Harlem Armory, Nation's Mall People Gathering

Some people from New York City wanted to travel to Washington for the inauguration but they were unable. Instead, they set up a place to watch the events at the Harlem Armory. Meanwhile crowds are still filing in at the Mall.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We've been hearing this morning about the crowds gathering in the nation's capital for today's inauguration. We're going to get a view now from outside Washington. NPR's Robert Smith is at the Harlem Armory in New York City. Good morning, Robert.

ROBERT SMITH: Good morning, how are you doing?

MONTAGNE: Take a look around. Tell us what's happening where you are.

SMITH: Well the Harlem Armory is going to be home to about 5,000 screaming middle school students here. Behind me you can hear a tape we had earlier of step dancers practicing. This has been - this is being hosted by Democracy Prep. They're a school of about 300 students...

(Soundbite of students chanting)

SMITH: So that's going to be a huge show, a big party here for school students. You know, it almost didn't happen because the Department of Education had scheduled a middle school test for today for all middle school students, and they decided to postpone them for one day...

MONTAGNE: Oh, smart move.

SMITH: So that they could do these kind of events, yes.

MONTAGNE: I can't imagine they would've really tested the kids today. Tell us a little about the people you're meeting there.

SMITH: Well, right now it's just mostly the students from Democracy Prep, this middle school. They've taken on the election as an entire project this year. They've done get out the votes. They've done community discussions. And they were all going to travel down to Washington, D.C., found that they couldn't swing the logistics. So they said, well, you know what, we're going to host the biggest party in New York City. And so they have like 200 tables set up. They're putting up balloons now. These kids have been working since the wee hours of the morning. They are so excited for today. They have a big art project planned. They're going to sing. They're going to dance. We're just wondering whether it'll ever be quiet enough for 5,000 students to be able to hear what Barack Obama has to say.

MONTAGNE: Well, great, enjoy yourself there. Robert Smith speaking to us from Harlem in New York. NPR's Laura Sullivan is at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. And I - Laura, I hear you saw some problems at a security checkpoint on the National Mall. What was that?

LAURA SULLIVAN: Well the biggest problems were is just that they're shutting down some of the security checkpoints because they say there's too many people already in certain areas. That's creating a problem, people trying to get across the parade route in order to get on to the Mall. So there's a lot of confusion and a little bit of chaos about how to get to meet people and get to their locations. In general, people are very expressive. Right now, believe it or not, I'm standing at an Obama protest which got about a hundred people paying attention to it, about two dozen protesters.

You know, this crowd keeps breaking into chants of Obama, and the protesters start screaming anti-Christ, Obama is the anti-Christ. It's an interesting dynamic from what I see. People are pretty patient at some of the checkpoints. At some of the others there was a lot of pushing, there was even a sense of panic. One woman that I was talking to had to sit down because she started having a panic attack because the pushing got so strong as she tried to come up to the security checkpoint.

MONTAGNE: Well, how are the officials now dealing with the crowds? Are they being quite gentle with them or are they really, you know, starting to feel that there's a lot of people out there and they need to, you know, draw some lines?

SULLIVAN: At 6 o'clock this morning inside one of the main tunnel arteries of D.C. people were very festive. I met a couple from Minnesota who said they've been in line since 3:00 in the morning. They were excited. People were very patient. By like 7:30 at the security checkpoint out in the freezing cold, there was definitely a loss of patience. People were pushing, pushing forward. Rhe military guys on their bullhorns were saying stop pushing or nobody is getting in, back up, back up. You know, there was a sort of heated tension in people's voices. And you know, some of the kids were getting a little bit scared. They were at the front of lines. They were getting so close to the security checkpoints.

MONTAGNE: Right, but for the most part, looking out there, a pretty excited crowd.

SULLIVAN: I'm sorry, I'm sorry, can you repeat the question?

MONTAGNE: Well, you know, well, actually, we'll leave you now. We'll be talking later in any event all through the morning. Laura Sullivan speaking to us from the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

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