I have seen parties, proms, graduations, and weddings, but I have never before witnessed the phenomenal level of preparation required for a Presidential Inauguration. I imagine it must be comparable to staging an invasion; this event is of shorter duration, but the troops are less experienced.
Four years ago, 1.8 million people descended upon the Capital to witness the inauguration of the first African-American President. The estimate for this year of 800,000 visitors is obviously far less, but organizers are still determined to learn from the challenges of the previous event and improve upon the experience.
Last Sunday morning starting at 6 AM, the organizers led the volunteers in staging a complete run through of the event to learn their parts. To be a volunteer at the Capitol for the event, the requirement was to have a valid Congressional staff badge and to be able to navigate around the Capitol complex. In addition to greeting guests, several hundred “packages” must be picked up and delivered. Those packages are people, such as past Presidents, Cabinet Secretaries, Supreme Court Justices, and guests who will be arriving at the Capitol and must be conducted safely and efficiently to their seats on a tightly scheduled timetable. I understand that multiple walking routes have been established through the building to reduce traffic jams. Each guest is conducted by a specific volunteer along a specific route, which was all rehearsed last week. One of the most exalted jobs in the rehearsal was standing in for the main players; the Washington Post showed pictures of four figures wearing signs of “POTUS” (President Of The United States), “Mrs. Obama,” “VPOTUS,” and “Mrs. Biden. The tall graceful young woman who doubled for Mrs. Obama sent a message to the First Lady that she strongly recommended wearing comfortable shoes for the event, since her own stylish footwear was less than comfortable by the end of the day.
The new head of the Capitol Police has been thrown into the deep end of event preparation. Success in that position leads to potential advancement, but failure to pull off a smooth day leads to disaster. There are already numerous signs directing people to the correct locations for their tickets, and barriers have been prepared to close off the core streets to vehicle traffic. The metro system has likewise been working for several weeks to prepare for the influx of visitors and to educate everyone on how to have a smooth day. The three metro stations on the mall will be closed for the day, specific stations have been designated for people with each ticket color to disembark, and everyone is encouraged to purchase their metro passes in advance.
Around the Senate, an entirely different set of logistics were being navigated. The various Inaugural balls and parties were spaced out over the course of several nights, so staff members were making decisions about where they might go and for which events spare tickets might be procured. Securing a tux or making time for a quick shopping trip to find an evening gown became important scheduling considerations. The Chair of the Inaugural Committee, Senator Chuck Schumer, mentioned an enormous range of requests from donors and constituents ranging from the impossible to the truly outrageous, such as demanding additional tickets or trying to parlay a single party invitation into including a dozen friends. Due to a Ticketmaster error in which they accidentally opened up the system for purchasing tickets to the official Inaugural balls a day early, those tickets became impossible to obtain as well.
With all those challenges, I still got a big smile out of watching some constituents come through security on Friday afternoon. They proudly announced that they had come from Wisconsin and had arrived to pick up their Inauguration tickets. Their excitement was contagious.
The Fellows, all experiencing our own first Inauguration, have been plotting equally enthusiastically, if at a somewhat lower level than the veteran staffers. A few elected to avoid the chaos of the event, but most of us have plunged in with great energy. Our offices were all generous enough to provide us with tickets for the main event, so the emails flew around on Friday exchanging information about where our tickets were located. “Green!” “Orange West!” “Orange North!” “Gold!” “Look for me!”
My own preparations began back in December, when I signed up to be a volunteer, not knowing if I would be able to get tickets or not. I ended up with a plum assignment, working volunteer check in, with a break to watch the swearing in ceremony from the platform. Then I learned that I would be getting two tickets to watch. It would be great to watch from up close, but my Beloved Husband has been such an unflagging and staunch supporter of this fellowship year in Washington, that I decided that it would be a far more special event if I could go with him. I offered Maggie as a substitute for my volunteer slot, so I’ll still get to see pictures. I was thrilled that my BH agreed that seeing a Presidential Inauguration in person was the chance of a lifetime, so we have our warm clothes and comfortable shoes, and we are ready for action tomorrow!