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Purple Ticket-Holder Planning Ceremony Do-Over

Barack Obama got a do-over of his oath of office. Now, a campaign staff member who got shut out of Obama's original ceremony is planning another try of his own.

Gabe Cohen, 29, who spent 20 months on the campaign, is sending out notice to friends and supporters that he will lead a swearing-in listening event near the U.S. Capitol tomorrow at noon.

Cohen and his mother, Judy Marks, were among the thousands of Purple ticket-holders who were denied entrance to Obama's ceremony Tuesday, after waiting for more than five hours. (Thousands of Blue ticket-holders also were shut out.)

"In the same spirit of the campaign, a couple of us got to talking and we wanted to make the best of an unfortunate situation. We'll try to do it over," said Cohen, who lives in Denver and worked as a field director and state director in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and Pennsylvania.

Marks said she and her son had gotten onto Metro at the Silver Spring station at 5:15 a.m. and by 6 a.m. were following the directions provided by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies about where to line up for the Purple section. The crowd already was large, and they took their place in the line somewhere near the front of the 3rd Street tunnel.

"I'm claustrophobic, so at least I was able to see the light at the end of the tunnel," Marks, who works as the associate director for the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities, said today by phone.

That was the last bit of illumination provided for these ticket-holders, as the line barely budged for hours. Eventually, the line moved, but got bogged down near the gates. Thousands began chanting "Let us in!" as the minutes ticked down toward Obama's ceremony. Marks and Cohen, realizing they would not make it in, began hustling back toward Union Station when they noticed a Johnny's Half Shell restaurant, which was hosting a private party. Marks paid to get them in to watch on a big-screen television.

The duo were among the first to register with the Facebook group "Survivors of the Purple Tunnel of Doom,", which now has more than 4,400 members.

Now, Cohen is taking matters into his own hands. He's not angry and says diplomatically: "It was unfortunate what happened, but it was a wonderful day. The bottom line is that Barack Obama is the president. I have no bad words for anybody planning the event. Overall, the day went unbelievably. I had a lot of friends who worked hard on the planning committee."

Cohen said he initially invited his mother and a half dozen friends to take part in the ceremony on the Mall. But now he's posted the announcement to the Facebook group and opened it to anyone who wants to come. He stressed that it's an unofficial event and that people should bring iPods and laptops with the speech downloaded on them. They will be as close to the Capitol as possible, though he's not sure they'll have access to the steps, so they might be on the Mall. He said to look out for a group of people with laptops.

In the email to friends, he wrote:

Like you, I was shut out of the swearing in on Tuesday, purple ticket in hand. The tunnel, the hand warmers, the bootleg bedazzled hats, the whole deal. But, even worse, after weeks of planning and anticipation my mom was locked out as well.
No fear though, in the spirit of stubborn persistence we're giving it another try this Saturday at noon. We will set up in front of the capitol (between the reflecting poll and the capitol) with an Ipod and a laptop to watch the speech, this time with the best seats in the city.
Feel free to join us with video or audio and join in the inauguration re-do. You can find the speech at:http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/inaugural-address/
This time feel free to bring backpacks, chairs, strollers, food, drinks, booze, whatever you want. I promise you will not have to wait in a line or have to go near a tunnel. Viewing will start promptly at noon.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chair of the inaugural committee, has apologized to ticket-holders and launched an investigation into what went wrong. She also has promised to deliver special souvenir packets to those who were kept out. Carole Florman, a spokeswoman for the committee, said the packets will be different than the ones handed out to some ticket-holders before the ceremony, including a full-color picture of the ceremony by an official Senate photographer.

"It's a gesture," Marks said. "I'm sure she has been trying to be responsive to many disappointed people, but she can't bring back the day."

By David A Nakamura  |  January 23, 2009; 11:41 AM ET  | Category:  Crowds , Swearing-in Ceremony , Tickets
Previous: Poll: Purple Ticket Restitution | Next: Plouffe Wants You

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I certainly feel these people's pain. But really, it was a long and difficult day. Sure, it should have been handled differenty. But I agree - taking time and money to have an investigation into what happened? I can tell you what happened right now - shotty planning on the part of PIC and DC police! It was happening all over the place - confusion and misdirection all over the mall. I was in the first public pen - people were getting shut out as early as 6am. We were there at 5 - some say there was more room, some say there was not. But in the end, it was just about how early you were there, and if you got a stroke of luck to get into an area with competent volunteers. I understand the frustration of all of the ticketholders - we were commenting about how the pen ahead of us (for ticketholders) was still empty at 10, and what they were planning on doing with it. But with all of the problems that we have in the country, I think that our time and energy would be better spent solving some other problems that we have. No one is discounting the experience that you had and your frustration... but wanting a dinner at the White House? How about all of the Americans who have lost their jobs and 401Ks? Lets get back to business...

Posted by: AndreaR784 | January 23, 2009 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Easy for you to say AndreaR784. You got in. BTW, it's shoddy...the word is shoddy, not shotty.

Posted by: lkop56 | January 23, 2009 12:16 PM | Report abuse

I'm surprised you could not overwhelm the petty lack of planning on the part of others with your extreme intelligence... maybe you should have tried that type of attack on the volunteers and police officers?

As I said before, I am not attacking... we got in because we planned. We did not expect to show up at 9am and have a prime spot. We have other issues to attend to. Perhaps we should stop dwelling on the past. Maybe get over ourselves a little...

Posted by: AndreaR784 | January 23, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

It is no mystery what went wrong. This notion that an "investigation" will uncover it and assign "accountability" is rubbish. You don't need an investigation to know there were three big problems that undid everything. Here is what we experienced:

(1) Lack of information and signage for ticket holders about where to enter.

(2) Uninformed security personnel. None of them: cops, mps, troopers, had any idea where to send ticket holders. Clearly, they were not briefed on this. Their only concern was security. Therefore, we were a whining nuisance, and treated accordingly, NOT like VIPs, or even casual guests of the city. I repeat: we were treated as a whining nuisance.

(3) Inadequate security gates. You can't pour a gallon of water into a 5 oz funnel all at once. Nursery school kids who play with water know this.

Finally, the manner of compensation offered (pictures? a program? c'mon) is an insult. An event with the President would be more like it, especially since most of us purple people we Obama staffers and volunteers from around the country. This was a shabby way to thank us for our work, and the trouble it took us to travel to DC.

Posted by: finkmail | January 23, 2009 12:55 PM | Report abuse

"An event with the President would be more like it...This was a shabby way to thank us for our work, and the trouble it took us to travel to DC."

An event with POTUS? Would an invitation to a state dinner work?

Like many of you I put in 1500+ hours over the past 18 months here in Virginia as well as in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. I was offered tickets and turned them down so that fellow volunteers from Chicago could see the ceremony. You are not ENTITLED to anything except a thank you and the appreciation for your hard work and service that got Obama elected. Would you have come to DC without tickets? Over the past few days I spoke with or e-mailed friends who put in a lot of time during the campaign who just showed up and stood with nearly 2 million fellow citizens and enjoyed the moment. They didn't get any special trinkets or photographs nor did they expect anything. Please stop the whining and move on. Plouffe and Axelrod have new stuff for us to work on...focus your energies on that instead of asking for special treatment because the gate was closed.

Posted by: skipper7 | January 23, 2009 2:19 PM | Report abuse

I was a blue ticket holder and got denied after 5 hours of waiting. I am an online journalist, and wrote my account of our nightmare, complete with video of the fiasco. Check it out: http://www.examiner.com/x-2347-Latin-America-Travel-Examiner~y2009m1d22-The-Obama-inauguration-the-blue-ticket-fiasco

Posted by: jeffwheeland | January 23, 2009 3:26 PM | Report abuse

Investing why people didn't get in is a bit short-sighted, IMO. What really needs to be looked into is why crowd control was completely ignored in favor of focusing only on security. It's the lack of information, lack of communication and lack of crowd control that was at the heart of the problem. That's why there was mobbing and crushing, and set up the opportunity for potential tragedy. The Inaugural Committe, Secret Service, DC Police (and whoever else was involved) needs to make a serious Lessons Learned effort and take in the comments of those who were there to aid in avoiding this kind of situation in the future. I have no great love for TSA or CSC (event security..mainly sports and concerts), but even they know how to move large numbers of people and keep them organized to avoid the kind of crushing that occured on Tuesday. If anything good can come from the thousands of broken hearts, it would be helping the authorities plan better in the future.

Posted by: baddabing1 | January 23, 2009 3:56 PM | Report abuse

"AndreaR784 | we got in because we planned. We did not expect to show up at 9am and have a prime spot."

Are you trying to say that if we did not get in, we did not plan or arrive early??

I planned and arrived at 4 AM. Purple ticket in hand, I was standing practically in front of the gate when they closed it. I was mis-directed all day, starting at 5 AM when I was at an open area of the Mall trying to get to the north side to my gate. NO ONE knew where to go. I had street maps, walking maps, subway maps and my TICKETS. Allowing 7 hours to get to my gate was plenty sufficient. Too bad the organizers and officers on the ground who were supposed to be directing crowds had no idea what to tell us. NOTHING.

The last contact I had with a uniformed officer was when I got out one of the many purple ticket lines (yes, there were several because there were no signs) ready to give up and asked if she knew if there was another gate. NOPE. Did she know where the nearest port-a-potty was? YEP, walk that way. Guess what -- there was no port-a-potty anywhere near where she directed me (not for BLOCKS!), but that direction was where the purple gate was, and she did not even know!!

Posted by: kashabear | January 23, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

thank you, thank you. finally some sense from skipper. we have ALL put time, sweat, energy and passion into this election. the payout should be the joy of winning - not getting something in return. that is why its called volunteer work...?? i put in my time, as well.. i was not 'lucky' enough to get a ticket, but i was still there. at 5am. on the mall. granted, as i have said, its a shame that some people were under the impression they were going to get into a ticketed section, and by the time they realized they would not, it was too late to go anywhere else. no one is denying that this the fault of DC police and PIC, and that they totally dropped the ball... but i am amazed at the sense of entitlement from eveyone. and the drama - you can't even watch the event on TV because it will bring back terrible memories???!! wow... you would think they were pulling out fingernails in that tunnel!!! no one is debating it totally sucks.. but really. we have bigger issues to deal with. move on...

Posted by: AndreaR784 | January 23, 2009 4:37 PM | Report abuse

The total fiasco would not of happened if they kept to the plan of only having to deal with providing staffing at the six entry gates for the "invited". If the National Mall was not opened then this problem would not have happen. But the JCCIC had Jumbotrons and speakers for those attending on the National Mall. Open the gates at the National Mall at 4am, and publically invited people to come. Then they left the ticket holders out. No loud speakers, no staff, no security, and lots of disappoinment. Was this the first inaugural they have ever planned for? This was the 56th Inauguration. Where were TV reporters at? CNN, NBC, CBS, and ABC ignored us. Shame on all the media and JCCIC.

Posted by: Mikefrom8thdistrict | January 24, 2009 3:34 PM | Report abuse

The Nation's Capital will celebrate the effective, efficient security measures during the recent Inauguration festivities at the National Bollard Festival.

See http://notionscapital.wordpress.com/2009/01/25/celebrate-inaugural-security/

Posted by: MikeLicht | January 25, 2009 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Power to Purple! I just stumbled upon this article. What happenned was simple. A security breach and no police authority. I documented the entire circus.


Posted by: DCZen | January 26, 2009 3:10 AM | Report abuse

It has to be disappointing that holders of 'Purple tickets' and other volunteers for the Obama campaign, missed the great moments of the Inauguration.

I too, spent some time working as a volunteer, but would never have dared to go into Washington. I envisioned, something like this would have happened. Satisfied that President Obama has a chance now to call the shots and for the moment that is good enough for me.

But curious: how many of the well heeled -- large 'bundlers' or contributors, missed the occasion? The political 'cynic' I am never fails to say...the good guys/poor guys usually come in last.

Sorry guys, better luck for his second term. In celebration, try massaging your feet. At least I have heard of no serious cases of frost-bite.

If that too had occurred, each would have been very bitter pills to swallow.

Posted by: Victoria5 | January 26, 2009 7:52 PM | Report abuse

I was on assignment for the Charleston Gazette (W.Va.) with a Purple Pass that proved useless in getting through the crush. But I tried to make some lemonade out of this lemon of a situation with this 3-minute audio slideshow of how our crowd handled missing being near the action, by sharing Blackberrys, iPhones and radios: http://media.cnpapers.com/obamaday

Posted by: douglaseye | January 26, 2009 10:18 PM | Report abuse

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