TOPICS > Politics

Larger Than Expected Inauguration Crowd Shares Joy, Future Hopes

January 21, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Ray Suarez reports on the sights, sounds and crowds on the National Mall, where hundreds of thousands of people traveled from around the country and the world to witness the 57th presidential inauguration of Barack Obama.
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JEFFREY BROWN: From large families trekking miles to witness history to spirited entrepreneurs selling inaugural wares, people braved the cold this morning to attend the president’s second inauguration in person. Late today, an official said that the turnout was higher than estimated earlier, more than 800,000 and possibly as many as one million people.

Ray Suarez was there, and he has our story.

RAY SUAREZ: The crowd was eventually enormous. But there was no pushing, no shouting. People had the rest of a long morning to take their places on the National Mall.

MAN: Get your programs, programs.

RAY SUAREZ: Hawkers were selling, well, a little bit of everything. There were crowd control barriers and plenty of security, but more last-minute directions, please and thank you, than cross words.

The mood overall was friendly, relaxed, happy, and prepared for a long day out in 35-degree weather.

MAN: I got several long-sleeved T.’s under here, about two, got the sweatshirt to go, then a good amount of hand warmers in the pockets.

RAY SUAREZ: This time around, the temperatures are a lot milder, the transportation challenges a lot easier to bear, because, after all, crowds at second inaugurals are usually much smaller. It’s the old president who is becoming the new president. But for people who put in long hours on the road to be here from all over the country, there’s no place else they would rather be.

MAN: I’m Jesse Gerler. I’m from Erie, Mich. We took a bus down here from Toledo, Ohio. Took us about nine hours.

WOMAN: Katie Keener. And I’m from Huntsville, Ala.

RAY SUAREZ: And it took you how long to get here?

WOMAN: Twelve hours.

RAY SUAREZ: You come all the way from?

WOMAN: Alexandria, Va.

(LAUGHTER)

RAY SUAREZ: Alexandria, Va. And how was that trip?

WOMAN: It was super easy. We just took Metro.

RALPH MEADOWS, Ohio: We are from Cincinnati, Ohio. It took us about 13 hours to get here.

RAY SUAREZ: Ralph Meadows organized an inaugural package, hotel and bus ride, and started selling tickets before Election Day.

RALPH MEADOWS: There’s nothing like being here. I mean, I could watch it on television or I could sit in one of the buildings around here and probably look out at it. But it’s nothing like being in there. It’s kind of like swimming. You can think about the swimming, but if you’re not in the pool, you really can’t feel it.

RAY SUAREZ: For many we spoke to, it wasn’t just history, but this president that brought them to Washington.

DARLENE EHINGER: We don’t think we have had a president like him before or we will have one in my lifetime. So it’s worth it to be here to pay homage to him and to his beautiful family and to the country that elected him and to the people who elected him. So, we’re just delighted to be a part of this.

WOMAN: This is history in the making. First of all, from an historical perspective, who wouldn’t want to be here? But, more importantly for me, the whole of the Obama administration is everything that I hold dear.

RAY SUAREZ: Margaret Ledbetter came up with her family from North Carolina. For her, a second inauguration for the first black president was no less exciting, no less worthy of celebration than the first one.

MARGARET LEDBETTER, North Carolina: I’m 69 years old. And I never thought I would live to see a black president, a black family. I really didn’t. And I think it’s beautiful. And it is really history.

It’s Martin Luther King’s birthday. Things that he even talked about and dreamed of, it is happening. People of all races have come together, praying together, worshipping together, going to school to work together. There are some problems, but if we all work together, we can, you know — it will be beautiful.

RAY SUAREZ: It’s very hard to be a short person in a very large crowd. You guys know that already, right?

The Bass family drove all day yesterday from Chattanooga, Tenn., to reach the Mall early. Charles Bass told meal he could not afford to miss another Obama swearing-in.

WOMAN: Again.

CHARLES BASS, Tennessee: Again. We actually missed the first time. We didn’t want to miss an important moment in history.

RAY SUAREZ: What’s different about being here?

CHARLES BASS: Just the feeling of everyone together, all people of different nationalities, different places just coming together for a common cause.

RAY SUAREZ: Hazami Barmada looks to the problems establishing stable democracies in many countries and wanted to see a freely elected president sworn in for herself.

HAZAMI BARMADA, Virginia: I’m originally from the Middle East. And it gives me a chance to really be part of something much bigger than myself, which is kind of a democratic process, bringing a president into office. And given what’s happening in the region right now and people fighting for the democracy, I think this is a great chance to come out here and really show that I’m part of the process in the U.S.

RAY SUAREZ: Now, let’s be honest. Most of the millions of Americans who wanted somebody else to take the oath today didn’t make an effort to get here. So you couldn’t really find people unhappy about the outcome of the election on the Mall. It was a celebration, upbeat, joyful, and looking forward to more productive politics in the next four years.

KEVIN JENNINGS, Virginia: I would hope that people are able to make some rational decisions and really think about the future, about what’s going to happen, you know, instead of just kind of like hunkering down in their beliefs, that they really kind of take a step back and realize that the country is a little bit beyond what — you know, petty squabbles and stuff like that. And I would hope that they can compromise.

RAY SUAREZ: What are you hoping for in the next four years?

MYA REIMER, Virginia: Better peace, better economic recovery, with more equality and more fairness.

RAY SUAREZ: Once the ceremonial business of the day was accomplished, to the delight of the vast crowd, the president spoke to his Washington audience and to the world about the job ahead. It had been a 12-hour trip from Reno, Nevada, to stand in the January cold. Matt Erwin and Jon Evasovic were glad they did it.

Any particular part of the speech stick out for you?

MATT ERWIN, Nevada: I think kind of just his message of inclusiveness, I think, was just fantastic.

JON EVASOVIC, Nevada: I would agree, not excluding anybody based on, you know, race, orientation. All the above, I would say. It was great to be a part of actually history, not just watching it on TV, but actually getting to be there in person,and just a lot stronger emotions behind it, I guess.

RAY SUAREZ: So, even though it’s a lot easier and you could have had a nice, warm drink, and you wouldn’t have had to travel 12 hours, just standing on the Mall with all these people, that made it — made the experience for you?

JON EVASOVIC: Definitely. You can’t compare it to sitting at home on the couch. I mean, you might be a little more comfortable, but at the same time you’re not there to experience it. It’s all about the experience.

RAY SUAREZ: Getting a huge crowd here is only half the job. Minutes after the president and vice president left the west front of the Capitol, half a million of their friends and fellow citizens did too, again without incident.

JEFFREY BROWN: Hari Sreenivasan has also been out on the streets of Washington today. You can watch his dispatches on our website. Also there, you will find interviews with inaugural newsmakers, and, of course, the president’s full address and video of the day’s musical performances.

And you can track tonight’s events on our live blog — all of that at NewsHour.PBS.org.