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Posted at 12:00 AM ET, 01/13/2009

Is It Important to 'Be There' on Jan. 20?

By Marisa Katz

By Jong-on Hahm
Potomac, Md.

On Election Day, as I watched the electoral map turn blue, I determined that this time, for the first time, I would attend a presidential inauguration. But since then, with each news story about inaugural preparations, the obstacles seemed to mount, while my capacity to overcome them dwindled.

My initial plan was to go with my family (the children skipping school, if necessary). We'd drive to my office in Arlington and take the Metro. Then the crowd estimates came rolling in. Two, three, four million people. Twice the passengers on Metro's record ridership day. Four times the size of the National Mall's the biggest July 4 celebration. Road closures. Bridge closures. Walking for hours. Standing for hours. Recommendations against bringing children.

First to drop out was my husband. With his bad back, walking and standing more than a few minutes was out of the question. My younger daughter took offense at the no-kids edict. Upon hearing the crowd estimates, my elder daughter -- of the "I-love-humanity-it's-people-I-can't-stand" view -- told me to have fun.

I debated myself, imagining rush hour traffic magnified ten times. Then I started thinking: Like a wedding, an inauguration celebrates a new beginning. But just like marriage, a presidency is built one hard day at a time. The crashing economy, power struggles from the Middle East to D.C.'s Northeast, and the brutality of Washington politics could transform Obama from a man of easy confidence to one burdened with more than any human can bear.

I once saw an interview with Barbara Aaron, wife of the baseball legend Hank Aaron, the African American who broke Babe Ruth's home-run record. Even in the videotaped image, her eyes seemed to be tinted by the pain inflicted on her love. I wonder if Michelle Obama's eyes will look like that after Barack Obama's 1000th day in office. Will she look at the Mall, devoid of celebrators, and wonder if there is still support for her husband?

So I've come to a decision. I will join the millions around the world watching the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States on TV. And every day after will be a celebration of the Obama presidency.

By Marisa Katz  | January 13, 2009; 12:00 AM ET
Categories:  Inauguration, Inauguration  
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Next: What Does the Inauguration Mean for D.C.?


This beautifully expresses what I'm feeling. I've forwarded it to a friend who is still trying to decide. The important thing is not our support on January 20th, it's our support in the long run as President Obama tackles the problems he has inherited.

Posted by: im_moderate | January 13, 2009 8:40 AM | Report abuse

Your allusion to the difference between a wedding and a marriage is an appropriate one, but you have squandered the analogy. Just as we come to a wedding to signal our support of the union and to acknowledge that we will be there to support the couple through the years (at least, that is why we should attend weddings - not just for the open bar), it is important for us to come together as spectators at the Inauguration to show our support and commitment to the long haul of President Obama's term of office. Yes, there will be crowds and extra security and long lines, but why should a bit of waiting or reduced personal space keep us from coming out as a collective voice and presence to signal that we have come to celebrate and acknowledge President Obama? By putting aside small discomforts and showing up at the celebration, we can signal that he can count on us down the road to continue coming out and showing our support, even rolling up our sleeves when necessary to pitch in with the hard work to come.

Posted by: sciencegrrl | January 13, 2009 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Personally, I don't understand why anyone wants to go. This is fundamentally a boring, protracted, government ceremony. I understand the desire to celebrate but I can't believe that the suffering an attendee would have to endure to be there and witness it would really be worth being in person at the ceremony. Is it really that much better than watching at home? Where it's comfortable, cheaper, has a better view, and you can get on with your day afterwards? Our country is in an economic crisis, and all over the Union, citizens are taking days off from work and school to spend many dollars and travel many miles to observe what will likely be an underwhelming occasion. I don't want to undermine Mr. Obama's accomplishment (he still has to presidential stuff) but this definitely smacks of an emotionally inflated event.

Posted by: Tex21 | January 13, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

It would be more fitting to have a celebration at the end of a President's term rather than before it begins (wouldn't that be actually have a President leave office in the good graces of most of the country?). The only reason in my mind to go to the free concert/inauguration is to have an excuse to party (which again is 100% okay by me) but to be honest the more I see the ads on tv and endless coverage of it, the less interested I become - I showed my support by voting - getting hammered and jamming with the Boss & Beyonce will be great but I don't pretend it has anything to do with politics.

Posted by: ballgame | January 13, 2009 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Attending the event is like anything else we do. What meaning does it have to the individual? It's history and as an black female it is a long time coming. Remember Rev. Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, the 1963 children who were killed at the Birmingham church, Freedom Riders, and a list of too many known and unknown.

I know that people don't like to hear this but people died for this moment - remember we are not that far removed from when people were murdered and lynched so that blacks could vote. It's worth standing in the cold with crowds to see what so many people gave their live for.

The analogy to marriage is not a good one.

Posted by: rlj1 | January 13, 2009 1:39 PM | Report abuse

I agree with jlj1. This is simply an incredibly historic and proud moment. Years from now, those who are present will be able to say "I stood united in my nation's capital with thousands of people from all over the country, and saw this event with my own eyes" Yes, I know this may mean watching on the jumbotron, but still. Who 40 years ago would have dreamed they would be witnessing this?

Posted by: PQSully | January 13, 2009 3:43 PM | Report abuse

"...but why should a bit of waiting or reduced personal space keep us from coming out as a collective voice and presence to signal that we have come to celebrate and acknowledge President Obama?" Ah, I hate to burst your bubble but as one who HAS attended these in the past... it won't be "a bit of waiting" and it won't be just "reduced personal space". It will be incredibly cold...colder because you won't be able to move and will be standing on cold ground. There will be huge waits for everything, like hours, including any bathroom/porta pottie you can find. The crush on the Metro will be frightening. I understand the historic nature of Pres. Obama's election though he was not my choice. Be very sure you are physically up to the demands of the day.

Posted by: lostein | January 13, 2009 4:29 PM | Report abuse

I will not be attending or watching this pompous waste of taxpayer money...$40 million that can be better spent helping where it is needed, not on frivolous parades and balls.
On a side note:
I really wish people will get over the race thing. This election had absolutely nothing to do with race. The best candidate won and that is the end of it. What Mr. Obama chooses to do now is entirely up to him. He is not "Moses" as one man put it, nor is he "The One". He is another person who has attained the highest office in America...nothing more. For those of you who insist that the years of struggle the black people have endured have finally made a difference, your vision is still obscured by the same racist views you accuse others of having. I am constantly hearing black people remark on how the white people are going to get their just rewards now that "one of us" is the president. Is this a foreboding of what the future has for our nation? When are people going to get over the past and live for tomorrow?

Posted by: mstarks67 | January 13, 2009 4:50 PM | Report abuse

mstark67- You are right that the Barack Obama's race had nothing to do with this election. He is the best man for the job and the majority of Americans that voted saw that.

However, that does not discount the importance of this event. The inauguration of the first African-American for POTUS is profoundly important considering that 40-50 years ago, this would not have even been deemed conceivable. Please do not try to downplay the momentous occasion at hand. Furthermore, your rant about black folks and our enthusiasm over the election of President-Elect Obama reeks of racism cloacked in a failed attempt at post-racial ideology.

Posted by: DinahS | January 13, 2009 5:01 PM | Report abuse

lostein is a voice of reason. The bone chilling cold is a force to be reckoned with. We even lost a former President because of it.

Here are a few things to consider. If it is important to be there, then go and stand on the Mall and be there. Then, high-tail it home as best as you can.

If it is important to take in part of the event, then hang somewhere warm until about, 3 pm and make your way to the route. Believe it or not, the parade will still be going on well after 4 pm and you can probably walk right up and take a seat in the stands. I was there in 1993 and gave up around the Iowa float, about 90 min into the parade.

Posted by: mdreader01 | January 13, 2009 5:27 PM | Report abuse

People are acting like Obama is the second coming of Jesus Christ. Let me tell you, he is not. It is only a matter of time before he messes up like his predecessor. Every president becomes a victim of an extremely complex system of laws, egos, selfishness, power and greed...luckily, they can only do so much damage in 4 years.

Posted by: aagarwal190 | January 13, 2009 5:33 PM | Report abuse

DinahS -
No cloaked racism here. I voted for Mr. Obama as well. I am merely stating that we need to get over our past and move forward. My heritage has ties to German Jews, yet I do not dwell on the evil doings of what went on during WWII. I cannot change the past, only the future. I do not expect apologies and reparations for what has happened based upon my heritage. This is not a great day for African-Americans, it is a great day for America...I hope. There is much truth to aagarwal190's comment: "Every president becomes a victim of an extremely complex system of laws, egos, selfishness, power and greed...luckily, they can only do so much damage in 4 years."

Posted by: mstarks67 | January 13, 2009 5:59 PM | Report abuse

ditto to DinahS. mstarks67 has been sipping too much sunny d.

Posted by: seoulxtrain | January 13, 2009 6:07 PM | Report abuse

As a former D.C. Metro resident for 30 years, I have been flabbergasted in recent weeks by the questions I have gotten from otherwise intelligent people as they have turned to me for advice about attending the inauguration. They honest to God seem to want me to tell them what intersection in Washington they can travel to from Northern Virginia in order to then catch a cab to the Mall and to inaugural balls. At first I hemmed and hawed, not wanting to dash their spirits by speaking the harsh truth: it would be sheer lunacy to go to the Mall for the inauguration, and just slightly less crazy to try to go to the evening balls.

But I finally realized I had to be honest and tell them that nothing--absolutely nothing--that I know about getting around Washington would apply on inauguration day. They had to shake the cob webs from their brains and realize that, at a minimum, they had to have a detailed plan for getting from their suburban starting point to wherever in D.C they wanted to end up. Some form of public transportation was essential. Even then, I said, be prepared for long lines, long waits, and much walking, and be prepared to freeze. And we hadn't even gotten to the issue of bath rooms, i.e., porta potties.

These, mind you, were my observations BEFORE it was announced that the bridges into D.C. from VA would be closed to private vehicles.

I see that other commentators know what's in store and share my concerns. But I'm more struck by how many people share the naiveté of my friends. Those who believe this is simply about "a bit of waiting or reduced personal space" and "small discomforts" are in for a rude awakening.

My firm advice to those intent on going: Don't treat this as a romp in the park. Have a well-planned itinerary for every step of your journey. It could make the difference between fond memories and absolute disaster.

One final note: Do not take small children to this event. Simply: Do not do it. It would constitute child abuse. I am not exaggerating for effect. Do not take children to the inauguration.

Posted by: tbarksdl | January 14, 2009 7:03 AM | Report abuse

I too had planned to attend the inauguration and came to the same conclusions even though my sister-in-law lives only a block off of the mall and could have housed me. Even though I had a flight coupon that would have provided low cost travel, even though I had worked on Obama's campaign out of my home state and made a difference, even though I was present at two Obama events and shook the hand of the man who would be President. I will watch the event with many of the other volunteers and a newly elected Democratic senator. I will wistfully wish I was present but as a senior citizen I will let reason prevail and relish the moment with many other supporters and celebrate every day Obama is President.

Posted by: theroadmaster | January 14, 2009 9:42 AM | Report abuse

I see that folks are jumping on my comment about "a bit of waiting" and thinking that I am naive in some way or another. I will admit to being guilty of optimism and of always anticipating the best in my fellow men and women, but don't count me as naive. Yes, for those who are in less-than-good health, have small children, or are unable to stand for long periods of time, staying home to watch the events on television is the best option. But for the rest of us, the inconveniences of having to walk a few miles to avoid the crowds on Metro, wait in line, and do some jumping jacks or running in place to keep the blood flowing and the body warm are small compared to the larger excitement and experience of "being there." Think about it - even if you show up at 4 a.m. and all of the checkpoints are so jammed that you can't get onto the Mall until Obama steps forward to put his hand on the Bible at noon (which is unlikely - 2 or 3 hours is a more likely scenario), the wait will have been a scant 8 hours. In the grand scheme of our lives, 8 hours is not all that long - we regularly "waste" that amount of time in watching television, having a beer with friends, or zoning out with a good book. If you are even the tiniest bit friendly to those standing near you, you'll likely find yourself a new friend (if only for the time that you are in line together) to chat with about your excitement leading up to the Inauguration, or perhaps about some of the more mundane things in life, like where to find the best sandwich in DC or when to visit the monuments to maximize the awe and fun of viewing these bits of history. By all means, take the time to plan your routes in advance - how will you travel via Metro if it isn't too crowded, what you will do if Metro is crowded and you have to walk 1 or 2 or 5 miles each way to the Mall, where you will sequester wallet and camera and sandwiches and granola bars within the pockets of your coat so that you don't have to carry a bag, and what you will do in case of emergency. But don't allow the pessimistic view that tints many news reports about the "inauguration mess" stain your own enthusiasm and interest in attending.

Posted by: sciencegrrl | January 14, 2009 11:27 AM | Report abuse

I am so glad to hear people are not coming. I will cover the story for and will be bringing my bike. A few less million sounds great to me. But honestly: in November everyone was going. A few 0 degree days and the herd thins out. I'll be there.

Posted by: mikeh6 | January 14, 2009 2:39 PM | Report abuse

I think the central point has been overlooked by all so far: the reason people think they have to endure the mayhem of this event is only to feed their own egos; to be able to tell other people that they were there. I did not vote for Obama, but I stand behind him to guide us through these difficult times. Also, I will be watching the inaguration on tv.

Posted by: birkst | January 14, 2009 3:03 PM | Report abuse

it is impossible for me to attend the inaugeration, but I am still so excited! I will watch every moment on TV, beginning with the train ride on Saturday. I even cancelled a doctor appointment when I checked the calendar and realized it was on Jan. 20! I worry that I have invested too much hope in Pres. Obama, but I feel he is our lifeline to a better future, and I pray that he does well.

Posted by: beccajo | January 15, 2009 5:43 PM | Report abuse

some of you are some of the most miserable people ever and honestly i'm glad that you aren't going because you'd probably be the same ones complaining the whole time and ruining everyone else's experience. i also find it interesting how some people try to trivialize an even that over 100 million people in America and even more than that around the world took part/interest in, it can't possibly be that much of a non-even can it?!

Posted by: spikeleejoint | January 16, 2009 1:02 AM | Report abuse


Barack Obama is the greatest liar in history (no wonder he is an excellent lawyer!) During his campaign, he told lots of hope in future for America if he was elected, but now he warns Americans of oncoming darker economy and not to put too much hope in his promises. He promises a big plan to reduce budget deficit but his inauguration ceremony this January will be the most costly in history (50 millions) while the nation is in deep depression, as well as his presidential campaign (600 millions), which was far more than his opponent John McCain's. He swears to clean up Washington DC, but he failed to first clean up his homestate Illinois, one of the most corrupt state with the scandal of Governor Rod Blagojevich, who greatly helped Obama to win his state senate seat in 1996, 1998, and 2002. And his favorite slogan is "Yes, we CAN", yet he himself CANNOT quit smoking at all !!!

Posted by: TIMNGUYEN1 | January 19, 2009 4:50 PM | Report abuse

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