Inauguration Trip 2009

A group of SMU communications and journalism students led by Rita Kirk, professor in the Division of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs in Meadows School of the Arts, is headed to Washington, D.C., in January 2009 for Barack Obama’s inauguration.

A little respect, please

Rachael%20in%20London.jpgAn update from Rachael, a senior CCPA major:

Mamas and Grammys taught us to show it, and Aretha taught us how to spell it, R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Anyone considering attending the Inaugural and events surrounding this poignant mark in history were aware of the drones of well-wishers, supporters and students who would be flooding the District. One would hope that those who made the effort to make the journey to D.C. would be so enthralled with the monumental nature of a peaceful change of power that they would themselves remain peaceful.

There are thousands of individuals who experienced a flawless Inauguration experience. There are, however, thousands more who did not share in that same fate.

Today was game day, and mental preparation was imperative for whatever obstacles were to come. Obstacles like “information officials” who were unaware of directions or building numbers, or the overcrowded tunnels that law enforcement continued to send viewers toward. Walking around the entire perimeter as directed by said information and law enforcement officers only to find yourself at the gate of security unable to enter because of a “lack of crowd control.”

I stood looking at the printed cardboard ticket in hand complete with the chairwoman’s signature and thought of all the reasons I could harbor hate or anger toward the process or the people. I then realized, what good does that do? So I kept my mouth shut. Of course I was disappointed to be close enough to feel it and not be granted my perceived right of entrance, but I tried not to let it show. However, I was in the minority.

After acknowledging that my ticket was not truly my ticket to witness history, a fellow student and I headed for the hills after the chants of “let us in” and pushing began to feel like a mob mentality. Our next mission was to identify a location that would become our new ticket to history.

We stopped into a corner Mexican restaurant lined with old 32-inch box televisions. Not wanting to miss a minute of the action we eagerly joined the group of a 100 or so to enjoy the festivities. Shortly after our arrival, President Bush exited the Capitol building and the entire restaurant filled with hair-raising boos and negative borderline degrading digs.

My friend and I stood and looked around in total awe. Regardless of how a person feels about the outgoing Commander in Chief, the man has served selflessly like all of the previous 42 before him. This created a catalyst for my response on America’s cultures lack of respect toward people and property.

Throwing shoes at a man is not ok … Demeaning the elected leader demolishes the meaning of democracy … Thinking completely of yourself with total lack of consideration for those around you is disrespectful.

Somewhere along the way, The Golden Rule was amended to look inward, rebuking the true value of respect.

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History from a hotel room

An update from Brad, a junior with a double major in economics and CCPA, and a history minor:

So unfortunately, I missed the Inauguration. Despite my three-month search to finally get a ticket and getting up at the crack of dawn in the cold weather, I did not get to witness the history in person that everyone seemed to be so hyped about.

The reason? My answer: poor planning on the city’s part.

The line to get into my section was nearly three miles long with only one gate entrance. Moreover, the line stretched down a closed highway into a tunnel. A tunnel – talk about a safety issue.

I soon realized that I would not even be able to see the Inauguration on television if I didn’t leave. So I made the executive decision to leave.

On my way back I talked to people in line who did not even have tickets; they just wanted to see how close they could get. Here I am with tickets that my dad searched so hard to get for me, and these people are standing in line just to see how close they can get.

Then I started to hear stories about people who had tickets but were turned down at the entrance gates because it was overpacked. I had no idea that the Inauguration was supposed to be a profit-making scheme in which they oversold for the event. Sounds like the airline industry.

But to get to the point, the city did a seemingly disappointing job in planning for this event. I know that it’s a hard event to plan for and that nobody can plan for whatever could arise, but people came from all over the nation, some even from other countries, to see this, and they were stuck in a tunnel with hopes that they might get in. It just seems to me that more could have been done.

I respect the fact that the Inaugural Committee had a lot to deal with, but with a $160 million budget, I think that a little more could have been spent on crowd control.

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Best seats in the house

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An update from Cody, a junior with a political science major and CCPA minor:

Today was truly moving. I witnessed, in pretty close range, the swearing-in of the 44th President of the United States.

We began at 7 am, leaving the hotel at 7:30. We grabbed a quick bagel next door and set off for the madness. We walked from 14th to 1st in order to find the proper gate to enter through based on our tickets. We eventually found our line (for yellow tickets), but after some time found out that our part of the line had merged with the purple ticket line! No wonder we were moving nowhere.

There were people everywhere trying to find the right way to enter – and this was just the ticketed area. It was certainly hectic, but it wasn’t really madness. There was an overwhelming feeling of peacefulness and patience. There was line-cutting, line-mushing, a little pushing, but everyone kept their cool and made things work. There were very few policemen and no staff to organize the lines; they were completely formed and enforced by the people present.

And we did make them work. We eventually got on the right track and around 10:30 am were through security. We were somewhere around half a mile from the front (by my really rough estimation) so we could see well, but everyone on stage was very very tiny. Nevertheless the seats felt like the best in the house.

The day turned beautiful and sunny for Obama and Biden to take their oaths. In front of was the massive Capitol building against the bright blue sky decorated with flags, and behind us millions of people waiting in ticketed sections and in the Mall. Describing my emotions is difficult – the entire scene was so impressive and compelling.

President Bush was present, which I didn’t expect and made me appreciate more than ever of our peaceful transitions of power in the U.S. Obama’s oath of office was the most moving part of the day for me. It is so simple, but so established in our political culture, that he has gone through the proper channels, he takes the proper oath, and he is now our national leader.

Leaving the Inaugural was easier than we expected, but we purposefully avoided the parade route that was packed with crowds trying to get and keep good seats for that event. We were simply too exhausted from a late-night ball and early morning to stay for the parade.

We headed for the hotel, battling off vendors with Obama gear of every variety. Trash was everywhere, in small mountains by the curbs, remnants of the morning crowds waiting for the gates to the Mall to open.

Closer to our hotel we saw a group of 50 or so people literally dancing in the streets with the most gleeful looks on their faces. Those faces pretty much summed up the day.

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The road ahead for Obama and America

i-jessica-sm.jpgAn update from Jessie, a senior CCPA major and Spanish and Human Rights minor:

As long as I live I will never forget how I felt today as I ventured with millions of others to catch my own glimpse of history. It is truly a matchless and moving atmosphere here in DC as the city is bursting with excitement around every corner and millions become a part of this unique transition of power on Capitol Hill.

Making our way to the Capitol building, we were surrounded by all walks of life – celebrators, protesters, black, white – who have come to make their statement about their feelings on today’s events. It is during a time like this that I realize just how critical our rights secured by the First Amendment remain to aiding in this smooth transition of power. Everyone is eager to share their opinions on what this moment means to our future, and I felt blessed to live in a country where freedom of expression remains not just a privilege, but a rite of passage.

Yet, despite the excitement that surrounds me today, I also met with disappointment. Due to the incredible number of people who have come here to witness the events of this day, I was unable to make it to the ticketed areas at the Capitol building or to the Mall. Overselling the event and not opening the seating areas till 8am caused lines to stretch for miles, and to wait in them would mean missing the swearing-in ceremony itself.

Instead, we returned to the hotel to make sure we didn’t miss the live take of Obama’s inauguration acceptance speech. Although we were disappointed we couldn’t make it to our seats, just to be in Washington and in the middle of all the excitement was a worthwhile experience.

To me, today seemed to overwhelmingly exude a message of peace and hope, from Obama’s speech to peace activists on Madison Ave. Just walking around the city today made me realize the immense responsibility that rests on Obama’s shoulders to fulfill the promises that have brought so much joy and hope to the people of this city. As people were literally dancing in the street in celebration, the reality is that the journey ahead has just begun.

Like President Washington, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy and Reagan, President Obama now follows in their footsteps to reunite a broken country and determine the best possible policies and future plans for not just Americans, but for people around the world.

As globalization highlights people’s differences, whether it is racial, political, or religious, it remains up to us to decide how we want our future to unfold. To me life is about choice, and we all have the ability to choose whether that’s a path of love or hate, war or peace, wisdom or ignorance, truth or lies.

As Obama takes his place in the Oval Office, I believe we have the ability to choose what is right and to help him make not only the people of this country great, but also the people throughout the world.

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My view from the Mall

i-jamie-sm.jpg An update from Jamie, a senior CCPA and history major:

I woke up at 5:30am and started walking toward the Mall. As I moved toward the Washington Monument, over a mile from the Capitol, thousands of people began to gather for the swearing-in ceremony held over five hours later.

I will never forget the image of the sun rising over the Monument as people pilgrimaged to the Capitol (or as far as they could make it). I use the word “pilgrimage” deliberately because President Obama is more than a political figure; he represents a movement toward a more self-reliant, caring society. People from all over the world are desperate for change, and many see Obama as the way to achieve noticeable and sustainable change.

I was not close enough to view the ceremony firsthand, but I was closer than half of the other people in attendance. I cannot describe the massive crowd that gathered on the Mall. There were people at every angle; it was never-ending. I did not see anyone become frustrated or angry with the long lines and thick crowd; everyone was just happy to be there. I certainly was!

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Day 3 in photos

i-ElizabethL.jpg An update from Elizabeth, a junior CCPA major:

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Right: Waiting in line at the Rayburn Building to talk to Debbee Keller, former SMU student, speak about her position as a press secretary in the Congressional offices. It turns out we waited for half an hour in the wrong line, then only waited 20 minutes in the right line.

Elizabeth4.jpgLeft: Lizzie and I met Robert Richard, who plays Samuel L. Jackson’s son in Coach Carter, while waiting in line.

Then we actually ran into him later that day – his hotel is a block from ours!

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Right: Lizzie, Mollie and I preparing to leave the hotel for the Texas State Society’s Black Tie & Boots Ball. Traffic was a nightmare getting out to the Gaylord Hotel and an even bigger fiasco getting back.

Elizabeth1.jpgLeft: At the Ball, Emily, Kaci and I almost at front row for Cross Canadian Ragweed, a popular Texas country band.

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Right: The view of Capitol Hill from about halfway down the Mall. Slowly but surely we made our way to right behind the seated area to get a great view of tomorrow’s swearing-in ceremony spot.

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Celebration, D.C. style

i-jamie-sm.jpg An update from Jamie, a senior CCPA and history major:

What ball are you attending? Where are you going Tuesday night?

After the swearing-in ceremony, the massive crowd will disperse to get ready for the second part of the night: the parties! There are numerous “official” Inaugural balls; the Hawaii and Illinois State balls are, obviously, this year’s most popular parties. Tickets are selling for over $1200!!!

The SMU students are lucky enough to have tickets to the Black Tie and Boots Ball on January 19, hosted by the Texas State Society. This is one of the most popular and prestigious “unofficial” balls.

As for Tuesday night, what could be more Washington than spending the night in Georgetown?! A bunch of us are planning to get dressed up and have our own Inaugural ball at a classic DC restaurant. We’ll eat and dance and celebrate!

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Time for debate

i-meredith.jpg An update from Meredith, a junior CCPA major and business minor:

There is no better time to discuss our nation’s issues than during a transition of power. Anticipation lingers as Americans wonder what new leadership will bring. Will more opportunity arise? Will employment rates increase? Will the country reunite to solve the problems of today?

With a new beginning comes hope, and with a new president comes the chance for this country to successfully solve the nation’s problems. So what better time to discuss the key issues that will soon swarm the White House? Well, it turns out college kids all over the country feel the time is now.

Today, Michigan State University and Wake Forest College gathered at the Smithsonian Institute to debate climate control and energy efficiency. Michigan passionately stressed implementing carbon taxes to solve the problem immediately. But Wake Forest refuted Michigan’s strategy and instead suggested the need for a sustained economy before more taxes would benefit America.

Each side passionately protested their sides and cross-examined their opponents to persuade each listener. The heat of the debate rose drastically as the debaters reached their final statements.

As the debaters exited the stage I reflected on the words previously exchanged, and the importance of debate in time of need. Debate stems solution. It encourages passion. And it supports democracy.

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In line for history

i-jamie-sm.jpg An update from Jamie, a senior CCPA and history major:

Thousands of people gathered near the Capitol today to pick up their tickets for one or more of the many events tomorrow, Inauguration Day.

Standing in line to the Cannon Office Building for over three hours, I was bound to meet a few people. Two African-Americans from Houston stood in front of me. They have travelled all over the country following Obama and see this as the final stop in a journey of a lifetime.

A younger man who holds a local office in a Northern California district kept up our spirits as we waited and waited in the cold, windy weather. “It’s all part of the experience,” he said.

There is certainly a sense of community this weekend. Everyone is here to be a part of history, whether they voted for Obama or McCain, whether they are white, black, Latino, Asian. Instead of fighting the crowds and jockeying for position, people are friendly and understanding. Sure, no one would turn down a seated VIP ticket, but more often, people I talked with just travelled to D.C. to experience the atmosphere.

I am getting up tomorrow around 4am to head down to the Mall. I would like to get as close as possible to the ceremony, but more than anything I want to tell my future kids and generations: “I attended the Inauguration of Barack Obama.” Incredible!

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Building momentum

Jessica.jpeg.jpgAn update from Jessica, a senior CCPA and political science major:

People around here are so happy about Barack Obama they’re bursting into song, literally.

Today while walking down the street in China Town and on two separate occasions on the Metro, I walked by people singing made-up songs celebrating Barack Obama, some even skipping while they sang. Random, I know, but it kind of exemplifies the excitement that this city is filled with right now.

On every street, in every building, around every corner there are people celebrating in anticipation of Tuesday’s inauguration, and it is perhaps the most diverse group of people I have seen come together. It is fun to see suburban-looking moms, little kids, teenagers, businessmen and laid-back hippie-types all out on the streets talking politics and getting involved.

Obama promised change, and so far the momentum he’s putting behind the Democratic political process is helping him live up to it. Now hopefully we can keep it up!

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