Thank you for the opportunity to tell my brief story about the events of 20 January, 2009. With my Purple Ticket to the North Standing Area in hand, I arrived at the intersection of 1st and Louisiana at 0800 to find a line along the fence and up 1st street. This line appeared relatively orderly for the most part, but it appeared to be merging with another at the 1st and C St intersection. I found two policemen standing near the fence and asked them which line was for Purple tickets. One responded: ”This along the fence is the Purple line, and it goes up 1st Street. These other people are from the Yellow ticket line. We tried to keep them apart earlier, but it’s pretty much a mess now.”
I took my place halfway up 1st, towards 1st and D St. 1st St. was wall to wall people, and we had to squeeze to let the occasional wheelchair through – people headed to 1st and D St.
Inevitably, these people would come back through the line headed South, which told me there may be something blocking 1st and D. My time on 1st St was spent avoiding frostbite and watching the officials on a nearby rooftop scan the crowd. At one point, voices started singing “we shall overcome” very softly – but with a modified second verse: “Deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall get inside someday.”
By 1030, I reached the intersection of 1st and C St again, hopeful that I would be able to enter before the ceremony. People around me started to question why we weren’t hearing the music scheduled for 1030. This is when I realized there were no loudspeakers near us – if we did not gain entry, we would not be witnesses in any sense of the word. More troubling, the two policemen I spoke with earlier were now gone. People were standing on the jersey wall barriers, and the line had lost all integrity. The crowd was packed in tighter, and was merely a large disorganized mass covering the 1st and C St intersection. This satellite view from 1119 ET
shows the extent and organization of the Purple ticket line. By 1100, the rooftop officials were also gone, and the only authority consisted of a woman’s voice over a megaphone repeating ‘This line is for Purple ticket holders only!’ This was followed by many holding their tickets aloft – all of them purple. The lack of security alarmed many, and people started to give up, voicing their fear of mob dynamics.
I gave up and headed towards Union Station, but noticed that the crowd of people further East along C St appeared to be closer to the actual entrance – and so I joined them. I eventually got within 30 feet of the entrance, but it was noon and the doors slowly closed on us. A few voices from the back called out for us to rush the gate, but thankfully this idea was shouted down quickly – there were parents with children in the street and, for once, maturity won out. Given that our group was physically pushed back as the gates closed, I believe the security personnel and gate would have been easily overwhelmed had we taken a more radical stand. People around me heard the oath of office in my wife’s voice, as she repeated it from home over my cell phone as it happened.
What you cannot see from this satellite photo is the elderly woman of color from Kentucky who came with her special ticket to be part of something ineffably transforming. I will not soon forget her quiet tears as the doors closed on her day. The most watched event in our lifetime was invisible to her and thousands of others.
Beyond my personal anger, and this woman’s irretrievable loss, this is my chief concern: According to the Washington Post, authorities claimed initially that all ticket holders were admitted, a claim made around 1330 ET and then quickly retracted. Why would officials lack information about the crowds outside the Purple and Blue gates, fully 90 minutes after the gates closed? It appears local authorities had no situational awareness regarding the crowd, a most troubling observation given our times. In addition, there are anecdotes claiming that people with Silver tickets overwhelmed their gate and obtained access to the Mall grounds. If true, this means people were on the Mall without having gone through the extensive security screening. Again, local authorities did not seem aware of this.
Beyond the lack of any visible authority outside the Purple gate, the sight of police chiefs congratulating themselves on a job well done – self-praise that appears to have been based on an incomplete awareness of events – is most troubling. On this day, law enforcement was not good – it was lucky.
[Update 1/25: Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Gainer finally "gets it." This just reinforces my point that basic situational awareness was not present - no presence, confused roles and responsibilities, and reported communication problems among authorities according to this Washington Post article. Their latest excuse: They depended on a large number of no-shows, based on past inaugurations. Classic prediction error, even in the face of data patterns that indicated people felt, shall we say, differently about this new president.]