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Commentary: Washington getting ready for event of a lifetime

  • Story Highlights
  • Donna Brazile: Washington people are hearing from distant relatives
  • She says hundreds want tickets to ceremony and places to stay in sold-out city
  • Brazile: Obama's inauguration coincides with NAACP, Lincoln and MLK anniversaries
  • She says people should rejoice and dedicate themselves to community at this time
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By Donna Brazile
CNN Contributor
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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.

Donna Brazile says she expects her house to become a dorm for friends and relatives wanting to see history.

Donna Brazile says she expects her house to become a dorm for friends and relatives wanting to see history.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Is it just me or has everyone living within a 120-mile radius of the U.S. Capitol Building heard from his or her fifth cousin lately?

Lord knows I have. I even had someone who shares my last name contact me, wondering if we were kin.

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.

There is one hitch, though. They don't have tickets. And, oh by the way, they hint ever so delicately, there are absolutely no hotel rooms available.

Perhaps I should have expected that my mailboxes -- phone, e-mail and front door -- would be stuffed beyond capacity with the anguished requests and unsolicited resumes of those seeking tickets and jobs.

After all, for tens of millions of Americans, the Obama presidency is the most important historic event in our lifetime.

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?

Months ago, I thought some new boots would be a nice gift for myself for the holidays, but now all I want for Christmas are gigantic cases of toilet paper, paper towels, and bottled water for the sundry assortment of Braziles trying to make reservations to stay with me.

I've even rewritten my letter to Santa, asking him to send a half dozen air mattresses to accommodate what my Capitol Hill home will transform into come the weekend of January 16 -- a dormitory.

To be sure, the swearing-in tickets will be extremely difficult to come by. Already, the office of my congresswoman, Eleanor Holmes Norton, unable to handle the more than 10,000 calls it has already received, installed answering machines to collect the incoming multitude of names and contact information.

Yet D.C. delegate Norton, like her colleagues in the U.S. House and Senate, will have but a couple hundred tickets to dole out to the hordes of constituents clamoring for them.

And don't bet the farm on those online offers to sell you tickets. They are illegal. California Sen. Diane Feinstein introduced legislation that will scalp the scalpers with a $100,000 fine and a year in jail for selling inauguration tickets, real or forged.

"This legislation," she explained to a Congress eager to turn her bill into law during its upcoming lame duck session, "is meant to immediately stop the unscrupulous behavior of those who obtain these tickets for free and then seek to profit by selling them, often at dramatically inflated prices. This bill also would target those duping the public with fraudulent tickets or promises of tickets they don't actually have."

Told to hope not so long ago by the president-elect, what is an energized electorate to do?

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.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.

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