A photojournalist observes ‘the quiet inauguration’
WASHINGTON, D.C. — What if they gave an inauguration and nobody came? Or, what if they gave an inauguration and the number of spectators was fewer than the 25,000 National Guard troops, hundreds of Secret Service agents, the entire Metropolitan DC police force, U.S. Park Police, U.S. Capitol Police, U.S. Border Patrol, FBI, police officers from states as far away as Texas, Minnesota, Illinois, Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania and neighboring states like Maryland, Virginia, New York. They all came to ensure that our democracy could proceed. Makes one realize how significant this event was.
This inauguration of the 46th president, Joe Biden, was my seventh, this time with no credentials. I went as a tourist. I know Washington very well, and I have never seen the city so quiet.
After passing my early Tuesday morning rapid COVID-19 test in Torrington, I drove to D.C. and, that afternoon, I cruised around the city to determine where I would park the following day. The city was shut down. Most of the bridges were closed. All entrances to the Capitol, the Mall and the White House were blocked by huge concrete slabs, chain link fences topped with barbed wire. Police cars with flashing lights and camo-painted jeeps and trucks parked horizontally across the streets.
Undaunted, I set out the following morning walking on nearly empty streets except for police and National Guard. (I met one guardsman from Connecticut whose father manages a Cumberland Farms in Torrington.)
Stores were boarded up and the atmosphere was cold and gray and strange.
Eventually, I was able to find some pockets of people in free speech zones. Next to John Marshall Park, which was zoned for free speech, there was a bar with all of the doors and windows open, a television inside and a few hundred quiet, mask-wearing people gathered outside, to watch the president’s speech.
Mostly the area was filled with journalists, guardsmen, neighbors and police but there were some people from Texas with crosses, and signs that said, “Jesus Saves,” loitering about.
The small crowd watched in awe as Lady Gaga sang the national anthem and we stood quietly listening to the new president’s speech. We all sang our mask-muffled last verse of “Amazing Grace” along with Garth Brooks. The sun came out and the television got hard to see and except for one woman who said that Trump is the true president (she said that he is Jesus’ president) the crowd seemed to whoosh a collective sigh of relief as it sunk in: Biden is President.
After that, I wandered over to Black Lives Matter Plaza, which is a two-block stretch of 16th Street renamed by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser after last summer’s protests.
Though the plaza is directly across from the White House there were plenty of barricades between us and the actual White House.
Not much was happening there. Large speakers were blaring Tracy Chapman singing “Talkin’ ’Bout a Revolution,” a pretty blonde shimmied through the crowd on an expensive-looking electric skateboard, journalists seemed to be interviewing each other on their smartphones, lots of Black Lives Matter flags and posters decorated the plaza but it was a calm cheerful crowd of a few hundred people milling about. Through the barricades and the barbed wire and up in the sky on the White House roof I spotted marksmen mixed in with cameramen.
Maybe this was the smallest inauguration in history, but it was one to ponder and remember.
Photographer Anne Day, formerly editor of The Lakeville Journal Co.’s Compass arts and entertainment, has been an official photographer for four presidential inaugurations, including the two inaugurations of Barack Obama, in 2009 and 2013.
For more photos, go to Instagram, @anneday13.