OBAMA TAKES OATH: EVERYBODY IS BEHIND HIM
MANILA, JANUARY 21, 2009 (STAR) Barack Obama takes his oath as the 44th president of the United States. AP WASHINGTON – “Everybody is behind him.”
Mikki Hill, 26, who traveled from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, marveled at the multiracial multitudes. “Everybody’s come from as far as the Earth is wide.”
So it seemed on a day when change and continuity marched together in a spectacle of pageantry and raw emotion.
A vast, excited crowd of more than one million bore witness Tuesday to a transfer of American power like none before it. The blare of regal trumpets and thunder of cannon were familiar. The transition from Republican to Democrat, and gray hair to dark, had happened before.
But this was white to black, a shattering of racial barriers finally made complete when Barack Obama made it through a bumbled oath-taking, delivered a momentous-by-definition speech and got back to being his unflappable self.
The Democrat who charged onto the national scene saying this was not a nation of Republican-leaning red states and Democratic-leaning blue states, but the United States, became president while wearing a red tie, the Republican color.
Republican George W. Bush, president no more, wore a blue tie, the Democratic color. They embraced at the Capitol and walked out together.
A couple of hours after being sworn in, Obama and his wife, Michelle, got out of their armored limousine bearing the license plate USA 1 and strolled together down the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue, holding hands and waving during the spirited inaugural parade. People along the packed parade route screeched in greeting.
Some 13,000 marchers from 50 states paraded along the avenue, passing the Obamas in their enclosed reviewing stand in front of the White House. The sun was falling by then and many watching the parade had been there in the biting cold since dawn or earlier.
The racial milestone lent a deeply personal dimension for many in the crowds as well as a historical landmark for all.
“I’ve been real emotional all morning thinking about my grandmother and the heroes whose shoulders we stand on,” said Lyshundria Houston, 34, here from Memphis, after more than 20 hours of travel. Houston, who is black, said: “They’d be so proud.”
Energized by the moment, hordes clogged the scene, enduring below-freezing temperatures. Starting before dawn, with the Capitol bathed in lights, they streamed from jammed subway stations and thronged past parked buses, emergency vehicles and street vendors to Pennsylvania Avenue and the National Mall.
Ticket holders approaching the inaugural site filed through security sweeps in lines coiled like cinnamon rolls.
They cheered dignitaries as they came on to the inaugural stand at the Capitol. Obama walked quietly and with the merest stirring of a smile through the halls to his position on the stand and his place in history.
The crowd erupted in jubilation as he strode out.
Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, the latter walking haltingly with a cane, embraced.
Elizabeth Courtman, 24, who recently moved to Washington from southern Alabama and supported Republican John McCain for president, said she came away with something to tell her children and grandchildren some day. “There’s no denying the spectacle,” said Courtman, who is white. “Our generation has never seen anything like this.”
Bush, Cheney booed
The grace notes of the day were not shared by all. A wave of boos greeted the introduction of Bush and his outgoing vice president, Dick Cheney, who was in a wheelchair after pulling a muscle in his back. “Na na na na, hey hey, goodbye,” some people chanted as if they were taunting the losing team at a sports stadium.
Bush and his wife, Laura, were soon out of town. At Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, they boarded a plane – no longer called Air Force One because he is no longer president – waved and took off for Texas.
The White House Web site switched to Obama from Bush before the new president had concluded his inaugural address.
“Change has come to WhiteHouse.gov,” said the first blog of the Obama team.
The Obamas were off in the evening to 10 official balls.
At the Capitol, a protective Plexiglas shield extended about two feet up from the balustrade around the speaker’s platform for Obama’s speech.
Boxing legend Muhammad Ali took his seat on the platform, as did actor John Cusack and director Steven Spielberg.
At the inauguration, a huge cheer rose from the Mall as the image of legendary Sen. Edward M. Kennedy flashed on jumbo TV screens showing the brother of President John F. Kennedy, who is fighting brain cancer, heading toward his seat on the stand.
He later became ill at the congressional lunch with Obama and was taken to hospital. Sen. Jay Rockefeller said a “great crowd” including the president flocked to the stricken senator. Kennedy reported later he was feeling well after having a seizure. He was to be released from hospital Wednesday.
About 24 people hospitalized
The district fire department responded to dozens of calls from people falling down or complaining of being cold, D.C. fire and EMS department spokesman Alan Etter said. About two dozen were hospitalized.
Etter said medical personnel were having trouble getting to people quickly around the mall because of the throngs of people, but he added that everyone who needed help eventually received treatment.
By 4 a.m., lines of riders had already formed in suburban parking lots for the Metro transit system, which opened early and put on extra trains for the expected rush. Many parking lots filled up and had to be closed.
Streets around the Capitol quickly filled with people, and security checkpoints were mobbed. The cold registered at a frosty 25 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 4 degrees Celsius) at late morning, rising to 28 F (minus 2 C) at the time of the swearing-in.
Warming tents and other facilities on the Mall were late opening because traffic and crowds delayed staffers from reaching them.
A flea-market atmosphere prevailed on downtown streets, with white tents set up to sell Obama t-shirts and mugs as well as food, bottled water, snacks, scarves and footwarmers.
As waves of people moved through security screenings they scrambled for prime viewing spots along Pennsylvania Avenue – sitting on the curb, staking out plots of grass, or clambering on cold metal benches.
Real estate appraiser Denise Grandberry of St. Louis stood near the mall with her niece Murphy and daughter Nikki and talked about all the foreclosed homes she’s seen in her work. “I’ve seen the remnants of peoples’ lives,” she said. “I have hope now and I think the nation has hope.”
The joyous mood of many was tempered for some by delays and dashed expectations.
Alice Williams, a 51-year-old teacher of gifted children from Kansas City, Missouri., had the coveted purple ticket that would place her in front of the Capitol, but got caught in the crowd bottleneck and was stuck a half-mile away.
“We got blocked off; there was too much traffic and no guidance,” she said forlornly. “I’ve been walking for an hour and a half. All I want to do is see my president sworn in.”
The cold was also taking its toll.
Shelton Iddeen, 57, of Greensboro, North Carolina, arrived at the
Mall at 4 a.m. and huddled in front of an ambulance to warm up.
“My hands feel really bad; you can’t feel your toes,” he said.
“I’m more concerned about other people, the elderly and the young.
I’ve seen a lot of people here really suffering.” – AP
Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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