WASHINGTON, D.C. — “Forward” was a central message of Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, one that resonated with young voters and helped carry him back to the White House.
But on Monday, hours before his ceremonial swearing-in at the 57th Presidential Inauguration , “Forward” was more of a plea … one echoed by thousands of folks young and old, all bottlenecked at the security checkpoints outside the National Mall. Sure, official estimates said the crowd was half the size of the one that showed up four years ago for Obama’s first Inauguration, but try telling that to anyone who stood shoulder-to-shoulder waiting in the cold D.C. morning, packed tight for hours, hoping against hope that their cell phones might occasionally pick up a stray text from their friends, who were also stuck in the crowd … somewhere blocks away.
And yet, despite the temperature and the crush, spirits in the crowd remained high. Folks did the wave, made small talk with total strangers and cheered wildly whenever the sea of bodies surged forward, even an inch. Security was understandably high, and every attendee was made to pass through metal detectors and was subject to a body search, though, again, that did little to dampen the festive mood. Because once you made it through the phalanx of gates and guards, well, there was the Capitol Dome, a sea of flags and the stage itself … one where Obama would soon stand and deliver his Inaugural Address.
As the pomp and circumstance unfolded, and each member of the Obama and Biden families was announced, folks cheered wildly (Joe Biden got an unexpectedly large pop, and folks went wild for Michelle Obama). Speaker of the House John Boehner was booed rather lustily, and then, finally Obama himself appeared, and the some 800,000 in attendance lost their collective minds. There was some elbowing — and a few catty exchanges — as people jockeyed for the best view of the proceedings, and when Obama delivered his address, more than a few “sssshhh’s” went up from the crowd.
There were also plenty of “O-bam-a!” chants (which the president acknowledged with a smile), and, after he finished his speech, families hugged, kissed and shouted “We did it!” to no one in particular. The mood was celebratory and jovial, folks swayed along to Kelly Clarkson’s performance of “My Country, ’Tis of Thee” (“That girl can sing!” one woman exclaimed to her friend), largely tuned out during Richard Blanco’s Inaugural poem, and then pushed even further forward the second Beyoncé appeared onstage to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Because, while Barack Obama was undoubtedly the main attraction, Bey was certainly a solid second. And the thousands packed onto the Mall reacted to each note of her performance like they were attending a Sunday service, tossing their hands in the air and greeting each vocal run with approving “Ooh’s.” When she was finished, many called out for a second song, and though it would have been pretty amazing to see her do “Countdown” in front of the U.S. Capitol, it wasn’t meant to be (perhaps we’ll have to wait for Jay-Z’s inauguration in 2016?)
And with that, the thousands streamed out of the Mall, passing vendors hawking “official” Inauguration programs and “limited edition” Obama T-shirts (two for $10, if you were looking for a deal). They packed onto trains in Union Station and headed out to post-Inaugural parties, or back to their homes … and despite overwhelming obstacles, it was clear that most had a pretty excellent time. It may have been Obama’s second time, but on this day, after a long campaign and an even longer wait, everyone still partied like it was their first. Inaugurations don’t happen every day, after all.
Stick with MTV News for Inauguration Weekend as we bring you all the latest from the D.C. presidential events, performances and parties right through the official swearing-in on Monday, January 21. And although the election’s over, you can still get involved and be heard by heading over to serve.mtv.com.