The crowd on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol was sparse. It was a cold, overcast and windy day. The sun was undecided. One moment it peeked out from behind thick, dark clouds, providing a hint of warmth for the crowd that gathered for the 59th Inauguration Ceremony. Then it left, bringing back the stinging cold, allowing for a moment of comic relief as provided by Senator Ray Blount (R-Mo.), chairman of the Inaugural Committee and guests.
“I should have known that when Sen. Amy Klobuchar got involved, there would be snow,” he said referring to his colleague from Minnesota who delivered the welcome address.
But as soon as the flurries came, they left, quicker than anyone could finish asking, “Is it snowing?”
There I was, attending my first presidential inauguration as a member of the press. Of course, I attended both of President Barack Obama’s inaugurations and I will never forget how cold it was, especially in 2008. But on Wednesday, January 20, another day I’ll always remember, I sat, albeit socially-distanced, on the last row of the West Lawn. I was surrounded by politicians, dignitaries, the press and more than 25,000 National Guard troops and law enforcement officers from D.C. and beyond. They were there to guarantee a peaceful transfer of power from President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to President-elect Joe Biden and, yes, my HU fellow alum, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
Just days earlier, on January 6, this was the place where rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol and destroyed property, resulting in the death of six people, including two Capitol Hill police officers. There we all were, seated in chairs separated six feet apart, temporarily forgetting about the past. After bidding farewell to President Trump, who departed the White House earlier that morning, the focus instead went to the future. A new vision for America was described by President Biden in his inaugural address.
The mood was celebratory but solemn, serious yet relieved. No matter who was asked, or any conversation that could be overheard, the sentiment was consistent. It was beyond time for Donald Trump to go. He clearly sucked the oxygen out of the House and the Senate. The members are ready to go to work and they acknowledge the enormous tasks before them.
In the crowd gathered on the West Lawn, and the masked people lined along the hallways waiting to offer proof of a negative COVID-19 test in the Longworth House Office Building were many Black members of Congress. There’s a particular acknowledgment shared among Black people when they see each other in a predominately white environment. Sometimes it’s merely a nod. I spoke to Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Alma Adams (D-N.C.). I nodded to Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) and Lucy MacBath (D-Ga.). I was grateful to Rep. Dwight Evans (D-Pa.) who provided easy access to the Inaugural site and I’m was proud to see D.C.’s own Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton retrieve her credentials and make her way to the West Lawn.
Admittedly, I was taken aback by newly-elected Rep, Cori Bush (D-Mo.) who raised her hand toward me indicating her refusal to talk because “this is my day of rest,” she said. As she walked away on the Capitol grounds, I thought, “Isn’t this her workplace?”
Former Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) reveled in the glory of celebrating President Biden, his new boss. Richmond was tapped to serve as Senior Advisor to the President and Director of the Office of Public Liaison. He expressed enthusiasm about holding the key to the door through which civil rights groups, environmental groups, formerly incarcerated people, small and large business leaders and other constituencies will enter at the White House to discuss policy issues.
“It was a perfect day,” Richmond said, as he held the hand of his young son, Cedric Jr. Biden’s speech, he said, “is what the country needed. We’re in a state of multiple crises and we’ve got to deal with it.”
Richmond said he was very much impressed with the poem delivered by Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman who he described as “incredible.” He said everyone’s remarks were “on point.” D.C. was also well-represented with members of MPD and Fire/ EMS stationed around the Capitol. But it was a special moment to see Eugene Goodman receive applause as he escorted President Biden to the stage. Goodman is the U.S. Capitol police officer who diverted the rioters on January 6. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser was in the audience, as well. Let me not forget all of the men and women who keep Congress running day after day including the maintenance workers, the restaurant workers, the mailroom staff, and parking attendants.
Undoubtedly, it was a fantastic day. My credentials did not allow me to follow the nation’s new leaders to the wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington Cemetery, nor to the walk on 15th Street to the White House, nor to the White House Press conference, or the primetime TV special at the Lincoln Memorial.
So, I returned to my office where I observed the familiar parade of folks pouring into the nearby Chinese corner carryout, where the homeless men hang out in the park and the street guys stand vigil in front of the corner liquor store – some with masks, most without.
It was an amazing day in Washington, but life goes on as usual in D.C.