EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of the Banner’s coverage of President Barack Obama’s inauguration, we have asked Kelley Chunn to tell the story of her trip to Washington, D.C., to take part in the historic festivities. Chunn is the principal of the local multicultural media and marketing firm Kelley Chunn & Associates, as well as a former TV news and public affairs writer and producer with more than 25 years of communications and public relations experience. For more information on her background and business, visit www.kelleychunn.com.
Living the Dream: From King to Obama
Washington, D.C., and the rest of the country celebrated the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday with “Renew America Together: National Day of Service.” It was a day meant for us to volunteer in more than 10,000 service events scheduled across the country. I signed up for the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Peace Walk in the Anacostia neighborhood of D.C., where I was staying at the home of my friend Tambra. The annual walk is hosted by the Bethlehem Baptist Church on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in southeast Washington. But instead … I blogged. So, dear readers, consider that my volunteer service: sharing this story with you.
Organized Chaos on the D.C. Metro
Not usually considered the best place to be in D.C., Anacostia was golden in terms of getting into central Washington quickly and without the drama of the thousands of people cramming onto D.C.’s normally efficient underground Metro system.
So traveling on the Green Line from Anacostia Station, connecting to the Red Line and coming into the Dupont Circle could have been a lot worse than it was. Still, there were wall-to-wall crowds on the popular Red Line and lines that stretched all the way from the platform steps up two levels nearly to the escalators where passengers enter and exit the station. It was all something to see — much better if you were just watching it on TV, though.
According to local TV, there was one horror story with a bittersweet ending.
On the morning of Inauguration Day, due to the Metro crowds, a woman apparently lost her balance and fell onto the tracks in front of a train. She was pulled to safety and was OK, except for a dislocated shoulder. But because of the delay, many people who had tickets to the swearing in were late and could not get onto the Mall.
At Dupont Circle, there was Bush bashing — literally. Protestors had put up a huge Bush balloon and were bashing and yelling at the stand-in for the outgoing president. One way to get eight years of disaster out of your system, and fun to watch.
The Selling of the President-elect
American capitalism was in full swing at Dupont Circle, with street vendors selling Obama hats, aprons, key chains, posters, buttons and on and on. They were clearly working their own economic stimulus strategy. I haggled over 44th president skull caps, then slipped into a nearby CVS to get some money. Inside, the employees told me that many vendors had bought the caps from CVS then jacked up the price. So CVS was sold out of the hats they had been selling for $4.99, which were now going for $10 on the street.
Armed with that knowledge, I confronted one of the vendors, who was not fazed. She stuck to her guns, and I stuck to mine, bought less than I would have and got the same hats from the vendor next to her — at half price. Go figure.
A Pre-Inaugural Dinner with Friends
Connecting with friends from Boston for a tasty bite at Levante’s, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Dupont Circle, made the night before Inauguration Day special. Patricia Dance, Donell Patterson and I toasted to “Chocolate Dreams,” traded tales and shared our excitement about the historic moment we were experiencing in the heart of it all.
The night before, they had witnessed an extraordinary tribute to Charles Ogletree, a Harvard law professor and activist lawyer, at the National Archives — but not before nearly being detained by police for unintentionally running a roadblock. They dodged that bullet, and once inside, they said they mingled with everyone from Spike Lee (complete with bodyguard) to Earl Graves, the distinctive-sideburn-wearing publisher of Black Enterprise magazine to Jackie Jenkins-Scott, president of Wheelock College. All were celebrating our past, present and future.
A pre-inaugural reception with the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) starred Gwen Ifill, PBS correspondent and author of “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.” If dinner at Levante’s was serene and elegant, hanging out with the NABJ was schmoozing on steroids.
The venue for the event, labeled “Witness to History,” was A-list: a charming four-story townhouse that is home to the National Visionary Leadership Project. (NVLP) on 16th Street NW. NVLP is the brainchild of the Camille O. Cosby, Ed.D., educator and philanthropist, and Rene Poussaint, an Emmy award-winning journalist. They capture oral histories of both great individuals, both known and unknown, preserving our history by videotaping comprehensive biographical interviews with African American elders 70 years and older—our cultural visionaries. (You can watch some of the interviews at their YouTube page here.)
So who was at the reception? Not Gwen Ifill, who had left as I was eating lamb pide nearby at Levante’s. The evening at NVLP was in part a celebration of “The Breakthrough,” Gwen’s new book on the new era of black politics and black politicians, which caused a stir during the campaign — particularly when she was chosen to moderate the vice presidential debate between Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware and Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.
While I missed Gwen, New York Gov. David Paterson and his wife were in the house, and yes, I did get to wish the governor well and shake his hand … just before his aides whisked him away because the crowd turned into “The Day of the Locust” trying to get close enough for a photo not of him, but with him. (Sometimes journalists are just funny that way. Of course, they say PR types are always that way. Moving on.)
Other notes from the party:
It Takes a Strategy
Pacing myself for an early inaugural morning wake up call, I jumped back on the Metro and ran into Tambra, my host, at the Anacostia stop. We went home and drew up a strategy for getting to and surviving on the Mall (our plan was basically to just ask the Metro workers where to land the best place on the Mall … which they did). For me, survival meant no bags, everything in pockets, hand warmers, layers, cashmere gloves, hat and scarf, 30-year-old Timberland boots and my warmest coat, my 50th birthday shearling.
Tambra, the lucky one, had a press pass, which gave her a few extra hours to get ready. (Ironically, as I was to learn at the end of the day, Tambra eventually decided not to go to the Mall, and missed the assignment of a lifetime — but with good reason.)
We had a grand total of about 90 minutes of sleep before heading out.
Inauguration Day: Freezing on the National Mall for History
When I was 10 years old, my mother took me to Carter Playground in Boston’s South End to see the buses take off for the historic March on Washington. I desperately wanted to go, but since both my parents worked, Mommy said that while she’d like for us to go, there was just no way. So, on a personal note, I waited 45 years for this magic moment.
Even though I’d “met” Barack Obama and shook his hand on the rope line at the World Trade Center in Boston on the night before Super Tuesday (thanks to you, Liz Walker), I still had to be on the National Mall. Besides, through the Inaugural Committee, President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Joseph Biden had sent me — and many thousands of other Americans — a formal invitation to the inauguration (not a ticket, though). So I was going to be there. It was worth the long, cold wait for the memory of a lifetime.
A Fast Train to Independence Avenue
To get a good spot on the National Mall on Inauguration Day, we got up at 3 a.m. and got the first train out of Anacostia Station at 4 a.m. … which was packed except for the last car. Traveling to the Mall with me was Lois (not her real name), a young pediatrician resident from Connecticut who was also staying at Tambra’s home. We hopped on the train and found smiling faces, folks snapping photos. We got our wake-up calls and were about to make some serious history.
We got off the Metro at L’Enfant Plaza and by 4:30 a.m. we were among the first people standing in line on 7th Street and Independence Avenue just outside one of the closed entrances to the National Mall — the entry closest to the Capitol for those of us without tickets. With security so tight, we could not have gotten any closer.
As we waited in line for the Mall to open, we watched waves of folks walk by in the frigid darkness, dragging sleeping bags, holding blankets and chairs, and pushing wheelchairs. Some were old. Some were toddlers. Families were arriving together. We cracked jokes about the cold and wondered when the Mall would open.
At around 4:30 a.m., a bus with the Alabama State Troopers pulled in and the troopers, most of them white, got off the bus. We bantered back and forth about the cold. Then, rather than put some order to the crowd near the Mall entry that was not in line — and which was about to get rowdy — our “Bama” protectors got back on the bus to get warm. (Some things don’t change.)
About 15 minutes later, just before the police opened the Mall, my young companion on this adventure disappeared into the brutally cold pre-dawn night …
I’ve got to make my plane back home. Stay tuned for the rest.