WASHINGTON – On the brink of a second term, President Obama invoked Martin Luther King Jr.’s commitment to service Saturday as inauguration-goers flocked to the capital city for a distinctly American celebration including an oath-taking as old as the republic, a splashy parade and partying enough to last four years.
“I think we’re on the cusp of some really great things,” Vice President Joe Biden predicted for a country still recovering from a deep recession.
Freshly built inaugural stands at the Capitol gleamed white in the sun, and hundreds of chairs for special guests were set out on the lawn that spills down toward the National Mall as the president and vice president began their inauguration weekend.
Julius Cherry, in town from Sacramento, Calif., brought his family to the foot of the Capitol to see the area where their official tickets will let them watch the public ceremonies Monday.
“There were people who said they’d never vote for an African-American president,” the 58-year-old lawyer said. “Now they’ve voted for him twice, and he won the popular vote and the electoral vote. That says something about his policies and his team.”
“And the country,” added Cherry’s wife, Donna.
Said Erika Goergen, from the Midwest and attending college locally: “It’s amazing to be here right now.”
Officials estimated that as many as 800,000 people will attend Monday’s public ceremonies. That’s more than live in the city, if far fewer than the 1.8 million who were at Obama’s first inauguration in 2009.
Obama made only a passing reference to race as he spoke at an elementary school not far from the White House after he and first lady Michelle Obama stained a bookcase as part of a national service event organized by the inaugural committee.
“We think about not so much the inauguration, but we think about this is Dr. King’s birthday we’re going to be celebrating this weekend,” the president said.
“He said everybody wants to be first, everybody wants to be a drum major. But if you’re going to be a drum major, be a drum major for service, be a drum major for justice, be a drum major for looking out for other people,” Obama said of the civil rights leader whose birthday is celebrated as a national holiday Monday.
Because the date for the inauguration set in the Constitution, Jan. 20, falls on a Sunday this year, Obama and Biden were to be sworn in for second terms in separate, private ceremonies Sunday.
The public ceremonies are set for Monday, when Obama will take the oath of office at noon, then deliver an inaugural address before a large crowd and a national television audience in the millions.