Wednesday, January 21, 2009

From the front lines of a (small) populist revolt.

The Inaugural Concert kick-off event was spectacular. I was a few hundred yards from the stage and, while I could not see the performers themselves very clearly from my position, there were many 'jumbotrons' which made up for the fact it was not easy to see what was going on on stage.

The crowd was great at the concert and ever was a definite sense of anticipation and joy everywhere you looked. I had never seen such a tightly packed crowd – until the actual inauguration, that is – and it was pretty amazing to me that there were no fights in the crowd. Usually, in such a tightly packed area, there will be disagreements that lead to fights. But there was none of that. It was as if people really bought into the "We Are One" theme; it was great to see.

The performers were equally impressive. I have to admit that I was not going to go before my roommate's friend Abby convinced me to do so because I really did not feel like I would enjoy my music. I generally listen to Texas-based rap (and am listening to UGK as I type this), so I did not find the acts too thrilling. Boy was I wrong. Everyone sounded great and I loved all the performers.

Surprisingly enough my favorite performer at the concert was Garth Brooks. Country is one of my least favorite genres of music, but I have to admit that he is an incredible performer. When he started playing everyone started jumping around and dancing. There was a wonderful wave-looking effect when the concert was shown on TV due to the time that it took for the sound to travel the length of the mall and when everyone jumped. Not only were all the artists who preformed great musicians, they were all incredible entertainers. Similarly, all the speakers were dynamic and touching. I left the concert exuberant and looking forward to the actual inauguration.

Inaugural day was an experience. Three of my friends and I had been able to get tickets to the Inauguration in the Silver seating area which was the ticketed area farthest from the Capitol and was standing-room only. We had planned to leave on the last subway train towards Washington (our apartment was located in North Bethesda, Maryland) Monday night so that we could be one of the first groups in line to get the best possible vantage to see the Inauguration. Well, we had received bad information as to when the last train departed so, at 1:30 Tuesday morning, we boarded the last subway train going the opposite way so as to stay warm in a 24-hour McDonalds and be at the very beginning of the subway line when trains resumed running at 4:00 am.

The train was ridiculous. We caught the first train out and it was already packed. You would not believe how many people were trying to catch that train at 4:10! By the time we got to Metro Center, transfer point to two of the other four subway lines, there was no more room in our car. In fact, people had to be forcibly pushed off the train when they kept trying to pile their way into the car. When we got to our final destination, the line to leave the subway was so long that it snaked around the entire platform twice. To show you just how many people came to the Inauguration, by the Metro authority's figures, subways serviced over 800,000 rides during the 3 o'clock hour alone. And that was about two and a half hours after the inauguration had ended!

After a less-than-stellar job at navigating the security perimeter that had been established, we headed to the back of the line that was so long you could not see the first security checkpoint which consisted of a marathon-style gate which spanned an entire street. Couple the extremely long line with a lack of crowd control which led to thousands of people jumping the line, and my friends and I had a poor view of the festivities – for a while.

There were two staging areas for the Silver ticket holders. There was one area, with the best view, which was directly behind the seated and standing-room only Purple and Red ticket holders. Once this first Silver area was filled, it was closed off and a secondary area behind the Capitol Reflecting Pool began to fill. My friends and I were stuck in this secondary area up against two waist-high 'chain link' fences.

It was not long before the first of these plastic barriers fell. There were only two US Capitol police officers to look after thousands of people and about 100 yards of barricade. Once the first barricade got trampled over, four US Border Patrol agents were called in to look over the second – and last barrier – between us and the reflecting pool. The irony of US Border Patrol agents being tasked with guarding a wall was not lost on us and they kept the crowd back for about an hour or so. When the dam finally burst and the fence was overrun, the Border Patrol could do little to hold us back and let us go.

Once this last barrier between the crowd and the open space around the reflecting pool fell, a stampede rushed down the sides of the reflecting pool to get the best spot they could. About 10 US Capitol police officers rushed to keep stop the crowd and reestablish a secondary barricade so that the situation did not get out of control and so that no one got injured. There were a few tense moments as people looked around and wondered if they would get in trouble for following the crowd into the previously restricted Reflecting Pool area, but the US Capitol police were very polite and professional the entire time. They only started removing people when people tried to bypass this secondary barricade and, most importantly, no one was injured.

From the Reflecting Pool we watched the Inauguration. Trees partially screened both the stage and the unwisely placed jumbotrons, but at least we were closer. The atmosphere was much like the one I had experienced at the 'We Are One' concert, although I must admit that Mr. Obama's recitation of the Oath of Office was a bit anti-climatic. It might be because I could not see it very well, I could not hear it well due to everyone around me screaming their heads off, my overblown expectations of what it would be like, the fact that I had not slept in over 36 hours, or that the oath is very short; but I was felt with a feeling of, "That's it?" I guess that is just as well since the Founding Fathers hated pomp and wanted to differentiate the President from the royal trappings of a King.

For me, the most exciting and emotionally gratifying part of the whole program was the Inaugural Address. Mr. Obama is a very dynamic speaker and I could listen to him all day. What struck me most, however, was not his delivery; it was his words. He speaks to the heart of every American, whether Republican, Democrat, or Independent. He also speaks to the world and I think he served both the American people and the world very well with his first speech as President of the United States.

The dispersal of the crowd was as big a spectacle as the actual inauguration was. Traffic into DC was closed for the inauguration, and there were people everywhere. It seemed like a science fiction movie to see such a mass exodus of people walking down a paved highway and the subways were just as crazy. The subway station closest to where we were had a line over a block-and-a-half long and compromising of half the street – just to get into the station! Seeing the massive crowds, we took refuge in the Longworth House Office Building where one of my friend's Congressman – Rep. John Hall of New York – was having a small meet-the-Congressman social for about an hour. From there we had to walk about six or seven blocks to one of the three or four working Metro stations within 3 miles of the Capitol.

All told, I spent over 16 hours at the inauguration from the time I left my apartment at 1 am to when I got back at 5:30 pm. Once I got to my apartment I had to turn around and throw on my tuxedo so that I could go to the LINK America gala where ACC's Jazz Ensemble was featured. You have to hear them play if you ever had a chance. ACC's ensemble was the best musical act there! It was great meeting some of the band members and, most of all, hearing them play.

My trip to DC was amazing and something I will never forget. I met many great people and say many incredible things. I think it will take a few years to fully appreciate and digest everything I witnessed this past week-and-a-half and I hope I was able to share at least a little bit of it with you. Hopefully you will check back in a day or two when I am able to get all of the pictures my friends and I took posted.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Pictures (finally)

Admittedly, I am not very good at taking pictures nor have I found too many "action" shots to take quite yet, but here are three pictures:

At the Washington Monument last Sunday.

The crowd at the concert held at the Lincoln Monument.

My new friend Abby and I at the concert.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Random thoughts

The more time I spend in Washington, DC, the more I love it. There are just so many things to see and so many interesting people to meet! At the conference I have been attending I have heard from interesting people including: Dana Bash, Senior Congressional Correspondent for CNN; Special Agent David O'Connor of the United States Secret Service; Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel, USA Today Columnists; Brian Lamb, President of C-SPAN; Juan Williams of NPR; Bob Schieffer, CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent and Moderator of Face the Nation; Ted Koppel, former host of ABC News Nightline; Dana Perino, White House Press Secretary; Clarence Page, columnist of the Chicago Tribune; His Excellency Ambassador Hussain Haqqani, Amassador of The Islamic Republic of Pakistan; and Sam Donaldson, ABC News. I have also visited the embassies of Canada and China. I can now say that I have officially been to two foreign countries!

If you have not been to Washington, DC I would suggest visiting sometime. Or, better yet, come multiple times! There is just so much history in the city and things to see. In no other place can you go see the original Constitution, walk down the street to the headquarters of the FBI, and then see where President Lincoln was assisinated. And that's all in about four or five blocks. Where ever you turn in Washington you will find something historical or interesting. There is absolutely no way you will be able to see everything in one trip. It is like the tour bus driver said: If you spend just thirty seconds looking at each item in every Smithsonian museum it will take 12 to 13 years to see everything. Oh, and the food is incredible here, too.

The city is slowly filling up as well. It is crazy to see the preparations going on in Washington, everything from the creation of stages and seating for inaugural events to signs posted at the entrances to subway stations warning that subway tickets should only be purchased from subway kiosks or authorized service centers. I even saw Barak Obama's motorcade speeding through downtown Washington! Seeing all the security that accompanies the President-elect's motorcade is a sight to behold.

On a personal note, I picked up my inaguration ticket and it is exquisite! I am very grateful and honored that Congressman Lloyd Doggett was able to give me a ticket. His Chief of Staff said that there were fifteen times more requests for tickets then actual tickets. It is a little surreal that I am getting all of these opportunities. It is really gratifying to know that hard work pays off!

I also had a chance to write some testimony for Congressman Doggett to use when he debates H.R. 386, a bill he introduced "to simplify higher education tax credits." The bill is called the College Learning, Access, Simplicity, and Savings (CLASS) Act. It would consolidate the Hope Scholarship Credit and the above-the-line deduction for educational expenses and expand the definition of eligible tuition and expenses to include textbooks among other things. It's a great bill and I was honored to be asked to help the Congressman. Hopefully, when I get back, I can write an article on the bill for Accent.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Reflections on the past few days

I have been in DC for about three days now, and the enormity of the city and the historical nature of the upcoming week is on display everywhere.

Monday, we took a sight-seeing bus trip to some of the many monuments around the nation's capitol. That is generally interesting enough, but as we were visiting the World War II memorial (which if you ever get a chance you must see!) we saw another sight -- a heavily guarded motorcade. Seeing around 15 motorcycle police guiding two armored limousines at break-neck speeds through a fully populated city is something else! It was also fun speculating who might have been in the limousines; my group settled on it probably being Joe Biden but we have no way of knowing.

We also saw the stage that was being built in front of the Lincoln memorial for Barak Obama's MLK day speech. I'm going to try and figure out when that speech is going to be held so that I can go hear him speak about national service. He is an incredible orator and I am sure that hearing him speak in person for the first time will be incredible.

Yesterday, we went to the AARP headquarters to meet with one of its head lobbyists. For those of you who do not know (and we surely did not immediately know), the AARP headquarters just happens to be across the street from the Obama transition team's Washington headquarters. That explained the spiners we saw on the roof and the fact that there were three cop cars at every single corner we passed as we walked from the Chinatown Metro station to the AARP building -- about eight blocks. I would have taken a picture of the builiding, but as I learned from an earlier trip to DC, the police get a little upset if you take pictures which could reveal anything security related.

Each day, DC continues to fill up with people. The crowds waiting for the Metro station are getting rather large. I think I am going to have to catch the Metro at five am on Inauguration Day -- the first train out -- to make sure I can get down there in time and (hopefully!) get a good perch from which to see the swearing in of our next President.

The conference is fun, too. Yesterday, we heard from a Special Agent from the Secret Service; Bob Beckel and Cal Thomas; and the former Director of the National Portrait Gallery. I cannot say much about what was discussed, because I cannot honestly remember who asked for their talk to be off-the-record and who did not, but the conference has been very interesting thus far.

Meeting people from different parts of the country is also one of the more interesting things about attending conferences like these. I have met a lot of people from Boston, and after three days I can honestly saw I am starting to understand at least half of what they say! The people from Wisconsin are cool, too. The guy from Wyoming... well, he's from Wyoming.

I know I promised pictures, but I have not had the time to look through all of them, select the good ones, and edit them. Look for those... eventually.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Day One: A Recap

Day one of the actual conference was pretty fun! It started out really early, at 6 am, when I had to figure out how to tie a tie. I had tied one a few times on myself before I left to DC, but never when wearing a nice shirt. I knew in theory how to tie a tie, so all that was left was the practical application. I think I did pretty good for my first time, which you will be able to see later today when I upload some pictures.

The conference began at 8:15, but things really didn't get started until 11 am. The first 3 hours was full of stuff like 'make sure, when you are at the bar, that you do not leave your drink unattended'. Sage advice to be sure, but since all of us live in college towns, it is advice most of us have heard a million times.

The first speaker was Dana Bash of CNN. It was really interesting to hear about her covering the John McCain campaign and other news stories. She also gave insight as to what the difference in covering the White House and Congress is. Apparently the White House has a more controlled operation and it is harder to get access whereas in Congress it is more cordial and easier to get scoops. Definitely makes sense seeing as there are few communications people in the White House as opposed to 435 legislators and their staffs with which to talk to.

We also heard from Steven Bell and Michael Genovese. Mr. Bell is a professor at Ball State and Mr. Genovese at Loyola Marymont. Their presentations were short and mostly set the scene for their presentations throughout the week.

After lunch, we went on a sightseeing trip throughout Washington. Even though I have been two DC twice before, it was nice to get to see some monuments for the second (or third time) while I saw some for the first. We saw the Korean War Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, World War II Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and the FDR Memorial. I liked seeing all of the memorials; it kind of makes the history real for me. Sometimes it seems like some things that I learn in in school, such as history, are abstract; I know it happened, but I do not have any real connection to it. Seeing larger-than-life monuments to the people and times from my history book somehow makes history more tangible and accessable.

The nightlife in DC is cool, too. I am in a group with mostly other Texans, but I have also met people from Wisconsin in my group. We went bowling last night which was fun.

I'm looking forward to the rest of the trip and should have pictures from my first day up sometime today!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Ever closer.

Only two more days until I'm in DC. Things have been very exciting. Today I was interviewed by K-EYE 42 and I'll be blogging for them at Meeting both Katherine, K-EYE's reporter, and Pedro the camera guy was great. They were very nice and it was fun talking with them.

In the morning I'll be at the Fox studios being interviewed for their morning show. I can't believe how many people want to talk to me! I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would be doing something that so many people are interested in. I'm not usually the look-at-me-I'm-so-cool type of guy, but it's pretty cool that people are interested in my life and this experience.

I had to step back and laugh when the K-EYE crew interrupted a conversation I was having with Dr. Kathleen Christensen, Vice President of Student Support and Success Services. Dr. Christensen was picking on me about being a local celebrity when I had to go get interviewed by Katherine. It was pretty classic if you ask me.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


Yesterday was a big day! We finally finished clothes shopping. I will have two new suits, two pairs of slacks, three shirts, two ties, shoes, a belt, and socks all because of ACC. The college has been ridiculously generous in helping me out. There is no way I could have been able to get the clothes I needed for the Institute without their help. The guys at Men's Warehouse, where we got the suits, were very helpful as well; they sped up the tailoring by ten days so that I would have perfectly tailored suits in DC.

I also got interviewed by New 8 Austin yesterday. It was a great experience and Katie Beck and John, the reporter and camera guy respectively, made things very easy and fun. I didn't know they would zoom out and show me with my legs crossed on the bench like a dork, though; but I guess I can't get everything I want.

The URL of the News 8 Austin story:

Planning for the trip has been full of incredible memories and I do not event depart for DC for another nine days! I can not wait until the tenth.