By Leonard Sparks and Megan Miller
WASHINGTON – President Obama crowned his historic run to the presidency Tuesday, taking the oath of office before thousands at the U.S. Capitol and calling for “bold and swift action” to cure the country’s ailing economy.
“Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met,” Obama said.
Among the challenges, the president said, are a “badly weakened” economy, job losses, soaring foreclosures and rising health care costs. Externally, the country faces a “far-reaching network of violence and hatred,” the president said.
Obama invoked the past in laying out his vision for the future, referring to the struggles and perseverance of the Pilgrims, slaves and the pioneers of the West.
“It has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path toward prosperity and freedom,” he said.
Despite temperatures well below freezing, security checkpoints were jammed hours in advance as people swarmed downtown to see Obama sworn in as America’s first black president. In front of the Capitol, they sat elbow-to-elbow on walls, perched on statues and huddled on the ground.
After the speech, Silver Spring resident Antar C. Johnson spoke by phone with his father as he walked toward an exit. Johnson, 40, chairman of the Montgomery County Ethics Commission, said he attended the inauguration for his mother, who died when he was 16, and for family members unable to attend.
“I’m here for everybody who couldn’t make it,” he said. “It’s so many people here in spirit.”
The significance of Obama’s election, Johnson said, is it signals that race no longer trumps talent and education. It marks a “new day,” for black men, he said.
“Just to see what this young man was able to do, I think it’s going to inspire a whole generation of minority men that think that it’s not cool to pick up a book or to strive to achieve,” Johnson said. “There’s no more cop-outs.”
Phillip David, of Clinton, Md., journeyed two hours to the District and spent another two hours waiting in line to enter on the east side of the Capitol. Obama’s inauguration is the first he’s attended.
“I’m extremely inspired by what he says and what I think he’s going to do,” said David, 43. “I was willing to wait to be a part of history.”
David Schreiber, a civil rights lawyer from Cabin John, a neighborhood in Montgomery County, reflected on a meeting 46 years ago with Martin Luther King Jr., that “changed the course of my life.”
“It’s hard to put into words,” he said of the inauguration. “I don’t think I’ve felt this level of emotion in my life.”
But while many saw their patience rewarded, hundreds of ticketholders were turned away after hours of waiting when security officials began closing gates.
Sarah Kimball, who teaches eighth grade at Julius West Middle School in Rockville, stood in a crush of people about a half hour before the oath. She had already been waiting in line 2 1/2 hours.
“We knew the gates opened at 9 (a.m.), so we thought we’d try to get here before that. We did not anticipate that it would be this bad,” she said. “I’ve been looking forward to this for a while, so I’m going to be really disappointed.”
Leilani Carver, who traveled to the District from Lawrence, Kan., made it to the home stretch, but was unable to get in.
“We got 50 feet to the gates and they closed the gates,” Carver said. “It’s a little frustrating but the environment is inspiring and great and people are really excited.”
Vicki Perez of Fort Washington made it to the gate before being turned away. She felt satisfied, however, that she was close enough to hear the crowd cheering when Obama took the oath.
“Overall, it was a good experience — very good,” Perez, 55, said. “I’m just proud that I was able to go down there. And even prouder that I beat the crowd back to the Metro.”
Larry Poland, a 49-year-old Bel Air resident, watched Obama’s inauguration speech on television at BWI Airport along with his girlfriend, who had just landed. They traveled into the District to watch the parade. Poland, a retired member of the Air Force, said the ordeal was well worth it.
“Everything to this point has been awesome,” Poland said. “It’s great to see people being in the mix, and everyone is very cordial.”
Paul Meacham of Silver Spring stood behind a barrier on F Street trying to glimpse the parade as it wound to an end at the White House. He said all American youth should draw a lesson from Obama.
“Every child in America has a chance to become president,” Meacham said. “Nothing now can hold you back.”
“I was enthralled by it all,” he said. “I was excited this morning. I’m going to be excited tomorrow. I’m going to be excited the rest of the year.”
Capital News Service reporters Michael Frost, Erich Wagner and Lauren C. Williams.