The inauguration of President Barack Obama was bound to be a truly historic event, one that would draw crowds from all over the country and all over the world to witness a truly moving portion of history. However, Todd Farris, a senior majoring in sports management and a resident of the Great Commonwealth of Virginia, and I drove to my home in South East, Washington D.C. anticipating the worst. What you are about to read is not comprised of the patriotic images shown on the news. This is not a candy-coated version that only mentions Obama, his speech, and the historical significance of this day. This is the story of my experience; a Native Washingtonian who watched helplessly as my city ceased to function while being invaded by millions of tourists.

On Monday, January 12, my close friend Dara Johnson, a D.C. resident, called me crying. She said that when she walked outside, she noticed that there were no homeless people on the streets. As a side note, I will add that the streets of D.C. are, sadly, usually filled with homeless people. But of course they are on the streets, with a mayor that keeps closing down homeless shelters without the Council’s permission, where are those people supposed to go?  She said she saw a jail bus with sirens on headed towards Maryland, and she thought that it may have been filled with homeless people. She said she thought it was a conspiracy by the District Government to make D.C. look good: she wouldn’t put it past our government and neither would I. She also said that the “Lowest Price” gas station, a chain found mainly in what would be considered ghettos and neighborhoods in transition, was changed into a “Washingtonian Express.” To top this all off, she said that starting on Monday, January 19, Mayor Fenty was taking away all parking in her neighborhood because of the inauguration, even for the tax paying residents (who should not be paying taxes anyway, since D.C. has no vote in Congress or the House of Representatives).

Now that you have some background on the shady preparations for the inauguration, I will tell you about the actual day. At 5:00 a.m., Tuesday, January 20, Todd, Dara, one of my other close friends, Devin Ford, and I woke up and quickly got ready. When we arrived on Capitol Hill, I noticed two things. First, I saw droves of tourists, bundled up, equipped with American flags, and Obama hats and buttons. I also saw what those who are not native to the area could not see; what Dara told me was true, the homeless people were gone. My mother dropped us off at 3rd Street and Constitution Avenue. NE, and from there we walked D Street and Indiana Avenue. NW, where a peaceful mob of about 500 people were already backed up for almost a block and a half on both sides, waiting for the security checkpoint to open. We waited for the gates to open in the cold for almost an hour and a half, packed in like cattle. The gates opened and we started to inch forward, with the only thing separating people from each other was their coats. The crowd was pushing so hard that my friends and I had to link arms so we would not get separated. When we reached the security checkpoint, we saw that it really was not secure at all. All they did was lightly pat the sides of people’s waists and made everyone unzip their coats.

We needed to go to the general admission on the National Mall, but they were not letting anyone cross Pennsylvania Avenue. When I asked one of the officers where we could cross, he told me 11th Street. I asked him why we couldn’t cross at 7th Street near the National Archives. He replied that he did not know: no one had given him any information. The badge on his uniform said “Montana State Police.” I noticed that none of the police were from the Metropolitan Area. They knew nothing about D.C.; therefore, they were just useless decoration. We had to seek out a Metropolitan policeman, who told us to rush down to 7th Street to cross. While crossing 7th Street, our group being the last allowed to cross, I heard a tourist ask, “What’s that flag? That red and white one with the stars?” To which another District resident and I replied, “The D.C. flag, that’s our flag.” To this he said, “I didn’t know D.C. was its own state,” to which we replied, “It’s not, but it should be.” You would think people would have a little knowledge about the capitol of their country before coming to visit.

We finally made it to the Mall. We found our place between 11th and 12th Street NW in front of a jumbotron screen, about 10 city blocks from the Capitol Building. The crowds stretched back all the way to the Lincoln Memorial. But after all of the struggle to get there, it was the most beautiful thing I have ever witnessed. There were no sad faces, no complaining, and no crying. People of all races and religions, from all over America, and some from overseas, stood together united and proud. I too, really for the first time in my life, was truly proud that my country would allow so much change.

The beauty ended when Obama’s speech ended. My friends and I, along with all of the other visitors tried to find a way out of the Mall but found that all of the exits were blocked. We all crowded across from the Monument, again, packed in like cattle. One of the soldiers told me that the only exit for all of those people was at 18th Street NW, two blocks past the White House. Behind me a lady fainted, and they could not even get an ambulance in to help her through the crowds. They finally opened the gates to 14th Street, but all of the other streets around the Mall remained closed. After the event, we walked for almost two hours. In order to get back to South East, my friends and I had to walk up 395 (a highway) and back around to a place where my mother could pick us up. The 5 million tourists were left to wander the streets, because they were not familiar with the area and had no idea where to go.

My opinion on the whole event is, as beautiful as it was, the District Government and Mayor Fenty did a horrible job of handling all of those people (while making sure they did a great job of making D.C. look uncharacteristically nice). All of those people should not have been allowed into the city in the first place. D.C. only has a nine mile radius and barely enough room for its own half-a-million residents. Yet we were supposed to get an estimated 5 million visitors. The Mayor and the rest of the Council just welcomed the tourists without thinking about the wellbeing of the D.C. residents who voted them in and whose taxes pay their salaries. We did not vote them into office so that they could cater to tourists. In my opinion, they should have just limited it to people who had reserved hotels within the Capitol Beltway (495) or people who could stay with family or friends. Tour buses and people riding up on the day of should have been banned, especially since they did not have a feasible exit plan for the people on the Mall. They also should have gotten D.C. police who were familiar with the city to help on the Mall instead of police from all over. I never want to see my city in those conditions again. No matter what the occasion, the District Government’s first priority should be safety and welfare the District residents.