Crowds Converge On U.S. Capitol

Thousands of people are in place at the U.S. Capitol for the inauguration of Barack Obama. NPR hosts Steve Inskeep and Michele Norris are on Capitol Hill along with NPR's Don Gonyea. At the other end of the Mall is Allison Aubrey near Memorial Bridge. They all explain to Renee Montagne what they are seeing.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep at the U.S. Capitol where, as far as we can see, thousands of people have gathered to witness history.

MONTAGNE: In about four hours, Barack Obama will be sworn in as the first black president. He'll take office amidst serious economic worries, high expectations. And Steve, why don't you give us a view from the steps of the U.S. Capitol?

INSKEEP: Well, Renee, we are on the edge of what you might think of as a kind of amphitheater, an improvised amphitheater that is built into the side of the U.S. Capitol, the west front of the U.S. Capitol which looks like nothing so much as a wedding cake today, decorated with American flags. In front of us is a platform, a lectern, almost a national pulpit, if you will, which is where Barack Obama will take the oath of office right around noon today and give his inaugural address.

But the most astonishing scene is off to the right looking across the National Mall. We see thousands and thousands of seats of the ticketed spectators. Those seats are empty mostly. Those people will be able to file in, in good order later today. But the people with no tickets, with no assurance of a close-up view, have come by their thousands. They were here before dawn. The sunlight is just now beginning to strike them in the last 10 or 15 minutes - the dawn, the sunlight shining off the Washington Monument in the distance. And what I see is a wall of people from here to the Washington Monument, perhaps a mile away.

MONTAGNE: And you just made your way through there. How are those crowds for getting through?

INSKEEP: Oh, we didn't have such a bad time because we're with the media. We've got our own entrances. But people who are not in that situation have been coming extraordinarily early. Even at 3 or 4 o'clock this morning, the streets were very busy, as we've been hearing from our correspondents around the city today. And that's going to continue throughout the day. People have been arriving on buses from - to RFK Stadium, which is a distance perhaps 15-16 blocks to the east of the U.S. Capitol and riding shuttle buses or walking in. Going through security is necessary, filing in from every direction that can be allowed with this massive security.

MONTAGNE: And Steve, you're not alone there. I know Michele Norris, host of NPR's All Things Considered, is there with you and also our White House correspondent, Don Gonyea.

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah, let's bring them both in. First, Michele, I want to ask you about something, Michele, because we went in together. We will be doing together live coverage of the actual swearing in later today. And we're in this vehicle. It is 6:30 in the morning. You've got this big job ahead of you, and you're talking to your - I heard something about, put on the blue coat, the blue coat.

MICHELE NORRIS: Yeah, yeah, I have - like many people here. I have a houseful of family members who've come here from Minnesota and Chicago, and they've made their way here in every bed, in every couch, and every sleeping bag, and the house is filled up. And they thought that they were getting an early start. Well, we know that by 6:30 in the morning, this place was already packed down here. I've covered a lot of inaugurations, and there are several things that really stand out about this one. One is, of course, the size of the crowd. I mean, for an inauguration, you always see the high rollers, lots of fur, lots of statement jewelry.

Something's very different here. A lot of regular folks just got on, as you say, buses, they drove, there are car pools, they made their way here, a lot more people of color. And that's no surprise there. I have never seen an inauguration where so many young black families, young black kids, older black Americans made their way here. And one other thing that stands out - and we saw this the minute we left the building - have you ever seen this much presidential paraphernalia for sale?

INSKEEP: Everywhere, I mean, everywhere.

NORRIS: Anything that they can put his name on.

INSKEEP: Anything you want. Renee.

MONTAGNE: Michele, I want to say hello to you this morning.

NORRIS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Welcome. And also Don Gonyea, of course, as we've said earlier, our White House correspondent. Let me just ask you, Don, what - Mr. Obama, he takes the oath of office at noon, as we know. But what is he doing this morning?

DON GONYEA: His final hours before taking on the responsibilities of the office, he and Vice President-elect Joe Biden and their spouses are starting out with Mass at St. John's Episcopal Church, a church service, right across Lafayette Park, across Lafayette Park from the White House. Then at 10:05 Eastern time - this is all very precise - they head over to the White House. They'll be greeted under the North Portico by President and Mrs. Bush.

They'll go inside, and for 45 minutes they'll have an informal coffee closed to the press. Vice President Cheney and Mrs. Cheney will be there as well. And it's one last moment that these two men will have together. And then they head over here at about 10:45 Eastern time, all of them together in the motorcade.

MONTAGNE: And the three of you will be there. You'll be there, Michele, with Steve really taking us through this, through the morning and through the inauguration itself.

INSKEEP: That's correct.

NORRIS: We'll be here all day until 2 o'clock, and then we hand over the baton to Neal Conan and he continues the coverage.

INSKEEP: That's right, that's right. And we should mention it's a little chilly today, but I haven't seen anybody complaining. I haven't heard anybody complaining. I just think there's a great, a tremendous energy here. We'll see how unhappy people are in a few hours when they're heading back.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: Well, the sun is rising. Maybe that'll warm us up a little bit.

MONTAGNE: Yeah. Well, all snuggle up together there and enjoy the view. We're listening to our own NPR's Steve Inskeep, Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep. Also Michele Norris of NPR's All Things Considered, and Don Gonyea, our White House correspondent. And we're going to move on now, really off the Mall, just a little beyond the Mall, just past the Lincoln Monument over to the Memorial, over to Memorial Bridge. It's a major connection between Virginia and the District of Columbia. And NPR's Allison Aubrey is there. Good morning, Allison.

ALLISON AUBREY: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So, what is happening where you are?

AUBREY: Well, I am here on the bridge, on Memorial Bridge, as you say. This is one way folks are getting to the Mall. And I have to say it's probably the most peaceful and quiet route into the city. It's closed off to cars and buses. It's only pedestrians here. There's really a steady stream of people. They're spread out across the entire span of the bridge. And as people walk, they have a sense on their face that they finally made it. I'll tell you what they're seeing in front of them is the Lincoln Memorial. It's straight ahead. It's a gorgeous view. It's a beautiful sky. Just behind them is the Eternal Flame from Arlington Cemetery on the hilltop. And it just sort of adds to the sense of place and symbolism.

And folks know that they're headed into crowds, but for now they're in small groups of one or two just taking in the scene. They are bundled because it's cold, as you've heard. But people here are really reflective more than celebratory. And for many, the sense of history is just powerful. I've got here with me Telli and Bridget Scarborough(ph). They have walked three miles to get here. Would you like to hear from them?

MONTAGNE: Yes, absolutely.

AUBREY: All right, all right, here we go. We've got Telli Scarborough here.

MONTAGNE: Hello, it's Telli.

Ms. TELLI SCARBOROUGH: Good morning.

MONTAGENE: Good morning. And you're with Bridget. I would guess that you're both related.

Ms. TELLI SCARBOROUGH: Yes, she's my daughter. She lives in Atlanta.

MONTAGNE: Now, OK, Atlanta. Now, how far did you come from?

Ms. TELLI SCARBOROUGH: Well, we came from Kansas City, and Bridget from Atlanta.

MONTAGNE: All the way for this inauguration. So, what are you hoping for?

Ms. TELLI SCARBOROUGH: I'm hoping for a leader who'll bring (unintelligible) justice, hope - he gives me a lot of hope - health care for people who don't have it, my god.

MONTAGNE: Why don't we put on - we just have a few seconds - put on your daughter, Bridget.

Ms. TELLI SCARBOROUGH: All right, here's Bridget.

Ms. BRIDGET SCARBOROUGH: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Hey, good morning. And is it worth the trip so far?

Ms. BRIDGET SCARBOROUGH: It has been worth the trip. It's been an awesome experience at this point. And I think it's going to be even better starting from now.

MONTAGNE: It is. I guess you're all bundled up and everything. Well, just briefly, what are you, what's your first glimpse here?

Ms. BRIDGET SCARBOROUGH: We can see - it's a perfect view of the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument is creeping over the trees, walking over the bridges. I was planning on doing that from Atlanta. I talked Mom into doing it. And it was definitely worth it.

MONTAGNE: Well, Bridget Scarborough and with your mother, Telli, thank you very much for joining us. And if you don't mind passing us back to Allison.

Ms. BRIDGET SCARBOROUGH: Definitely, here you go.

MONTAGNE: All right.

AUBREY: All right, Renee.

MONTAGNE: You know, we just have a few seconds. But given the crowds and everybody in a sort of jubilant mood it seems, what about security? Is there a very visible police presence there?

AUBREY: You know what, there is a park service that's manning the bridge here and there are barricades set up. There's not much need for crowd control here. As I said, it's a peaceful scene. And the National Park Service have it down. Once you get across the other side of the bridge, there's a lot of military patrols, a lot of police.

MONTAGNE: Well, Allison, thank you very much. Stay warm.

AUBREY: All right, trying to. Thanks, Renee.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Allison Aubrey, one of our many correspondents and voices that we will be hearing all during the morning and all during the day here at NPR News. She, Allison Aubrey, is on Memorial Bridge in downtown Washington, D.C.

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