Smaller crowd just as excited about second inauguration

USA TODAY, January 21, 2013

By Yamiche Alcindor

WASHINGTON– Thousands spilled into streets before sunrise. People stood shoulder to shoulder in front of jumbo screens. Long lines snaked down Metro station entrances.

The scenes from this year’s inauguration could easily be mistaken for 2009. But fewer people attended this year’s festivities, though the crowds surrounding the Capitol Building seemed just as dense.

“I think there’s a lot more energy and passion behind this inauguration because we understand the struggles and obstacles President Obama had to endure and overcome,” said Carla Campbell-Jackson, as she stood sandwiched between other inaugural goers on the back lawn of the Capitol.

Campbell-Jackson, a insurance company manager from Kalamazoo, Mich., came four years ago and said she thought crowds this year were about the same but that there was more excitement this time around.

As of 9 a.m. Monday, she had been up 24 hours attending the several balls with friends and family before the inauguration swearing in ceremony.

“It’s almost like a revival–the passion, the energy, the spirit,” she said. “It’s epic and historical, no matter your political affiliation.”

About 600,000 to 800,000 people were expected to use rail services on inauguration day, according to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. About 1.1 million people took the rails on inauguration day 2009.

As of 2 p.m., 434,000 people had taken the Metro Monday—down 34 percent from the same time last inauguration. Officials expect to have final numbers by Tuesday.

Despite the drop in numbers, packed crowds made some people tire of being sandwiched among strangers and leave coveted areas open only to ticket holders. Most however continued to brave the cold and stood throughout the program.

Like in 2009, thousands began gathering in the dark, chilly predawn hours to see Monday’s event. People filled street corners and stood in long lines all around the Capitol and surrounding neighborhoods. Blocks from where Obama was inaugurated, people shuffled down streets, snapping photos before sunrise. Many wore long coats, hats, scarfs, earmuffs and sequined Obama hats.

During the day, some people complained they felt claustrophobic as crowds made moving around difficult. Others were angry as they stood in lines for hours trying to get on the Metro after the ceremony.

Meanwhile, U.S. Capitol Police arrested at least one person after the inauguration. The man, taken into custody shortly after the swearing-in ceremony, climbed a tree nearby the Capitol and remained there for about five hours screaming phrases like “stop abortion,” “stop Obama,” and “abortion is a national sin.”

In response, many in the large crowd of people beneath him yelled their support for abortion and sang God Bless America and Amazing Grace.

The drama didn’t stop anyone from enjoying Obama’s speech and the musical entertainment weaved throughout the ceremony.

Jimmy Spears, 69, of Browns Mill, N.J., came with his son Bryan Spears, 21, and stood nearby the protester but still managed to hear Obama’s words.

Spears was pleased at President Obama’s speech.

“He’s just reiterating what he wanted to do and didn’t do four years ago,” Spears, a welding instructor, said. “He’s still positive. He still believes in the American way. He still believes in the middle class and giving them the opportunity to be the best they can be.”

Spears said he has faith Obama will accomplish his goals despite the obstacles he may face.

Jennifer Hunter, 44, of Phoenix, Ariz. agrees. She came using tickets from her state representative and was all smiles after the swearing-in ceremony.

“He has a good vision for the next four years,” Hunter, an attorney, said. “He’s right on that social security and those services aren’t entitlements. They are things we need for our country.”

She also supports Obama’s stance on immigration and wants to see more people allowed to move and work in America, Hunter said.

For Ricky Rodriguez, his inauguration ticket meant a chance to experience the diversity of America.

Dressed in a black and white naval uniform, Rodriguez, 25, quietly stood admiring the sea of people surrounding him. He said he was happy to be part of the experience despite having little room to move.

“It’s pretty awesome that there are so many different types of people all over the U.S.,” Rodriguez, of Houston, Texas, said. “You get to see all the different personalities in the crowd.”

He added that he was honored to be among the few people with tickets to the event despite the slight discomforts that came with the crowd.

“This is my boss,” said Rodriguez, who is a senior at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. “I pray for him and wish him the very best for the next four years.”