Kamala Harris made history last week as she was sworn in, becoming the first African American and Indian American woman to become vice president of the United States. President Joseph Biden’s and Harris’ swearing-in occurred in the midst of what looked like an armed fortress.
Approximately 26,000 National Guard troops were mobilized into Washington, D.C. to protect the city, purportedly to prevent a reoccurrence of the attempted coup of January 6 by Trump supporters and an assortment of right wing and White Supremacist extremists.
National Guardsmen were still arriving by bus and on foot into the gated area as the proceedings commenced. Every intersection within a few blocks around the National Mall had soldiers, armored vehicles, and other security agents guarding positions throughout the city. Crowds of local residents around D.C. had gathered at various points surrounded by media and almost always outnumbered.
Trump supporters showed up, but this group was much more subdued and apparently interested in reconciliation. Many could be heard voicing shame over the events of the previous weeks. Some said they wanted to see less division in the country and for it to be in a better place.
Political debates continued throughout the city leading up to the inauguration. But unlike what has been witnessed previously in the streets and social media, people were not screaming at each other as had become commonplace over the last four years and especially leading up to the 2016 election.
Even when there wasn’t agreement, opposing sides showed compassion towards each other. In one argument, former NBA player David Wood claimed that “Joe Biden would step down automatically and Donald Trump would take over, as God intended.” Teri Lee McClain from Seattle, WA asked him to “provide evidence for what you’re saying.” Wood responded by referring her to a social media page that had been taken down.
On the morning of the inauguration, as former President Trump flew for one last time on the Marine One helicopter, a group of a few Black Lives Matter protesters erupted in cheers as music blared. Smokey, a Black Lives Matter protester who claims to have been in D.C. for the past four months, danced in the street. As the celebration reached its energy peak, Marine One carrying former president Trump flew directly over Black Lives Matter Plaza Northwest.
So many media descended on D.C. on Inauguration Day and the days preceding it that they appeared to outnumber residents and onlookers and were nearly tripping over themselves as they searched for different angles for stories and photo opportunities.
In the lead-up to the inauguration, crowds of people gathered around the Capitol and Washington Union Station where religious groups were proselytizing and creating scenes as they competed to promote their messages. At one point police came in to separate the groups when small scuffles broke out.
A heated theological debate broke out between two groups of Christians about just who the real Christians were among them. As the debate raged on, nearly every camera turned to follow two White women wearing Make America Great Again hats as they walked down the street.
Most of the area around the National Mall was deserted. The combination of the pandemic and the attack on the Capitol had left D.C. a subdued city. Government warnings that people should stay out of the city on January 6 were clearly heeded.
The inauguration of the 46th president took place with a cloud hanging over it that even the always smiling vice president couldn’t overcome, though the idea of her becoming the vice president warmed the hearts of many Black people who see it as a welcome sign of hopefully better things to come.
In the words of the young National Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman:
“For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.”