Washington Week

Friday Nights on PBS

The Nation's Capital Transformed as Washington Prepares for Inauguration

Photos and text by Fiona Glisson, Associate Producer

On Monday, downtown Washington, DC was largely deserted, as public officials warned people to stay home and 25,000 National Guard troops fanned out across the city.

It felt like the Washington, DC was preparing for battle. The National Mall was encircled with steel fencing. Military vehicles, police cars, and cement barricades blocked off streets. Downtown, the National Guard troops were everywhere, streaming out of coach buses in front of hotels, directing traffic and standing guard on corners. Groups of armed National Guard members marched towards the National Mall.

In March, downtown DC was drained of office workers as the city heeded the call to stay at home. Now the streets were largely empty again. Cyclists pedaled through vacant crosswalks. Chef José Andrés was outside World Central Kitchen, directing his crew of volunteers. In front of Harry's Bar, where Proud Boys gathered weeks before, a man with a Joe Biden flag rode a motorized skateboard in circles as a couple of onlookers snapped photos.

In front of the Capitol, there were layers of razor wire and fencing. Armed National Guard members in camouflage stood watch among the trees. Journalists from around the world were adjusting lights, framing up, speaking urgently in different languages. But people were also walking their dogs around the periphery, threading their way through military vehicles and police tape, taking photos of the fortifications. One man filmed himself smoking with the Capitol dome in the background.

Outside the National Law Enforcement Museum, I started chatting with Nicky Sundt, a climate change activist and consultant who has lived on Capitol Hill for decades. “My biggest concern is, how much of the fencing will stay after inauguration. My guess is the Capitol is going to be much harder to get into and the Capitol Grounds,” she said. “This relatively open government that we had will be relatively buttoned down."