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Inauguration: Crowds Converge on D.C.


Published January 19, 2009 at 6:12 p.m.

Ed. note: Seven Days correspondent Kevin J. Kelley sends this report from Washington, D.C.

Surprisingly, the 6:35 a.m. AirTran flight from BTV to Balt-Wash Airport was only two-thirds filled. Not as much VT traffic to the inauguration on a cheapo flight as I had imagined.

But downtown DC is aswarm with celebrants, soldiers in camo, and hawkers of inaugural kitsch. I've been to many demonstrations here, including some of the biggies during the Vietnam war, but I've never seen Washington as crowded as it is today. Though it's impossible to estimate with any real accuracy, it looks like African-Americans account for about half of the throng on the National Mall.

"Yes, we did," an Obama t-shirt peddler is chanting to passers-by as I write. Pride is palpable on many faces. All the Obama paraphernalia isn't needed to convey the dramatic shift in mood among rank-and-file Americans.

"As an African-American I did not expect to see this happening in my lifetime," said Robert Tignor, a 64-year-old retired judge who has lived all his life in Washington. "We're all a bit apprehensive about the state of the economy and the image of this country in the rest of the world, but I and everybody I know feels that there's not a better person or team of people to lead at this moment. It's like being on an airplane that's been out of control, that may be damaged, and you know you're in trouble. But finally someone you can trust is taking charge and you're starting to hope that maybe we'll all land safely after all."

Esther Iverem, an African-American writer, echoed that sentiment:  "I'm not into hero worship, but It's like a weight is being lifted off us. It's like the end of the Dark Ages."

And here's Jim Doughtery, a Sierra Club leader: "I don't think this would be possible in 95 percent of countries. So many people around the world have been looking askance at the United States for the last eight years, but now they're looking at us in amazement."

Yes, we did.