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Inaugural Festivities Put the 'Party' into Political Parties

  • Suzanne Presto

Every four years, Washington shows it's a city that knows how to celebrate. That's because around inauguration time, the term "political party" takes on a different meaning.

People come from across the country to take part in inaugural festivities, including Burga Santiago of California, who is visiting Washington for the first time. She and her daughters have donned full-length formal dresses, and they're ready to attend the first ball of the inauguration weekend.

"You really feel like this is a seat of power," says Santiago, who enjoyed sightseeing in Washington ahead of the ball. "It's not just a seat of power for the United States, but it's a real global seat of power."

But you don't have to be a power player to enjoy the city. Anyone can buy tickets to inaugural festivities such as the Sister Cities International Inaugural Gala, a celebration with a diverse crowd. Men in tuxedos and women in gowns and high-heeled shoes enjoy the live music, dancing, cocktails and plentiful appetizers in the grand International Hall of Flags at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, near the White House.

"Oh my gosh! We've got ambassadors. We have the whole diplomatic corps. We have mayors from across the United States, everyday citizens, citizen diplomats," says Mae Ferguson, one of the organizers. "It's bringing people from all over the world together, which is what Sister Cities is all about."

Among the guests is Nuno Brito, Portugal's ambassador to the United States.

"We think it's a good way to promote dialogue and to promote knowledge among countries, and that's why I'm here tonight," said the diplomat.

Just as the Sister Cities gala brings people together, the organization links people in the U.S. and overseas to promote cultural exchanges and understanding. The U.S. president has served as the organization's honorary chair since Sister Cities was founded in 1956.

"Every president has always been the honorary chair, which is very unusual," says Mary Kane, the president and CEO of Sister Cities International. "So we're celebrating President Barack Obama's second term being our honorary chair."

Party affiliation is irrelevant here.

"If you're a Democrat or a Republican, the president is our honorary chair," notes Ferguson. "We're just thrilled to be here honoring him."

As for gala attendee Santiago, she is hooked.

"I know I will be here again," she says, as the music of the Mood Swings Big Band nearly drowns out her words. "Oh yeah, I will not miss out on it."

The Sister Cities International Inaugural Gala is just one of dozens of unofficial parties and galas on inauguration weekend. The two official inaugural balls will cap off the festivities Monday night.
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