From Phila. area and elsewhere, a coming together in Washington

The Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village in 2009, the 40th anniversary of the riots.
The Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village in 2009, the 40th anniversary of the riots. (STAN HONDA / AFP / Getty Images)
Posted: January 23, 2013

WASHINGTON - The roaring, delayed a moment by the acoustic trick of distance, swelled from the Washington Monument and then broke like a thunderclap over the Capitol on Monday as hundreds of thousands, including many from the Philadelphia region, cheered the aggressively liberal tone of President Obama's second inaugural address.

"I'm excited to see what he does," said Bryan Arguello, 26, of Philadelphia. "I think he's learned a lot of lessons. I think he's going to be more progressive."

Unbound by the need to seek reelection, Obama used his inaugural address to argue that fighting climate change, embracing immigrants, and guaranteeing gay rights are all goals vital to realizing the nation's founding belief that all are created equal.

At one point in the 19-minute speech, the president spoke of equality as "the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall." The phrase linked the struggles for women's suffrage and African Americans' civil rights to the 1969 uprising in New York City that is considered the beginning of the gay-rights movement.

To listeners from a city and region that voted overwhelmingly for Obama on Nov. 6, the message rang true. One recalled a past president who was gifted at twisting arms in the name of civil rights.

"If all men are created equal, and women, too, let's make it happen," said Larry Otter, a lawyer from Perkasie who watched from the National Mall, several hundred yards from the Capitol steps. "It would be nice to see some progressive ideals move forward in the next two to four years. . . . Obama has to realize that he can use the powers of the presidency to make those things happen - or not. Maybe he needs Lyndon Johnson to give him a tutorial."

Officials estimated that 700,000 people witnessed the ceremony, less than half of the 1,800,000 who overwhelmed Washington four years ago for Obama's historic first inaugural but a large crowd for a second inaugural.

David Major, 39, of Philadelphia, said this inauguration seemed more subdued than the one four years ago. He and several others at the ceremony said they had far better seats this time around - a reflection, perhaps, of shrinking demand.

But Major, his wife, and their friends were still excited enough about Obama's second term to leave from the city's Fairmount section at 2:30 a.m.; they planned to return right after the ceremony.

They all said they were eager to see what the next four years will bring, believing that while Obama had faced what Major called "Republican obstruction" in his first four years, he would be freer to be a liberal lion in his final term.

"I hope he's more aggressive in his policies," Major said.

Whatever disappointments some liberals may have felt, Obama drew a sizable contingent of celebrities. The singer Katy Perry and her boyfriend, the singer and guitarist John Mayer, were in the seating area on the steps of the Capitol, below the platform, amid congressional spouses and reporters. Perry told reporters she was proud to be there. When she signed a girl's autograph book, an "aww!" went through the section.

Hank Aaron, the home run king of baseball's pre-steroids era, was there, as were actors Omar Epps of TV's House and Giancarlo Esposito, now on Revolution. The actor Marlon Wayans said he hoped Obama could "get it done" in the second term. He did not go to the inaugural in 2009, noting that it was so cold on that occasion that "people had icicles on their noses." Wayans said he brought plenty of tissues to avoid the same fate.

In his speech, Obama brought the kind of intensity celebrities such as Wayans and regular people such as Major wanted to hear, appearing to jab at the congressional Republicans who had fought him at almost every turn: "We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate."

Major's wife, Katherine, 38, a nurse manager at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, said she was particularly glad to see Obama mention guns after all of the shooting victims she has treated.

"At least we have someone who has the courage to take on the gun lobby," she said.

As the Becker family walked onto the Mall around 7:45 in the midst of the morning cold, they said, strangers offered high-fives and asked who they were and where they were from. Sherri Becker of Lower Gwynedd had driven to Washington over the weekend with her teenage daughters, Carolyn and Chloe, and met up with her son, Jeffrey, a senior at George Washington University. The feeling of togetherness in the crowd, Sherri Becker said, was reflected in the day's speeches.

"It just made everybody feel like they were an important citizen in this country and we all have an opportunity to succeed," she said.

The night before the inaugural, Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker reflected on that belief, and on seeing the nation's first black president sworn in for a second time on Martin Luther King's Birthday.

His grandmother, Booker said, had told him four years ago that at one time in America, it was "dangerous to have dreams like this - so it's a very, very powerful and purposeful thing on a larger, spiritual level."

Booker acknowledged the opposition Obama will surely face, but said the president has learned to navigate those roadblocks. "He's already shown an ability to forge a way forward despite a very balkanized world that we live in," Booker said at the New Jersey State Society inaugural gala, at the Washington Court hotel on New Jersey Avenue.

Mayor Nutter agreed.

"The president is really focused," Nutter said Sunday night while attending the Pennsylvania State Society of Washington's inaugural gala at the Four Seasons hotel in Foggy Bottom. "And one thing he has on his side is that people really want to see us get things done."


Contact Thomas Fitzgerald at 215-854-2718 or tfitzgerald@phillynews.com, or follow @tomfitzgerald on Twitter. Read his blog, "The Big Tent," at www.philly.com/bigtent.

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