WASHINGTON—Crowds might not have been as big as in 2009 when Barack Obama was inaugurated as the first African-American president of the United States, but the crowds that turned out Monday, Jan. 21 to witness the inauguration for his second term were just as passionate.
Retirees Lola McFadden and Susan Bocinec had come in from Iowa and were inspired by the event. The inauguration “renewed hope” for McFadden, especially “when things started to fizzle” in the first term. She said, “I think he is going to go full steam ahead.”
She described the president as “an honest man” with “a lot of compassion.”
Bocinec noticed a maturity and strength in the president following his first term.
“I think he has a lot more confidence,” she said. “He has learned a lot, and he is going to go far and work hard for what he wants to achieve.”
In his inaugural address, President Obama laid out a progressive agenda for his second term, acknowledging the challenges ahead while asserting the need for action.
“For now decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate,” Obama said. “We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect.”
Second-term inaugurations are traditionally low-key affairs, but official estimates put Monday’s crowds at around 1 million people, with supporters crammed into ticketed spaces in front of the Capitol and two general public areas along the National Mall. Some had come for a second time; others were keen to show their support for the first time.
McFadden and Bonicec witnessed the event from the general public viewing area at the top of the mall, closest to the Capitol, and they were happy with the view.
“We were back pretty far but still with the big screen,” said McFadden. “You felt like you were a big part of it.”
Down near the Washington Monument, at the only other general viewing area, spectators were not so lucky. There, the single screen that serviced the thousands of supporters packed into the area flickered and spluttered, making engagement with the proceedings a challenge.
The technical difficulties did not dampen enthusiasm, however, as the crowd remained attentive and respectful of the occasion. When musician James Taylor’s rendition of “America the Beautiful” was so distorted that it sounded like bad hip-hop, the crowd broke into song, rising in chorus above the massive expanse.
And when the image of the newly inaugurated president froze and then flickered, sections of his speech dropping out altogether, the crowd waited for transmission to come around again, clapping or nodding at what they could hear.
“The sound was an issue,” conceded spectator Brandi Love, but she looked on the positive side. “I got a side view of the screen … I am warm … everyone is here for a common goal and a common good.”
Love missed Obama’s first inauguration, but having since moved to Arlington, Va., two years ago, she was not going to miss the second.
“It was empowering. I can see how he wants to move the nation forward,” she said.
Juan Mido and Pilar Jimenez said that they “couldn’t hear a lot” but were happy with what they did hear.
“I think in Obama’s first term, there has been a lot of polarization, so trying to end the difference and trying to reach out for common goals, I think that is very important,” said Mido.
The couple was also happy to hear the president mention immigration, as Mido is originally from Mexico and Jimenez from Uruguay.
“Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity—until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country,” Obama said.
Toni Thomas, who had come with a group from New Jersey, said that the event helped her to realize how immigrants “view us,” and how they keep the American Dream alive.
“We have so many different nationalities, so many people, so many different walks of life that come here for a hope, for a dream, for an opportunity,” she said.
Thomas realized that the baton is being passed to her generation to maintain that dream.
“I am very optimistic, I expect things really to come to fruition,” she said. “I am full of hope.”
Corey Chambers was also in the New Jersey group. His father had wanted to see Obama’s inauguration but is wheelchair-bound, so Chambers opted to attend and bring back souvenirs and firsthand accounts.
The president’s speech inspired Chambers to do more for others. “I think that people can do better and get along with each other,” he said.
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