Thursday, November 20, 2008

From Baltimore to Richmond: Where to Park and House 4 Million Inaugural Visitors

CNN political contributor Donna Brazile posted a reflection today on how big an event Barack Obama's January 20th inauguration will be, not only because of its overwhelming historical significance, but also because it will present logistical challenges that the District of Columbia has never experienced before. Excerpts from the posting follow.

Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist, is a political contributor for CNN. She also is the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee's Voting Rights Institute, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and founder of Brazile & Associates, a Washington-based political consulting firm. Brazile, who was the campaign manager for the Al Gore-Joe Lieberman ticket in 2000, wrote "Cooking With Grease: Stirring the Pots in American Politics," a memoir about her life in politics.

Relatives, friends, casual acquaintances and complete strangers are suddenly ablaze with desire to connect with Washington area residents: They are all planning to descend on the nation's capital for the inauguration ceremonies of the first black president of the United States, Barack Obama.

For both those who never knew what it was to live through segregation and those who had to drink at separate water fountains, this is the moment to proclaim freedom and love of country. And every single one of them wants to either participate in it or give witness to its rebirth in 2009.

People aren't just fired up and ready to celebrate Obama's inauguration. In what will be a perfect storm of jubilation and celebration, 2009 is the year we celebrate the 200th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's birth, the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the NAACP, and the 80th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King's birth.

A sister of one of my best friends from elementary school e-mailed to tell me that she's bringing three busloads of people from my hometown of New Orleans. Three busloads of folks from my hometown who love the Mardi Gras -- during good and bad times. I told them to come on and we'll see what's cooking on the stove.

Knowing Louisiana people, they will have something spicy or cold ready to go when they stand along the Mall to view the procession from the U.S. Capitol. Many of these people lost everything just a few years ago. And if they have saved up to come, well, come on. Some of us still remember what it was like to sleep four to five to a room.

So, with Washingtonians like me being set upon as if we were the last lifeboat on the Titanic, I have one burning question. Where are all these people going to sleep? Will churches open up their basement floors or pews? Will recreation centers and college stadiums allow buses to park on their expansive lots so people can just catch the Metro downtown?

Well, as a former community organizer, let me offer some advice.

If you're lucky enough to get a ticket from your member of Congress, get ready for a massive crowd of people. We're talking crowds expected to number up to 4 million people.

Hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, couches, and air mattresses located inside the beltway are already filled. So do what are others are doing and extend your search south into Richmond and north into Baltimore.

Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty is working hard to open up as much public space as possible.

But it's up to federal officials to leave the area from the base of the Capitol Building to the Washington Monument open and to extend the viewing area to the Lincoln Memorial so more people can get a taste, if not a glimpse, of history in the making.

Some people will decide not to bother with all the fuss, especially when their television set offers them a front-row seat. They'll find ways to celebrate right where they are. In the end, they may prove to be the wisest among us.

Let us call upon ourselves to celebrate Obama's inauguration and next year's anniversaries with a renewed commitment to public service, cooperation, and common sacrifice.

Let us focus not on our own wants but the needs of one another.

Let us bring alive in our daily actions King's dream of a promised land, an America reborn in equality of opportunity.

No matter if you come here or stay home, let us together make the inaugural celebration of our nation's 44th president a time of rejoicing, remembrance, and renewal.

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