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Celebrations Abound In Nation's Capital On Inauguration Day

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The contrast could not have been sharper. Exactly two weeks ago, an unruly mob stormed the Capitol, leaving death and destruction in its wake. Today, decorum and a message of healing ruled the day as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were sworn in as the nation's newest president and vice president. For a sense of what it has felt like on the ground here in Washington, D.C., today, first we go to NPR's Tom Bowman.

Hey, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: You've been out and about all over. Where have you been? What have you seen?

BOWMAN: Well, we spent most of the day just off Pennsylvania Avenue, which is, of course, all closed. It's fenced off - police, National Guard all over the place. And I spoke with three young women outside the Penn Quarter Sports pub. They go to college right down the street at G.W. University. They were a bit disappointed they couldn't go to the inaugural. And one said this tight security was almost un-American. But here's the thing. Just an hour or so later when Biden was being sworn in, about a hundred people were outside the pub, clustered around, watching a large TV and cheering. It was almost a mini inaugural. And one woman I spoke with was clearly in a celebratory mood.

OCTAVIA BROWN: My name is Octavia Brown. I love it. Yes, Joe. We did it, Joe.

BOWMAN: Are you screaming and shouting for Kamala? Talk about that.

BROWN: Yes, 'cause this is what we needed. This is what we needed. Everybody need to comes together - everybody. It's not just Black, white. It's all of us. And I love it.

BOWMAN: And the protests, by the way, didn't really happen. Two authorized ones off Pennsylvania Avenue basically fizzled. I only saw two MAGA hats on the streets of D.C. today. And I should also point out that Washington, D.C., itself has a special connection to Vice President Kamala Harris. My colleague Alina Selyukh was at Howard University and met some of the members of its marching band.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Ayanna Snead remembers the previous inauguration well.

AYANNA SNEAD: I was watching it, like, in my high school classroom of constitutional law.

SELYUKH: This year, she's a junior at Howard University. On this cold Inauguration Day, she's bouncing to stay warm, preparing for a momentous march to the White House in a velvet red leotard and a university-branded face mask.

SNEAD: And I'll be escorting Kamala Harris on the Ooh La La dance line (laughter).

SELYUKH: Snead calls Harris her big sister because both belong to the oldest Black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. In any other year, this campus yard where we're talking would likely have a big celebration for the famous graduate. Instead, the campus bells began ringing 49 times as the 49th vice president was sworn in down at the Capitol...

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL TOLLING)

SELYUKH: ...And played a special rendition of "Lift Every Voice And Sing," which has come to be known as the Black national anthem.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SELYUKH: Snead is visibly bummed that extra security and the pandemic meant her biggest supporters could not be there to watch her.

SNEAD: My mom and my grandma - they were like, oh, we're going to get tickets and drive down there.

SELYUKH: Are they?

SNEAD: No, just because it's virtual. But they're here in spirit.

SELYUKH: Also there in spirit - the rest of the Howard University Showtime Marching Band. COVID restrictions meant only the drum line joined the parade.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMMING)

SELYUKH: Band members talked about this moment feeling surreal but also empowering and inspiring, not only getting to witness the first Black and South Asian woman vice president, but walk with her as Harris paves the path for a new generation of leaders.

KELLY: And that was Alina Selyukh, who, along with Tom Bowman, was one of the many, many reporters all over Washington today talking to people, getting a sense of how this historic day is playing out.

Thank you, Tom Bowman.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.