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Smaller Crowds At Capitol, But 2009's Enthusiasm Persists


Steve, thanks very much. Now let's go just beyond the capital building, into the National Mall. That's where NPR's Ailsa Chang is. And she's between the Capitol, as I understand it, Ailsa, and the Washington Monument, right there in the thick of things.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: That's right. Well, not so thick. People are beginning to arrive. But the crowd is nowhere near as large as it was in 2009. There are swaths of empty grass that you can still see. What's most evident to me now is just the way people are dressed. In 2009 Obama outfits were all over the place. Hats, scarves, gloves, people were wearing huge, you know, were carrying big signs. Here, I see the occasional skull cap with Obama. But really all I've seen maybe are buttons that people are wearing. You just don't see the same sort of wardrobe this time around. Also just walking to the mall early this morning. The vendors, the T-shirt vendors, they look so lonely. There are just crowds of people passing them by. No long lines to buy any of that merchandise. In fact, around 6:30 this morning we were passing a T-shirt salesman who was already calling out: 50 percent, 50 percent off. Buy the T-shirts half off.


MONTAGNE: Well, of course the last time four years ago they were all, not just T-shirts. They were, you know, Obama dolls. There were Obama hand puppets. There were, you know, all kinds of the tchotchkes, let's say. No much this time right, right?

CHANG: That's right. There was - all I've seen really are T-shirts, some magnets and buttons. But it's really nowhere near the scale that we saw last year in the merchandising.

MONTAGNE: You know, one thing that, one thing about there being fewer people is they each might have a better shot at actually seeing the President be sworn in. Or getting a glimpse of him at a very, you know, distance. But are there monitors all around this time?

CHANG: There are. There are. And there's only, actually that's an interesting point. There are five Jumbotrons this year. In 2009, there were 10 Jumbotrons. So that already gives you a scale as to the expectations of what they think the size of the crowds are going to be. Last time in 2009, here were 15,000 parade participants. The President Inaugural Committee tells me this year they're expecting about 9,000 parade participants. I mean, you can keep on going with the numbers. In 2009, 10 inaugural balls, this year two inaugural balls.

MONTAGNE: Well, you know, second term too is, you know, it's been widely pointed out that any second term - and, you know, this one - the first one would have been hard. The first inauguration is very hard to live up to. Any second term has got - it sort of pales beside first inaugurations rather. But have you been able to talk to people there?

CHANG: Yeah. I have, and what is interesting is that the narrative of Barack Obama still enchants and captures the imagination of so many people. I talked to a woman, Patrice Walker from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And she is here, she wasn't here in 2009, but she came here this time around because she feels that President Obama is an inspiration to her six-year-old son. She's African-American, she says this man proves that you can do anything you set out to believe. And she said, you know, I feel like I can relate to him. Here's a guy who plays basketball with his buddies. He's the guy who is a real family man. And I look like his wife. You don't know how important that is to me. I mean, she knows what it's like to have a really bad hair day, like I do, was what she told me.

And other people who have - actually met a lot of people who were here both in 2009 and this year. And of course, and we would expect, you know, the really fervent Obama supporters to be out here this time. And for them the narrative is still as magical as it was in 2009. This is our first African-American President, he was re-elected. That is a big deal. The four years seen gridlock and rancor didn't seem to deplete that enthusiasm, at least among the crowds that I talked to.

MONTAGNE: Ailsa, thanks very much.

CHANG: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Ailsa Chang. She is on the National Mall between the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument. And she's among a lot of NPR folks who are out there today, bringing us news stories, what people are saying on this second inauguration of Barack Obama. And we will be following events throughout the morning. Of course, later this morning, the Inauguration itself and later today the parade - lots of special coverage. Steve Inskeep is out there now. Like (unintelligible) down, keeping warm I think. And therefore, you should all stay right with us.

You're listening to Morning Edition on NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
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