Crowds greater than at any second inauguration
Not the same enthusiasm but 700,000 people attend public events
The crowds were smaller and people less hopeful than four years ago, though the queues were still forming early, before 7am, at security check-points around the National Mall in Washington DC to see Barack Obama take his public oath of office.
Gone was the strong rhetoric of 2009 when 1.8 million people filled the Mall running from the Capitol Building to the Washington Monument below the White House as the US public was swept away by Obama’s contagious optimism and pledges of change.
The historic moment of seeing the first black president of the United States had passed. People in the long queues yesterday were more resigned but eager for the president to be more aggressive with Republican leaders to push through his promised changes.
Despite the diminished optimism, the numbers turning out to see Obama, the 44th president of the United States, inaugurated for a second four-year term were greater than at any second inauguration of a president in recent history.
“It is a milestone not just for black Americans but for America,” said Big Eli Turner who missed Obama’s first inauguration but brought his family from New Jersey to see the second.
“There has definitely been change over the past four years and I am very satisfied and grateful that he has another four years,” he said as he queued to pass security to become one of the estimated 700,000 people attending the public events.
Arlene Webber, who travelled to the inauguration from Orlando, Florida, with her 22-year-old daughter, was pleased with the progress Obama made in his first term “because he came in to a mess”.
“He did the best he could but we want him at the helm to do more,” she says, citing healthcare and immigration reform, the fiscal deficit and foreign policy as the critical issues facing her president in the immediate future.
Erin Riles, a 21-year-old from Buffalo in New York but studying at Morgan State University in nearby Baltimore, Maryland, praised Obama for keeping financial aid alive for college students.
“I still believe it’s all about job placement, though our economy hasn’t gotten better – it’s not where it should be,” she said.
Steve Goldenberg, a 35-year-old “street photographer” from Washington DC, expressed frustration that Obama did not force through the change he had promised following his election in 2008.
“I just wish he would have been more aggressive in pushing his agenda,” he said.
“Frankly our political system is broken now; it has become so polarised. I mean there is a fight on against his plan for assault rifles – come on, that’s just dumb; he should be just going ahead and prohibiting sales of them.”
Lavon Fluker-Reed, a retired superintendent for a school district in Mississippi, believes the president will still deliver on his agenda during his second four years in the White House.
“On the tasks he faces I feel comforted that he and Congress will accomplish those and there will be compromises, and the American people will agree to those,” she says.
She doesn’t blame Obama for failing to introduce enough of the change he promised and she believes that the drive that swept him to power in 2008 did not desert him.
“It was there all the time but he really just has to assert himself,” she said.
Walking down from Union Station, north of the Capitol, Peter Koehler from Pittsburgh is attending the inauguration with his wife, nephew and sister who is visiting from Germany.
“Obama is more aggressive now; he’s drawing the line with the Republicans. He tried to be accommodating four years ago and it didn’t get him anywhere,” says Koehler. “He still doesn’t know how to schmooze – it is his nature; he is cerebral. He is not warm and fuzzy.”
Janis Blake, a retired telecoms worker from Columbus, Ohio, is proud that her state swung it for Obama’s re-election but acknowledges that the inaugural crowd is smaller this time around. The president has shown more confidence recently, she says.
“He feels more comfortable in his position now that he has confirmed his position by being re-elected. I really thought he could do more with the Republicans and Congress,” she says. “I think he will show his worth this term. The Republicans tried to stop him at every turn. That is why he is doing what he is doing now and taking such action.”
Two blocks east of the Capitol, Richard O’Mahoney, a respiratory therapist from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, holds a metre-tall bloodied crucifix and leads a group of Catholic anti-abortion protesters.
“The nation that kills its own children is a nation without hope,” he repeatedly shouts. He describes Obama as the most pro-abortion president in American history.
Further down the street, a lone man shouts protests of a different kind as he strides past Obama supporters: “Stop the drone attacks in Afghanistan, stop the drone attacks in Pakistan.
“It infuriates me that so many people support Obama and that he won the Nobel Peace Prize. I voted for him in 2008 and I cried when he was elected,” said the protester who didn’t want to be named but said he lives in Washington DC. I believe that Obama has normalised Bush-era transgressions against civil liberties. We were speaking so loudly about this during the Bush administration but now you don’t hear anything.”
Asked where he was walking to while making his protest, he said: “As far away from this inauguration as possible.”