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Washington Abuzz Ahead of Obama Inauguration

 

Washington was teeming with visitors and abuzz with anticipation only hours before Barack Obama was to be sworn in as America's 44th president.  

A city not known for flashiness is packed with inaugural revelers and untold numbers of people who journeyed from near and far to witness history.

Washington's usually-staid manner has been swept aside by dozens of gala events surrounding the inauguration and an almost-electric undercurrent of anticipation ahead of the swearing in of the nation's first African American president.

The event comes one day after the U.S. holiday honoring slain civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. - without whose life's work and sacrifice Mr. Obama's rise to power might not have been possible.

To mark the day, the president-elect visited a Washington shelter for homeless youth as part of a broader call on Americans to commit themselves to community and national service.

"If we are waiting for someone else to do something, it never gets done," said Barack Obama. "We are going to have to take responsibility [for our nation's well-being]. All of us. And so this is not just a one-day affair."

Mr. Obama is expected to echo that theme in his inaugural address after he is sworn in.

Late Monday, the president-elect hosted three dinners: one for another African American trailblazer - retired General and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, another for Vice President-elect Joe Biden, and one for the man he defeated in the November election - Senator John McCain.

Mr. Obama has repeatedly stated his desire to forge consensus and a bipartisanship in solving America's problems, and has made an effort to reach out to Republican leaders during the transition period.

The president-elect and Mr. Biden will be sworn in on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building before an anticipated crowd of one-to-two million people. Later, a massive parade will wind its way through central Washington, followed by several inaugural balls.

Excitement surrounding the inauguration has been building for days.

Byron Miller and his family are visiting Washington from San Antonio, Texas. He says Barack Obama's journey to the presidency is a feat for all Americans to savor, but one that holds special meaning for those who descended from slaves.

"We have gone from emancipation [from slavery] to inauguration," said Byron Miller. "My emotions run from exuberance to just [being] excited."

Already, many roads in and around central Washington have been cordoned off as part of a massive security effort. Most bridges across the Potomac River from Virginia will also be closed to all but official vehicles and some pedestrians. Local officials are urging visitors and residents alike to make use of the region's subway system, but note that the inauguration day crowd will likely be at least double the highest single-day ridership in the system's history.  

 

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