Between the coronavirus pandemic and the violent attack on the Capitol just two weeks ago, plans for the inauguration were kept deliberately small. Family members of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris gathered with former presidents and government officials on the balcony of the Capitol while members of Congress and their guests sat below. The National Mall was covered in a display of flags to represent the people who would usually be attending. But even with all of the protocol and extra security, some people still came out for the historic moment. Slate reporters Christina Cauterucci and Molly Olmstead were on the ground to talk to them.
A Former Republican Who Sat Out the 2016 Election
Laurie Muñoz of Temple, Texas, was a lifelong Republican voter until 2016, when Donald Trump’s “lack of morals” and poor debate performance convinced her to vote for Clinton. “In the beginning, I was a Trump supporter, but after seeing him spewing all this hate and division—it’s just not somebody you want leading the United States,” she said.
Her daughter, Isabella Donoso, 25, bought them both flights to D.C. as soon as Biden was projected the winner in November, as a birthday gift for Muñoz, who turned 50 earlier this month. “Unfortunately, there’s all this security, but I’m just honored to be here for this historical moment,” Muñoz said.
Donoso didn’t vote in the 2016 election; she didn’t like either candidate and thought Trump couldn’t win. When he did, she was shocked, and disappointed with herself for not voting. She made sure to do so in the 2018 election, supporting Beto O’Rourke for Senate. “I watched [Trump] even divide our own family,” she said, recounting holidays that were canceled because of family disagreements about the president.
“Biden’s not my favorite,” Donoso said, but she’s excited for a new beginning for the country and happy to have an excuse to visit D.C. for the first time.
She’s also ecstatic about the first woman vice president. “That was the big deal for me,” Donoso said. In second grade, her teacher would tell her that she could be the first woman president. “And I remember thinking, I don’t even see a woman getting elected to the White House at all,” she said. “So when [Harris’ election] happened, that was a game changer.” Muñoz called Donoso crying with joy over Harris when the election results came in.
The women were buying Biden-Harris hats and tote bags just outside the security fencing by the White House, where activists, holding a rainbow American flag and a “Racism Is a Pandemic” sign, had set up large speakers to stream Biden’s inaugural address to a sparse crowd of reporters, tourists, and vendors.
“My grandpa is the biggest Trump fan. He walks around in his [MAGA] hat,” Donoso said. He knew they were at inauguration and simply asked them to be safe. “When he sees these on our heads,” Donoso said, pointing to their new beanies, “that’s when he’s gonna be like, get out of my house!”
“We might be Facebook blocked,” Muñoz laughed.
The Inauguration of a “Personal Hero”
A group of high school friends—now in college, but mostly at different schools—came together to watch the inauguration. All supporters of the new president and vice president, they wanted to see just how close they could get to Biden. One of the four, Carter, has a stutter and felt connected to Biden. “As a kid with a stutter, Biden is kind of a personal hero, and so it’s super cool to see,” he said.
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sisters Out for Harris
Standing outside a National Guard blockade near the White House, a group of women in town from New York, Florida, and North Carolina said they refused to let the hassles of the excess security spoil their day. “We wanted to be here for history. The first Black female president—I mean, vice president,” said Ayisha Scales, 39, with a laugh. “We didn’t want to miss that.”
The group planned their trip just last week, a few days after the Capitol riot. “We didn’t care about that. We were not going to let that deter us,” Scales said.
“All the more reason to be here,” added Doreen Sterling, 48. She was excited to “help get Harris”—a member, like Sterling, of the historically Black Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority—“into office. And Biden, of course.”
Scales, an alumna of the historically Black Livingstone College, said she finds it particularly meaningful that Harris attended Howard University. She was also moved to bring her sister, Aysia Anderson, 14, to D.C. to see history made.
“It’s nice to see someone with the same color skin as you become the vice president,” Anderson said. The women specifically chose to stay at the St. Regis Hotel for its location on Black Lives Matter Plaza.
Though the military lockdown and pandemic have posed challenges to the typically celebratory mood of an inauguration in D.C., the women are making the best of it. They had drinks and pizza in their hotel room on inauguration eve and ate a bundled-up breakfast outside a restaurant north of the militarized zone this morning. After attempting to get as near to the Capitol as possible today, “we’re definitely going out tonight,” Scales said.
“[Trump’s] Ideas Will Not Survive”
Outside an entry point for the general public, there’s a celebratory mood. Someone was walking around with sage to cleanse the air of the Trump administration. People are having a good time.
I spoke to one woman, Karen Jennings, who said she’s lived in D.C. for 30 years and has attended a number of inaugurations. She said she felt “hopeful” that the nation would move on and that Trump’s ideas had been defeated. “I’m sad they put us in the position in terms of destroying the sacredness and sanctity of this transition. But you’ve got to be hopeful. Their ideas will not survive.”
She feels like Biden and Harris are the “perfect” fit for the moment facing the country. “It’s like the universe put them in the place they need to be right now.”
First-Time Voters Spot President Biden
After attending a Catholic church service in downtown D.C., President-elect Joe Biden rode down Connecticut Avenue on his way to the Capitol for his inauguration. Waving furiously from the sidewalk were three visitors in town from Tennessee. They were en route to the Capitol, too, and had the good luck of stumbling across the motorcade by chance.
“He saw us, he saw us!” said Yessica Leon, 33, who had voted for Biden in November in her first U.S. election. Leon, who was wearing a spangled Biden-Harris mask and holding a matching flag, is originally from Mexico City. “I just got my citizenship last year,” she said. “I was like, uh, first time voting and my candidate won?! So it was a big deal for me.”
Leon supported Biden for his positions on immigration. Her parents, who have lived in the U.S. for 19 years, stand to benefit from Biden’s proposed plan to offer pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Leon’s sister, a DACA recipient, will qualify for Biden’s plans to shore up the program and allow recipients to apply for green cards immediately.
Leon was joined by her son, 13-year-old Balian Sanders, and her cousin, 19-year-old Bryan Godinez. Back in November, Godinez, who’d also voted for Biden in his first election, had asked Leon if she wanted to go to D.C. for the inauguration. “It’s his fault,” Leon said. “He texted me, ‘Hey, are we going?’ and I was like, ‘Why not?’ ” The trip was also planned as a celebration for Leon’s birthday, which was Tuesday.
“I didn’t actually believe she was going to want to go,” Godinez said. His immediate family will also benefit from Biden’s immigration proposals.
The three briefly reconsidered their plans after the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6 but decided, since they already had their tickets, they’d take as many safety precautions as possible and keep their trip on the books. Their plans for a tour of the monuments were foiled by the militarized blockade of federal property in the city, but they’d rented Capital Bikeshare bikes and set a full agenda for the day.
“We’re just gonna try to follow [Biden] around,” Leon said. “We’ve got his schedule.”