Watching history with millionsby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Thousands of visitors to Washington D.C. are back on the road heading home from the inauguration events. That includes a small group of Minnesotans who travelled to the U.S. Capitol to see, be seen and report back on the events. Minnesota Public Radio's Brandt Williams has been in Washington with a group of men from Minneapolis - he reports on their big day in D.C.
Washington D.C. — Ray Seville set his alarm for 3:30 a.m. the morning of the inauguration, to make sure he could get down to the Capitol and get a spot on the Mall.
He probably didn't need to set an alarm, because well before dawn the dark morning calm was shattered by police sirens. It was a passing motorcade on its way to the Capitol.
Soon all of us staying in a Tai Chi studio near the Capitol, were waking up and preparing to witness history.
Seville bundled himself up and left to walk down to the Capitol.
Minnesota Spokesman reporter Charles Hallman had a media credential, so he put on a suit and tie.
Ralph Crowder came to town partly to speak out against the achievement gap in public schools. However, for the inauguration, he decided to travel light, and left his bullhorn and homemade sign behind.
Crowder and I join up with some of his family and friends. We all bundle up and head out to the Capitol.
The neighborhood is buzzing with energy. Helicopters fly overhead, sirens blare everywhere. Scores of volunteers in red hats help direct people to the U.S. Capitol.
I walk for a while next to Crowder's mother, Francis, who lives just outside D.C. in Prince Georges County. Before she moved here, Francis lived for many years in Minnesota.
She tells me, the walk we're taking strikes a familiar chord for her.
"In 1963, my dad and I made the March on Washington," she said.
"Is that right?" I said.
"Yeah, yeah," Francis recalled wisfully.
Francis says she was 14 at the time. She remembers Dr. King's speech and the energy of the crowd.
"So I'm doing this walk and thinking of dad," she said.
Francis' husband Larry Hawkins, owns the Tai Chi studio which has been serving as our group's base of operations.
Hawkins, is from D.C., but he spent 30 years living and working in the Twin Cities. He also sees a parallel between 2009 and 1963.
"What's great is, there's the same energy here that was here when Martin Luther King came here," he said. "So the mixture of the cultures are excited about this event." Hawkins says usually African-American and white people in D.C. don't mix very well. He says white people sometimes act afraid of black people they encounter in public.
But on inauguration day, Hawkins says he noticed a lot of smiles and friendly glances across racial lines.
"That's what you feel now. People are happy, man. They are generally happy there's a big change coming," he said.
The U.S. Capitol is a swarm of controlled chaos.
There are hundreds of thousands of people - probably millions - whatever that looks like - walking and standing around here.
But people aren't stressed. They're smiling. They're sporting all manner of Obama apparel, including hats, scarves, neckties, and t-shirts.
We don't have tickets. So Ralph, his son Rahlik and I trek down toward the Washington Monument, thinking that will be our best chance of getting onto the sections of the Mall where no ticket is required. We just want to be somewhere to watch the big event on a Jumbotron or even hear Obama's inauguration speech.
But, we didn't make it. Too many people got to the Mall before us. So, instead we found a few people crouched around a radio, listening to a broadcast of the new president.
"From the grandest Capitols to the small village where my father was born, know that America is a friend of each nation," the new President Barack Obama said. "And every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity and we are ready to lead once more."
That's pretty much all any of us heard of the inauguration. In fact, most of the people in our group heard none of the president's speech.
Even Ray Seville, who had a ticket, couldn't get close enough. They closed the gate before he could get in.
We all met up a little while later at the Tai Chi studio, cold and tired from the walk. Our feet hurt, our fingers were cold and our noses ran.
But Larry Hawkins says it was still worth putting up with the cold and the crowds.
"It was surreal. And it still hasn't hit me yet," he marveled. "It won't hit me until I see it on CNN. Because we couldn't see. It won't hit me until I see it on CNN, that he's the man."
Each one of us travels back to Minnesota with a lot to remember. But most of all, we can say we were there to listen and watch as the nation's first black president was sworn into office.
Well, sort of.
- Morning Edition, 01/21/2009, 7:20 a.m.