Sunday, January 18, 2009
No inauguration tickets? No worries
Obama supporters aren't letting a dearth of inauguration passes turn them into wallflowers Tuesday.
- Some older black Roanokers never believed they'd live to see the day when a black man is sworn in as President of the United States. Hear them share their stories about this moment in American history.
The grass roots funded Barack Obama's presidential campaign and voted him into the White House. On Inauguration Day, most of those supporters will be far from the Capitol swearing-in and the gala balls that evening.
Limited supplies of tickets for good positioning at the ceremony -- let alone access to the parties -- dicey weather and the lingering economic downturn may diminish attendance at Tuesday's activities. The majority of Obama's grass-roots supporters will be out among the hustings -- where they have been all along. But that doesn't mean they don't intend to find ways to feel a part of history.
"We're not going to sit at home all alone," said Trish White-Boyd, who managed Obama's campaign in the Roanoke area. She requested a ticket to the inauguration from Sen. Jim Webb's office, but received a letter earlier this month that said there aren't enough to go around.
During the campaign, White-Boyd, who owns a company that provides home care for the elderly, arranged for a gathering of more than 100 Obama supporters at the Venue restaurant in Northwest Roanoke. Supporters drank beer, bought "Yes We Can" T-shirts and cheered speakers such as then-Mayor Nelson Harris.
But now White-Boyd is on the outside of Obama's Washington social circle. So she's organizing a "house party" for 20 to 25 volunteers during the midday ceremony. "I've gotten a ton of calls from campaign workers asking what we're doing. We're still very excited."
Similarly, Montgomery County volunteers are scheduling a lunchtime get-together at Awful Arthur's restaurant in Blacksburg. They will gather by a television screen, where they will have to pay for their own refreshments.
While that gathering may sound less glamorous than the balls in Washington, those left behind aren't really missing much, said Clifton "Chip" Woodrum, a former Democratic state delegate from Roanoke who should know. He recalled attending an inaugural ball for Jimmy Carter in 1976 amid the gold leaf decor of a leased hall at historic Union Station, where the surroundings proved pretentious: "You pay exorbitant money to get in and then drink inferior liquor out of plastic cups."
Even if Washington banquet party standards are a bit overrated, the fetes being organized hereabout by the Obama faithful seem relatively downscale. At Virginia Tech's Squires Student Center, the school's Office for Equity and Inclusion will host a come-one-come-all celebration with soft drinks, popcorn and Tootsie Rolls in red, white and blue wrappers. There's no charge for admission.
"We want to provide an opportunity where the community can come together," said Ray Plaza, a Tech faculty member who helped organize the event. It will feature printed quizzes on inauguration history trivia and excerpts from speeches by incoming presidents of the past -- Democrats and Republicans. "We hope to make this as nonpartisan as possible," Plaza said. "We want everyone to enjoy the day no matter who they voted for."
At least one inaugural gala was held Saturday night in the Hotel Roanoke's Crystal Ballroom, where nearly 200 people who volunteered for Obama during the campaign gathered for dinner and dancing to music played by a disc jockey.
The $35 apiece admission fee went to pay for the room and other expenses; any money left over will be donated to charity, said Stacie Wright, a sixth grade teacher at William Ruffner Middle School, who helped organize the event.
Wright said the expected crowds in Washington on Tuesday persuaded her to stay home: "I wouldn't be caught dead in D.C. with so many people."
Still, some Obama backers may well be alone -- soaking up the moment in contemplative solitude. Chris Henson, a Roanoke advertising executive, had leased a 54-seat bus to take friends to Washington, but few stepped forward with the $40 apiece he needed to defray expenses.
Henson admits that his enthusiasm for the trip to Washington began to wane as inauguration day grew near. "At first, everyone wants to go. But after a while, you start thinking about keeping track of your kid in a sea of people. It was a tough decision for me personally. And yeah, I'm disappointed. But I think we've made the right choice."
So Henson canceled the bus. He plans to watch Obama on TV, celebrating with a bowl of popcorn. He added, paraphrasing the title of a hot-selling book by Obama, "I'm still audaciously hopeful. But I've got to be practical too."
Brad Soroka had initially decided to be even more practical and not leave the Roanoke graphic design business where he works. He was resigned to watching a streaming video on his computer because there's no TV at his workplace.
But on Friday, Soroka's enthusiasm got the better of him and he reserved a table near a TV at the Corned Beef & Co. restaurant in downtown Roanoke. He has invited several friends to join him.
Meanwhile, some students, including those at Stonewall Jackson Middle School, will have an opportunity to see America's first black president start his tenure together on television in a break from classes.
Amber Britton, an eighth-grader at Stonewall Jackson, yearned to make the trip to Washington after finding her civics teacher, Patrick Costa, had secured Tuesday off to attend the inauguration. "After hearing him talk about it being held in front of the Capitol building, I'd like to be there if I could," she said.
The closest she will get to Obama is a large portrait of him being sketched by art teacher Stephen Jernigan. The drawing will be placed in the school's lobby on Tuesday to help set the tone for a full day of inauguration-related activities such as researching the history of swearing-in weather in science classes and composing music to lyrics the faculty found on EducationRap.com.
The song, "44 Presidents," lists them all in rhyming verses like this:
"Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves,
Then we got Johnson, Grant and Rutherford Hayes."
The ditty closes with current events:
"Last four, we're almost done
We've just got Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush the Son
Obama's in the White House now
So hail to the chief and stand up proud!"
Hogan hopes the hip-hop tune will be a lively local substitute to the officially scheduled Washington repertory that will be highlighted by the traditional "Yankee Doodle."