John Roberts speaks with a crowd on Sunday.
The American Morning team was in DC for the historic inauguration. Get a behind-the-scenes look at the occasion on our AM Inauguration Blog!
Photos, text, and video that you can only find here!
Don't Miss: A Witness to History by Kiran Chetry
Tuesday Jan. 20, 2009
2:06 PM ET - We scooted out the hotel door at about 3:20 am on Tuesday and navigated the surprisingly quiet city streets towards Independence Ave, where we would make our final approach toward the Capitol. To our surprise (and delight), police officers at various checkpoints along the way waved us right through; however I heard a few different, not-as-pleasant stories from some folks stopped blocks before the Capitol and forced to walk in the bitter cold. Lucky us. Even luckier because some fellow CNNers were standing near the front of the line and we immediately joined them, cutting our wait time in half. After walking through the metal detectors, we checked in at the 'media village;' a grouping of trailers where news agencies could plug in and warm up at their leisure before heading out to face the bitter cold awiating them. And I mean COLD. At about 5:30am I heard it was just 22 degrees Fahrenheit. I thought: "it'll surely warm up a little once the sun comes up." A couple of hours later, with the sun in full force, I checked the temperature again: NINETEEN! The sun actually made it colder! It hardly mattered, because whenever I looked out from the media platform toward the Mall, and saw the hundreds of thousands of people just beginning to gather to see the swearing-in of Barack Obama as the next President of the United States, my blood flowed a little bit faster. Over the last three days I've met countless people who couldn't wait to get to the Mall on Tuesday for the 'Main Event.' Now all those faces were combined in the spectacular mass that, from my vantage point, stretched beyond the horizon. It was a truly awesome sight, and if I never see anything like it ever again, at least I'll have the memory of how it made me forget it was nineteen degrees outside. From CNN Producer Graham Flanagan
9:41 AM ET - We are surrounded! There are just hundreds of thousands of people enveloping our tiny spot on the National Mall at 12th Street. We are doing live shots with guests and have a camera on an enormous jib sweeping the crowd. Each time we come on the crowd erupts with emotion. The number of children is astounding, especially considering the cold weather. There are so so many African Americans who drove for days and tell us they feel as if a life long journey has come to a moment of exhilerating achievement. Some children, who are white, told us this was the first time they'd felt a profound connection to the movement for civil rights. From CNN Producer Rose Arce
7:44 AM ET - We're at 6th Street and Madison on the National Mall just across from the National Air and Space Museum. The sun is coming up and it's giving this already raucous crowd a big boost. Volunteers are handing out small flags. We're six blocks back from the stage and at 7:40 it's filling up. Spaces in front of the jumbotrons seem to be the most wanted. On a security note for as many people as are here already the paths along the mall and the streets that have been blocked off are still clear. For security and EMS it means they are able to move easily. That's a good thing. From CNN Producer Eric Marrapodi
7:28 AM ET - The crowds at 4am were already restless, pressing security about letting them in, flashing a rainbow of passes and tickets and credentials. There are so many ways to get into the Inauguration of the 44th president besides being invited. Hundreds of folks have volunteered to help, many more are doing security work, there are also guests of various levels, press, catering and concessions. Just those categories alone could fill a huge swatch of the mall. But at 4:30 the crowds of just regular folks was already so massive that it drifted away from the Capitol finding leaks in the security plan and flowing into the mall near the Washington Monument. We spent an hour flashing our Secret Service media credentials at defiant D.C. police before gaining entrance to where we are doing live shots at 12th Street on the Mall, quite a distance away from the stage. Yet this far back ordinary people had broken through by the hundreds and bypassed the bag searches and metal detectors to march toward the capitol. A few folks carried paintings they had done of Obama's face. There was a group of women from Memphis who had turned 40 and made a pact to see the first black president sworn in. Correspondent Carol Costello got people to jump up and down with her to keep warm while she waiting to interview them on live TV. It is SO cold, cold enough that the tights, long johns and pants I'm wearing feel thin, cold enough the hand warmers keep failing and my eyes tear and chill. It's shocking to see so many children out here with no gloves. I don't know what the crowd estimates say but I grew up in this town and I just can't recall a crowd this big. They just opened security gates at 7am for the folks who didn't jump the line, so this is not even the half of it. The Capitol is so far off in the distance like this cold beer in the dessert and if these folks keep walking they can still get a lot closer than our little pen at 12th street. The sun is rising full now and you just begin to see everybody. And Wow, we are FIVE hours away and this is already something enormous. Here's a tip. If you're not here, keep trying. The people who've gotten this far all seem to have the same advice. Take Metro, L'Enfant Plaza stop sounds like a good one. Walk toward the Mall. You probably won't be able to get in there but just keep walking away from the Capitol toward the Monument until you find an entry point that D.C. police have let open. Then get yourself onto the Mall and walk toward the Capitol again to get as close as you can. People are packing in so at this hour you can still get a great vantage point even if you didn't get here at 3am. And, if you cant, the jumbotrons are everywhere and the experience of just being with the crowd has its own allure. Oh, one more thing, dress warmer than you've ever dressed before. Not like you're skiiing but warmer. You'll be standing still in a huge wind tunnel for hours!! From CNN Producer Rose Arce
3:45 AM ET - Getting there: At 345am its eerily quiet walking alongside the Capitol. This area is closed but my media creditials let me slip in. I pass a few police and each ask me for id. I'm still 15 blocks from my live location but I can't help to stop and linger for a moment in front of the stage at the West Front. No one is up there yet but you get that sense history is on the way. The cold starts to get to you if you stay in one place to long. Time to keep moving. From CNN Producer Eric Marrapodi
Monday Jan. 19, 2009
5:01 PM ET - John Michaels traveled for days with a busload of kids from New Orleans to D.C. for what he calls the double honor of doing community service on Martin Luther King Day and the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. He ended up packing emergency relief kits. "It was funny, us being from New Orleans. We know all about emergency relief." The President-to-be got a better assignment. He painted a wall at a shelter for homeless teenagers. There were other folks in DC who cleaned parking lots. There were some adults from a synagogue sorting donated library books at a failing city school. There were even a few dozen folks who flew in to be trained by a group called Do Something on how to turn these acts of community service into world changing action. Nothing seemed out of reach for a community organizer this year, they heard. A college student named Tobin Van Ostern told them the incredible story of how his Facebook page of kids urging Obama to run for president evolved into Obama's youth campaign. Tobin now fields texts from Obama and his team and has a front row seat to the Inauguration. The day of service is annual and easily overshadowed. Even today, as crowds poured from buses, trains and planes, the history-making buzz drowned out everything around it. So it was all the more amazing to see busloads of people spanning out to do these random acts. Why exactly would you fly in from Seattle to paint houses in the winter chill? "He made me feel like those things mattered again, like the impossible was possible," shouted a woman as she rushed to her assignment. It was not just about Obama though, more than one person pointed out. There is a bad economy and a painful war. A McCain supporter dragging his luggage to a service event said he'd attend the inauguration because he hoped the change in government would inspire people to pitch in and fix things. Michael's group wrapped up the fixing things part of their day and headed for a D.C. church to eat a lot of turkey sandwich meat and play Scattegory. Several of them said they felt satisfied with their efforts that day, even worthy of attending the Inaugural events because they'd done their part. So a few boys pressed the suits they'll wear over three layers of sweaters and the girls considered the thickness of their snow boots. Tomorrow is what some called pay day for their commitment to service. They will be up at 2am, but this time in service of history. From CNN Producer Rose Arce
4:44 PM ET - Total gridlock! Photojournalist Bethany Swain and I just finished a shoot at 4th street and Pennsylvania Avenue where we interviewed people to get a general sense of the excitement around town. The shoot went great - we quickly attracted a crowd of about thirty people who ALL wanted to share with us their thoughts about Obama and the Inauguration in general. After about half an hour, we wrapped it up, broke down and casually chatted with some fellow press from North Carolina and Ausrtralia. Then we packed our gear and began to make our way back to the bureau. Good thing we weren't in a hurry! Pennsylvania Ave was as jammed as I've ever seen any city street. It literally took us 20 minutes to drive two blocks! We finally made it to the end of the Newseum block, where we hoped to turn right and head home... But RIGHT as we approached the intersection a police suv with lights and sirens blaring pulled in and completely blocked it. A cop emerged, threw down some orange cones and began to argue with various annoyed motorists. However, after deciding to abort our unsuccessful route the intrepid Bethany somehow managed to make a u-turn and head up Pennsylvania Ave. We were home free... Until we got to North Capitol Drive, where we were greeted warmly by... You guessed it... More gridlock!! From CNN Producer Graham Flanagan
1:20 PM ET - Party patrol: We headed out around 7pm last night to cover some of the many inauguration parties that are taking place in DC over the next few days. Our first stop was the Latino Inaugural Ball at Union Station. I was shocked when we pulled up to see hundreds of people lined up waiting to get into the venue. We got in quickly because of our press passes but I wondered how long it would take people to make their way into the party. One of our press escorts told us they were expecting 3500 people and I have no doubt they probably reached that number. I have never covered inauguration parties so this was all new to me. The women attending were dressed beautifully. Long gowns were the style of choice. No one color seemed to predominate. Some of the more outstanding ones were dresses with Grecian and Asian influences. Of all the hundreds of women we glimpsed throughout the evening I never saw a duplicate dress. We hopped the metro to get to our next party hosted by the online magazine The Root. It was the quickest and easiest way to travel -- and also the friendliest. Riders were in a jovial mood telling us about their celebrity sightings and their plans for the next few days. One woman dressed all in pink was in town from Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood and feeling particular pride over her hometown neighbor. She drove to DC with her mother who always wanted to participate in the Civil Right's marches but wasn't able to because she was raising her young family. She told us it was important to her mother to witness this historic event in person. From CNN Producer Melissa Morgenweck
7:30 AM ET - Monday morning on the Mall... We arrived on location around 3AM and there is nothing at all that could suggest that only a few hours ago this area held literally hundreds of thousands of people. One of my duties today is escorting our guests from the CNN Election Express (our makeshift headquarters) to the broadcast site smack in the middle of the Mall. I had the privilege of chatting with Washington D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty as I walked with him towards the site of his interview on American Morning. I asked Mayor if he caught the star-packed Lincoln Memorial on Sunday. He had indeed, with a front-row seat to boot! I then inquired as to what he considered to be the highlight of the show. Assuming he would respond with U2, Bruce Springsteen or one of the many other superstar acts that performed at the free concert. Without hesitation, Mayor Fenty replied: "Obama." "Really?!" The Mayor had thrown me a curveball. "How can it not be Obama," Fenty said. "I mean, the man has inspired hundreds of millions of people!" In all the pomp and circumstance of the Inagural festivities, it was easy, for a moment, to mistake the event for nothing more than a star-studded TV special. But as I watch the sun begin to rise behind the majesty of the Captiol Dome, I'm once again reminded that this is much, much more than that: this truly is history in the making. From CNN Producer Graham Flanagan
Sunday Jan. 18, 2009
5:07 PM ET - Outside Ben's Chili yesterday there were even people taking pictures of their own Chili dogs. There was the guy who drove up from Alabama, who remembered George Wallace and teared up thinking about how far his country has come. There was a couple who came from Japan to eat the hot dog Barack Obama ate earlier this month while watching him speak on TV. There were the lines and lines of folks huddled outside beneath Obama caps, some who still had the luggage they'd dragged from Union Station. The Bolivian girl who couldn't read the menu but just smiled and said "Obama hot dog. I love it here." If you weren't shivering on the mall, it seemed like you might as well be at Ben's. There is something about the place, a place whose owner figured eventually Obama would stop by, but got just 4 minutes notice when he actually did, that seemed to just capture this surreal Washington moment. On this day, as the inauguration kicks off, DC somehow feels like less of a stage for yet another national event than an enormous reflecting pool for a national journey. Ben's Chili Bowl was once a part of another DC -- a black DC gripped by awesome violence while the white government elite went about its business. DC was more a stage than a host to passing administrations. I grew up here when going to U Street to eat at Ben's was not something you just did. At Ben's yesterday, people told us Barack Obama had made DC feel like a part of America. The "Taxation without Representation" stickers were back on bumpers. The staff wore its 50 Year Anniversary t-shirts like being in Northwest DC that long was a good thing. Ben's is a survivor just like DC. When Martin Luther King was assassinated, riots destroyed many DC businesses and Ben's was said to have been saved only because Stokely Carmichael using it as his meeting place. Today's Ben's could be renamed the Diner of Change You Can Believe in. Ben's sons capitalize on its identity as a hang out for Black DC, a place where Serena Williams or Denzel Washington might just stop by and Hillary Clinton's picture hangs inches from one with Bill Cosby. If it's cool to be the Black diner then being the Black diner in the black city with the first black president is the trifecta of racial pride. So outside yesterday, flatbeds and minivans rolled up full of posters that said "the first LADY is in the house" and enough Obama clothing to outfit a football team. A guy from Chicago missed the birth of his first child to watch Obama on TV at Ben's and strategize on how to get closest to the Mall on Tuesday. A group of women in homespun Obama sweatshirts showed their daughters how to do the Obama cheer over an gargantuan order of Chili Fries. Then Ira Daisy from Sontag, Mississippi mused aloud about how a black man had made it to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave and not even as a butler or anything, then broke out laughing. He talked about official DC like it had once required a visa to gain entry and stared up at Ben's like it was some defacto white house. "I can't believe my eyes!," he declared. "Eye, I can't believe what you guys are seeing. Thank you to my mother and my grandmother and her grandmother and all the sweat and sadness. We made it here to Washington DC. Yes Sir, THIS is DC." From CNN Producer Rose Arce
2:15 PM ET - It's 2:15 pm and we (John Roberts, the crew and surprise guest Kyra Phillips) are waiting for Obama to appear at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where he will address the crowd before the concert begins. Looking out on the reflecting pool, surrounded on both sides by thousands of people, is a truly spectacular sight... Almost surreal, in fact. The main image it recalls is, of course the scene of MLK's "I Have a Dream Speech." However another image came to mind when a fellow press person said they were waiting for someone to run into the water screaming "Jenny!!!!!" Spotters brandishing binoculars (and likely some serious firepower) loom just above us on top of the Lincoln Memorial. These people are ready to get a taste of what they can expect on tuesday, and it's guaranteed that this crowd will erupt when they get their first glance of the president-elect. From CNN Producer Graham Flanagan
2:05 PM ET - The masses have begun to arrive on the National Mall. The general admission line to get into the concert at the Lincoln Memorial snakes along the mall for blocks and blocks. The atmosphere is festive and so far the weather has cooperated. The park police have started shutting down streets making driving around near impossible. Jim Acosta, Reggie Selma our photoghrapher and I just hitched a ride on a rickshaw to get back to our crew car. The peddler was quick to point out its the greenest ride in town. One more note...its already getting hard to get cell calls out around the mall because of the congestion. From CNN Producer Eric Marrapodi