Barack Obama’s first act in uniting the country took place today on the National Mall, as about two million people were in Washington D.C. to witness his presidential swearing-in.
It was nearly impossible to avoid a feeling of unity, as strangers stood shoulder-to-shoulder with each other. According to a report by CBS, today’s turnout smashes the previous record set in 1965 at Lyndon B. Johnson’s inauguration, when a crowd of 1.2 to 1.5 million people was estimated.
The Associated Press calculates that more than one million people crammed between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial today, a stretch of about 14 blocks. Estimates are based upon photos and crowd comparisons of past years. Crowds also formed on the porches of buildings lining the mall on Independence Avenue, and more spectators gathered along the 1.56-mile parade route to the White House.
Throngs of people were showing up on the Mall as early as 5:30 a.m., according to breaking news updates by The Washington Post. Streets were jammed around the Capitol building as pedestrians tried to navigate around security barricades and find available space on the Mall.
By 6:17, parking at the New Carrollton, Greenbelt, and Branch Avenue metro stations was filled up, and traffic was moving slowly on I-66, extending from the Vienna metro strop, according to The Post.
Precautions were taken to avoid disaster or injury, but an incident did occcur at the Gallery Place Metro station. A 68-year-old woman fell onto the tracks around 9:25 a.m. but was not hit by an oncoming train coming from Shady Grove. The woman was taken to the hospital with minor injuries. Due to the incident, Red Line trains turned back at Farragut North and Judiciary Square, forcing riders to walk to the Mall from there.
Other stations were closed for periods of time throughout the day, including the ones at Metro Center, Smithsonian, L’enfant Plaza, and Federal Triangle.
There have been no major injury or disaster reports from the day, probably due to the maximized security measures throughout the city; it was easy to feel protected as security helicopters and planes circled the skies above the Mall throughout the ceremony.
Also preventing disaster today was the overall patience displayed by the crowd while maneuvering throughout D.C.. Ann Parker and her husband, who traveled from Berkley, California, said that people were jammed up in the metro stops, but never expressed any frustration. “There are incredible people [here] who just want to talk to everybody. People are just so joyful,” said Parker while waiting in a long line to enter the ticketed area on the Mall.
Parker explained that Obama has managed to propel the nation out of generations of sadness into this joyful state, despite an enduring economic repression and increasing war frustrations. She believes Obama was able to do this because of what he symbolizes—an equal playing field. “Everyone wants the same America,” she said.
Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in D.C. almost 46 years ago, describing his hope for equal opportunities for people across the board. Today, that vision was realized, said inauguration emcee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein. “This was the moment when the dream that once echoed across history from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial finally reached the walls of the White House,” she said.
For some, the hope Obama symbolizes extends beyond unity and equality, and may even suggest divinity. Novic Edwards from Detroit, Michigan, marveled at the millions of people sifting through the streets. “The Bible said they used to grab onto His cloak and follow. What are we doing now?”
This reporter failed to see much cloak grabbing, but groups linked themselves together by arms, and sometimes by ropes, to keep from losing each other amongst the organized chaos. Several groups also wore bright hats or carried flags to find each other easily if separated.
Sylvia Hooper said it was difficult to keep her family of six together in the city. She traveled with her husband, three sons, and one of their girlfriends from Columbus, Ohio by shuttle, and she explained that is was much more meaningful to be able to share the experience as a family. Unfortunately, they became separated into two groups upon arriving at the Mall.
One father-daughter pair managed to reach the National Mall together. Khalid Enahora traveled from Atlanta, Georgia with this 14-year-old daughter, Yasmeen. “I wanted her to experience this and pass it on to her children, and to their children,” said Enahora about his daughter. “It’s a symbol of change that people all over the world can see. That’s what this represents.”
Yasmeen Enahora said that, even though it was much warmer in Atlanta when she left than in D.C., where temperatures were in the mid-twenties with eight-mile-per-hour winds, she was glad to be there. “No one here knows me, but I feel like coming here, I had a purpose,” she said.
The Enahoras woke up this morning at 3 a.m. to drive on I-66 to the Vienna metro stop, but hit the heavy traffic. “A drive that should have taken 15 minutes took an hour,” said Khalid.
Once at the Metro stop, they were faced with heavy crowds, and when they finally made it onto a train, Yasmeen Enahora was forced to sit on the floor. Still, it was worth it, she said. “I can go back and tell my friends about the crowd. And I’m a part of history. I am a part of these two million people.”