What a difference eight years makes

In 2001, Washington, D.C. was full of protesters -- Tuesday, it was all smiles.

Published January 21, 2009 1:40AM (EST)

WASHINGTON -- I was here in 2001, too. That was during my youth, back before I became a journalist. At George W. Bush's first inauguration, I was there for the protests.

Tuesday, I went back to where I was eight years ago, at 13th St. and Pennsylvania Ave. NW, across from the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, to see what had changed. The contrast could not have been starker.

In 2001, protesters at the site took over risers intended for ticket-holders there to support the new president; the ticket-holders themselves mostly went elsewhere. And when Bush drove down Pennsylvania Ave. after he was sworn in, the motorcade had to spend much of the route at full speed to avoid a hail of boos. Today, I saw no protesters at the site, and the risers looked well-used. And everyone along the parade route was happy, celebrating. I heard one woman say to her child, "We did overcome."

That was the mood throughout the city. It was cold, like it was in 2001 -- though the weather overall was much better -- but still, everywhere felt a lot like a party, with all the attendees swept up in Obama fever. You couldn't walk down any street without being offered Obama hats, buttons, t-shirts, signs, posters, paintings. People were buying, too. And just try getting a seat at a restaurant a couple hours after the swearing-in; they were all packed, and not just because people wanted warmth and a little nourishment after a long day. They were celebrating. If you managed to get a seat at one of the bars, you were surrounded by people watching the parade go by on television and talking in excited voices about the day's events.

Even the packed Metro ride home still felt like a party. Next to me, two strangers talked about how everyone on the train was happy, even though we were all smashed together. "I only saw one person in a bad mood all day," one said.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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