By Erica Anderson, Gil Kaufman and Sarah Maslin Nir
Washington, D.C., has seen many inaugurations, but Barack Obama’s is by far the biggest to date. The city is expecting 1 to 2 million people for the swearing-in ceremony for the 44th president (head here for the day’s schedule), and we’ve got reporters on the ground, jockeying for position. (You can watch the inauguration live streaming on MTV.com, and of course Barack and Michelle Obama will be at the Youth Inaugural Ball and other events throughout the evening.) Here’s what our team is seeing and hearing (wireless reception permitting, of course!) …
Gil 9:44 a.m. There’s not a single car on the streets of Washington, D.C., but the avenues are teeming with people, all flowing in the same direction, all walking with a brisk purpose in their step. Yes, it’s frigid and they’re trying to stay warm, but they’re also in a race to secure a spot for The Moment. The Secret Service has cordoned off an area more than 20 blocks in either direction, with clusters of Marines in humvees manning every corner.
Gil 9:48 a.m. As you approach the National Mall, the energy rises, with hawkers peddling everything from Obama buttons, coins, T-shirts, scarves, plaques and stickers to a guy selling tissues for a dollar — as in a dollar for a single tissue.
Sarah 9:55 a.m. My amazing friend Jenny works for a senator and has just put her staffer ticket into my hand! We are stuffed with layers of clothing and heading into the fray!
Gil, 10:01 a.m. As we reach the Mall, the mass of people begins to look like something out of a disaster movie, except instead of running away from something, everyone is smiling under the nearly cloudless blue sky and walking toward the giant mass that stretches from the Capitol to well past the Washington Monument, more than a mile away.
Sarah 10:10 a.m. An accident has closed the metro! We join the sea of people heading down the streets of D.C.
Erica 10:22 a.m. Not everyone is braving the cold and crowds to see the ceremony in person. The Human Rights Campaign — a major lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender civil-rights group — is holding a watch party at their headquarters blocks from the White House.
Rachel Balick of HRC is helping out with the organizing — and the organization’s message. “One if the major things we are working for is federal hate-crimes legislation,” she says. “We had eight years of deadlock with Bush, but now with Obama we are hoping to pass these overdue protections for LGBT people. We hope to see some progress.”
Sarah 10:32 a.m. We caught one of the few cabs crawling through the city and are inching through the pedestrian-filled streets. Sirens and motorcades are everywhere. It sounds like the apocalypse!
Sarah 10:40 a.m. The streets around the Capitol are huge markets for everything Obama, from caps to “stimulus package” condoms. Ha! The security checkpoint is a BRAWL. Trying to survive …
Erica 10:44 a.m. I’m making my way through a swarm of people towards the Mall. Every street in the golden triangle (famous for lobbying row K Street), is shut down.
Security for this most-expensive-ever inauguration is estimated at around $50 million, but one young taxpayer doesn’t seem to mind.
“Originally I saw all the security as an inconvenience, but if this is what it takes for everyone to participate, it’s worth it!” said Helen Nomikos, 25. “It’s amazing this many people are interested and exercising the rights that seemed to have fallen silent over the last decade. It is a feeling of rejuvenation.”
Sarah 10:44 a.m. A chant of “LET US IN!” has just been taken up by thousands of voices …
Gil 10:45 a.m. Nobody wants to give up an inch. They’re not being jerks, just holding their ground — the sacred few inches under their feet that they staked out as the sun was coming up, that they traveled to from across town, across the state, across the country and across the world to claim. The people behind me are speaking French. In front of me, a group breaks out a soccer-style chant in Spanish, “Obama, Obama, he’s going to win!” Someone in the group corrects them: “Obama, Obama, Obama — he won!”
Sarah 10:51 a.m. A major bottleneck has us shut us outside the grounds. Women on people’s shoulders are issuing reports of what they’re seeing to the crowd below. Hundreds, maybe thousands of ticket holders are waiting outside the gate. Am hopeful that we will simply storm the gate if it gets too close to showtime …
Gil 11:03 a.m. The crowd gets its first glimpse of President-elect Obama arriving at the Capitol, and a roar rises up. Everyone is glued to the Jumbotron about 150 yards ahead, but the sound isn’t loud enough! I’d better be able to hear this! The helicopters buzzing around the Washington Monument aren’t helping.
Gil 11:15 a.m. As the former presidents and first ladies make their way to the viewing stands, sporadic cheers pop up in varying volumes, polite for former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, a bit louder for President Carter and Rosalyn, and a dull roar for President Clinton and Senator Hillary Clinton.
Gil 11:28 a.m. Sasha and Malia Obama get an “aww!” as they take their seats.
Gil 11:34 a.m. Where I’m standing, President George W. Bush is getting boos and a chorus of “Na na na na, hey hey, goodbye!
Gil 11:37 a.m. The peanut gallery back here can’t stop clucking about Michelle Obama’s yellow dress. Early verdict: bold, but not sure.
Sarah 11:36 a.m. We are in! George Bush is onstage and the crowd is booing! People are standing on top of Port-o-potties.
Gil 11:38 a.m. Lots of jokes about the wheelchair-bound Vice President Cheney actually hurting his back incinerating files (instead of working at home, as official word says). Boos for Cheney and Bush. “Only 10 more minutes!” the guy behind me yells.
Gil 11:52 a.m. A bit of quiet grumbling about the convocation from Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, whose comments on homosexuality have stirred up considerable controversy, when he talks about respecting everyone equally.
Sarah 11:57 a.m. There are sharpshooters all over the Capitol dome.
Gil 11:57 a.m. Aretha Franklin’s voice ricocheting all around the Mall as she sings “My Country Tis of Thee” is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
Sarah 11:59 a.m. Biden was just sworn in! The crowd goes wild!
Gil 12:03 p.m. The classical musical selection is playing, and it’s nearly drowned out by the flags surrounding the Washington Monument snapping in the wind behind me.
Erica, 12:07 p.m. “This is awe-ing, to see a black man become president. What’s more, we, the young people, helped to do it,” says 19-year-old Michael. “I am so excited to be part of history!” says Yallenda, 20.
Gil 12:09 p.m. Obama was just sworn in and people are screaming, “Yes we did!” and “Obama! Obama!”
Gil 12:20 p.m. ” Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.” Those are the words I heard today, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a crowd that contained the multitudes President Obama spoke of.
Erica 12:45 p.m. “It was exhilarating to be here,” says Nicky Lacy, 19, of Philadelphia. “Now that he us in office, I hope he addresses better education and works to make it competitive on the global front. I want to help in the neighborhood schools when I get back to Philly. Obama is right: Service is vital.”
Ashton Bennett, 18, came from Mississippi and also agreed with Obama’s call to action.
“I am going to do my part. We all can do out part. I am so inspired and words can’t explain how I feel. I will one day tell my grandkids that I was here, in Washington, D.C., on January 20, 2009.”
Erica 1:20 p.m. The streets are totally chaotic as people are moving out of the Mall. Despite the freezing temperatures, people are upbeat and interacting.
Two guys selling hot dogs jump up on a barricade to see over the crowd. In a thick French accent, one yells, “I have never seen anything like this before! God bless you, God bless Americans!”
Nearby, a family poses for a photo. Instead of “cheese” they all yell “change!”
“Be the Change: Live From the Inaugural” will air live on MTV on Tuesday, January 20, at 10 p.m. ET/ 10 p.m. PT. MTV News will have wall-to-wall coverage of the event and of the scenes in Washington, D.C., New Orleans and Kenya in the days leading up to the event and in the days that follow.