On the vacant streets of Washington, DC, as a new president took office in America
Ispent the evening after Barack Obama’s first inauguration with sanitation workers in Washington, dc. In 2009 I was too junior a reporter to receive any invitations to the inaugural balls and I wanted to see how my home town tidied itself up after the festivities. Two things stand out in my mind, 12 years on: the pride of the workers, all of whom, I think, were African-American; and the fact that, amid all the whirling rubbish on that freezing night, I didn’t spot a single discarded image of the president. Everyone had taken their posters home.
This year’s inauguration was practically rubbish-free because it was almost entirely spectator-free. Ordinarily, dignitaries wedge themselves into packed seating on the bunting-draped west front of the Capitol, home of Congress, and members of the public throng the National Mall, a well-kempt park running from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial on the banks of the Potomac river. In this pandemic year, chairs were instead placed in socially distanced pairs on the Capitol steps and organisers planted a field of flags on the Mall to represent the public whom they’d asked to stay home.