- With the National Mall and streets closed, and National Guard troops everywhere, people improvised ways to mark President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ inauguration.
- Two women found a place to watch the outgoing president fly out of the city, while two others toasted the event with mimosas and Cheetos.
- Two New York teenagers struggled to unload $10,000 in Biden-Harris merchandise they’d brought for the occasion.
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Two women toasted over mimosas and Cheetos on a picnic blanket as National Guard troops loomed in the background. A first-generation college student whose graduation was celebrated over Zoom flew in from Miami to mark the country’s “fresh start.” And two New York teenagers struggled to unload $10,000 in Biden-Harris merchandise they’d amassed before a violent riot at the Capitol transformed Inauguration Day Washington into a ghost town.
Across the city, people found ways to mark an historic and deeply strange inauguration, held in the middle of a pandemic that has killed over 400,000 Americans and a mere weeks after a violent mob of supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump took over the U.S. Capitol.
Witnessing an historic fly-over from Black Lives Matter Plaza
In downtown D.C., plywood was plastered over storefronts in anticipation of riots and military personnel and vehicles were stationed on every corner, poised for the possibility of an organized terrorist attack or a random act of violence.
Camille De Lucy and her friend, Rory Merril, both 26, were on their regular morning walk by Black Lives Matter Plaza at around 8:15am when they stopped to take in the sight of President Donald Trump’s helicopter departing from the White House for the last time.
“I think when he gets on that plane, America is gonna give the biggest exhale,” said Merril. “I just wanted to see him leave. It’s a historic day. I’m going to remember this day for the rest of my life.”
The two had walked through a maze of fencing and a security checkpoint manned by some of the 25,000 National Guard present in Washington D.C. after threats of violence marred inauguration celebrations.
“We go on a morning walk every day and this is a more special morning walk than usual,” De Lucy said.
Marking a new beginning, at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle
Victoria Jammel flew up from Miami, Florida, with two friends for the inauguration.
The three had finished their senior year of college online because of the pandemic- Jammel said she watched graduation ceremony on her phone screen on her way to work- and this moment feels like a chance to start anew.
Jammel is a first-generation American, her parents are Jamaican and Arab, and she’s the first in her family to graduate from college. Despite her fears of COVID, racist attacks, and how much of the city was blocked off, she still wanted to celebrate the end of a difficult few years.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Jammel, who’s 22. “It’s been an emotional four years. As people of color, it’s been emotional-constantly feeling wary, constantly looking over your shoulder.”
A crowd of about 30 onlookers and at least that many journalists all had their eyes on the cathedral where President-elect Joe Biden and Vice-President elect Kamala Harris were spending their final hour before being sworn in.
Nearby, Karen Grant, a supervisor at the Department of Transportation, was pointing her cell phone in the direction of the church while she video chatted with a group of friends so they could see the events.
Toasting with Cheetos, at Meridian Hill-Malcolm X Park
Two friends, Guzel Duchateau and Alison Hinchman, huddled on a picnic blanket in a park where every entrance was manned by 3-4 National Guard soldiers. Drinking mimosas and eating Cheetos, they watched Lady Gaga sing the national anthem on a tablet propped up between the two of them.
“I just feel like we haven’t had a break, it’s been one thing after another, it’s exhausting,” said Hinchman.
The squealed when Kamala Harris came on screen, watching in excitement as she was sworn in. As they clinked their champagne glasses together in celebration of the first female Vice President, a row of National Guard soldiers filed behind them.
Making sure no one is left out, at Anacostia Park
At Anacostia Park, a mutual aid market had been erected by D.C. activists to tend to the city’s predominantly black and significantly lower income neighborhoods east of the Anacostia river. Folding tables were set up next to picnic tables, all lined with paper bags packed with fresh produce and tortillas for the thousands of D.C. residents during a pandemic which has dramatically increased food insecurity across the country.
One activist, who goes by the name Beyonce, was distributing menstrual hygiene products, food, and coats on a cold winter day when many of the city’s services for homeless, low-income, and food insecure residents had to shut down due to security concerns.
“I’m doing what I love to do and taking care of our community today- in celebration of the inauguration and the end of the Trump Presidency but, not the end of our work,” the activist said. “We’re making sure people are well taken care of no matter who is president.
A surplus of merchandise
17-year-old Ya Khabi and his business partner who only wanted to be identified as “J” had driven down from Queens, New York after investing at least $10,000 in Biden-Harris merchandise when they won the election.
“We had already invested when the riots happened,” J said, referring to the siege at the Capitol almost two weeks ago, while glancing nervously at downtown’s barren streets. They were setting up their tables with buttons, t-shirts, and masks two blocks from Black Lives Matter Plaza, a place they hoped would be a site of celebration on Inauguration Day and not one blocked by a military checkpoint. Now they were nervous they’d sell anything at all.
“It’s a new start, a fresh beginning,” said Khabi of the historic day. When asked if he thought things would change, however, he was more circumspect. “Nothing ever really changes,” he said while folding T-shirts, adding that he wished he lived in a world where cops stopped killing people and coronavirus deaths would go down instead of up.
Reflecting on a woman “like me,” Howard University
“What do we want!” “Reparations!” “When do we want them?” “Now!”
At Howard University, the alma mater of Vice President Kamala Harris, about 20 people joined in call-and-response chants demanding reparations for Black Americans and statehood for Washington D.C. They had been pushed back from Black Lives Matter Plaza- and the entirety of downtown- due to security concerns
“America cannot continue to call itself the greatest country in the world while it continues to occupy Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico without giving them proper representation,” said Darryl! L.C. Moch, who is Chair of the DC Statehood Green Party in Washington, DC. “This country has yet to reckon with the history of slavery and there is a debt owed to the people who built this nation.”
Behind the protesters, Alejandra Elliot, a 21-year old Junior at Howard University sat on the bleachers at the school’s track, taking a moment to reflect on the day.
“I’m excited to see a Black lady become president,” she said. “I wish that I could’ve been there for the Inauguration. During Obama’s inauguration my entire family went, and I want to have that kind of a moment but I can’t celebrate like that because of the state of the world.”
Both of Elliot’s parents went to Howard, as well as her brother, three of her cousins, and at least five of her aunts and uncles. She says the family group chat has been occupied the entire day sharing celebratory musings.
“It makes me think of women like me,” she said. “If Kamala can be so successful and can do so much, then I feel like I can do that too.”