As hundreds of thousands of people braved a chilly January morning to watch President Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., a much smaller and cozier group gathered to do the same in Manhattan. More than 100 people filled Lincoln Center’s David Rubenstein Atrium, where a large projection screen was set up with a live feed of the events in Washington.
The gathering was organized by City Council member Gale A. Brewer. As the time drew close to the presidential speech, the crowd grew, filling up the tables and busying the coffee shop that runs on the premises.
“I wanted to hear and watch it in a public place with other people. I could have just stayed at home and watched,” said Gordon Bakoulis, an Upper West Site resident who works for the New York Road Runners, the organization responsible for organizing the annual New York City marathon. “It sounds corny, but it makes me feel proud to be an American. I support Obama, I voted for Obama.”
The inauguration ceremony, which was conducted by Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, had a strong New York flavor to it. P.S. 22 from Staten Island played a musical selection, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir performed a powerful rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and Beyonce, a downtown resident, performed the “National Anthem” following the president’s speech.
“I thought it was a great speech and it’s also nice to watch it with a little like-minded people who share our need and our hope for a peaceful, healthy, prosperous country,” said Brewer. “I thought he did a great job. I thought he really outlined it well. Very inspirational, I’m not usually inspired, but that was a very inspirational speech,” she added.
Brewer, who greeted several acquaintances warmly when she entered, took it upon herself to bring out a few extra chairs for the latecomers. When the president concluded his speech the crowd clapped, and a portion, including Brewer stood up to do so.
“It was very moving,” said Stu Lahn, who lives close to Columbus Circle. “I don’t remember watching an inauguration with other people.”
National Day of Service
This year’s inauguration coincided with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is also a national day of service. Over the weekend, Lahn volunteered at JASA Club 76, a senior center, which has been struggling since its funds were cut by the city’s Department for the Aging last June.
“We are fighting for survival to keep the seniors there who are very active and committed,” Lahn added, echoing the call in the president’s speech for togetherness and cooperation.
“It was a very positive emotional experience for me, because I felt like Barack Obama spoke to some of the things that his original constituency have voted for him and worked for him for,” said Angela Monti Fox, a psychotherapist, Upper West Side resident, and environmental activist.
“We’re very happy that he seems to have come back to some of the original issues that were very important to us, some of which he’s acted on, some of which he’s yet to act on,” Fox added, referring to the commitment for environmental change in Obama’s speech.
Fox is one of the organizers of The Mothers Project, a nonprofit that brings mothers together for environmental causes.
As the crowd cleared out, Helen Rosenthal, who is running for Gale Brewer’s seat in City Council, shared some of her excitement.
“Last time I was at the capital for the inauguration,” Rosenthal said. “I have to say it brought back those memories where your heart just swells.”
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