, including under the 3rd street road tunnel (where Bruce Willis crashed a helicopter in Die Hard 4).

We arrived at our designated place to join the blue line, but it was already a complete melee. There were two vague blue lines, that were more throngs than nice orderly British queues. There was no barrier system, no marshalls, and no signage. There were people in our queue who were meant to be in other queues on the other side of the city, and had no idea. We queued for three hours, and proceeded about 50 yards. We realised at the this point that we were at serious risk of not making it in in time.

We had press credentials for a different area, and were thinking about moving to there, so we took the brave step of leaving the queue! It was when we did this that we realised how utterly ridiculous things were - the queue we were in was a queue to nowhere. People had formed a line, and other sheep had just stood in it. It was vaguely joining the main blue gate queue, but there was another very short line for blue gate, which we just got in, and were inside the gates within 15 minutes. Amazingly ridiculous, and it makes me shudder now to think we almost missed out - and that all those thousands of people behind us did miss out.

When we did get in, the sense of relief and excitement was intense. We pushed our way through the throng to get to a good spot - again, another example of shepherding - everyone was gathered around the outskirts of the standing area, with lousy views and no standing room. Once we pushed through, there was tonnes of open room with a view directly up the centre of the Capitol. And pretty much as soon as we got there, the ceremony began.

Now admittedly, if you watched this on TV, you had a better view of the actual ceremony that we did, and you were probably aware of the scale of the thing, from the incredible aerial shots of the crowd pouring back to the Washington monument. But to hear the wave of "O-ba-ma" sweeping from the Washington monument, all the way to the front was quite incredible. To hear the boos when George W Bush was announced on the stage, followed by the whole crowd singing "Na-na, na na na-na, heeeeyy, good bye". And to hear the people around you shouting things like "amen" at points during the speech, and seeing old black ladies crying into their hands. The scale of things juxtaposed with the small personal reactions around us.

I still need to watch the ceremony on a repeat somewhere, because I didn't really appreciate much of it - I've heard since the chief justice fluffed the words, and Obama had to correct him. Brilliant. It seems fitting, that he should be so confident while all around him are flustered in awe of the occasion.

On the long walk back to Dupont, we walked up K street, which was lined with people selling all the Obama tatt you could wish for. I've never seen anything like it. So much of it was awful tacky fairground crap. Some of it was nice, classy and looked kinda official - that's the stuff I bought. All of it brought home how messianic this guy's image is. He has been put on the biggest pedestal there's ever been, the expectation on his shoulders is surely unfulfillable. I wouldn't like to be in his shoes now.

Here are the photos I've taken today (also, in the slideshow below).

Here are a few bits of video I've shot today as well. Check out the boo-ing when Bush is announced, and the "O-ba-ma" chanting. Heading to several balls later - more photos from there!

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