Tens of thousands of people are hard at work in the District putting the finishing touches on events and related activities marking President Barack Obama's second inauguration.
Obama will be sworn in on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Monday, Jan. 21. Later, the first family will lead a parade of floats, military units, marching bands, dancers and others along Pennsylvania Avenue in Northwest.
Ann Walters, a Jamaican native who has lived in the District of Columbia for more than 20 years, counted among the throng of people who converged on the National Mall in January 2009 and who witnessed Obama's swearing-in as America's first African-American president.
"I went with friends who wanted to witness this important event," said Walters, a local businesswoman. "They were gung-ho, were in town and wanted to go. It was so cold, we couldn't get close to anything and transportation was messed up but it was good to be there."
Walters said in Jamaica it is commonplace to see black leaders running the country.
"It's less significant than it might have been because of where I come from. We're used to having leaders who look like us," she said. "But I understand the context of where blacks in this country are coming from with slavery, oppression, racism and the blatant disrespect they face. It was interesting to see in this the fulfillment of people like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X who carved it out. You can see what they sacrificed for."
Walters said she doesn't plan to be on the National Mall this year and will likely watch it on TV. She also said she plans to get involved in a service project in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose national holiday falls on the same day.
Unlike 2009, the crowds are expected to number somewhere between 600,000 and 800,000 – a far cry from the almost two million people who braved subzero temperatures to witness the installation of the nation's first black president. While the novelty and pride of having the first black president has dimmed, enthusiasm for Obama's second term is still said to be high.
A distinguished list of celebrities have signed on to help usher in the second term musically. Beyonce is slated to sing the national anthem. James Taylor and Kelly Clarkson will also perform at the West front of the Capitol. Meanwhile, Usher, Katy Perry, Alicia Keys, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, John Legend and the cast of Glee will perform at other inaugural events.
Perry, Usher, Keys and Brad Paisley are scheduled to sing at two inaugural balls on Inauguration Day and at a children's concert two days earlier. The balls will be held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in downtown Washington, and scores of other related events will dot the Washington metropolitan area.
More than 40,000 people are expected to go to both balls, with well over 30,000 elegantly dressed partygoers attending the Presidential Inaugural Ball. A much smaller crowd of about 4,000 will gather and dance the night away at a gala to honor American service men and women. This affair, the "Commander in Chief's Ball", was established by President George W. Bush to honor the military. Tickets are free for those in the military, including active-duty service personnel, those in the reserves, those wounded in battle and Medal of Honor winners.
On Saturday, first lady Michelle Obama and Vice Presidential spouse Jill Biden will host a children's concert. A stellar cast of performers will entertain the youngsters. The concert will pay special tribute to military families in honor of their sacrifice and service.
Because Inauguration Day falls on a Sunday, the presidential oath will be administered in a private ceremony and the public swearing-in and celebrations held the next day. At noon on Sunday, Jan. 20, as required by the Constitution, Obama will take the official oath of office in the Blue Room at the White House, and Vice President Joe Biden will be sworn in at the Naval Observatory in Northwest.
The cost of attending many of the events is out of the price range of most working Washingtonians but inauguration officials made available a limited number of $60 ball tickets for the general public that sold out very quickly.
The inaugural activities come at the end of a heated, partisan, rancorous election which saw Obama win a second four-year term over Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The inauguration also plays out against a backdrop of economic turmoil, stubborn unemployment numbers, a sharply divided electorate and the winding down of an unpopular war in Afghanistan.
Unlike four years ago, Obama is expected to take the oath in temperatures that meteorologists predict will range between the 30s and mid-40s.
The nation's 57th inauguration is suffused with history. It falls on the day set aside by Americans to remember the life, legacy and service of Civil Rights icon King. It also comes as the nation celebrates the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial occurred 50 years ago this year. Symbolically, the bibles Obama has chosen for his swearing-in are one belonging to King and another that Lincoln used during his presidential inaugural ceremony.
The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies theme for the 57th inauguration is "Faith in America's Future" which commemorates America's perseverance and unity, while marking the sesquicentennial year that the Statue of Freedom was placed atop the Capitol dome in 1863.
The president's inaugural theme, "Our People. Our Future." speaks to the country's diversity, and reflects the strength of Americans and their ability to overcome trials and challenges.
The parade, which extends from the U.S. Capitol to the White House, will necessitate the closing of swathes of downtown Washington for security reasons. About 60 streets and more than a dozen bridges will be closed until the end of the festivities. Thousands of police, security personnel and members of the military, police agencies and the Secret Service will provide security.
Metrorail is running on a rush-hour schedule for 17 hours on Monday from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m., then, it will operate on a non-rush hour schedule until 2 a.m. Three stations – Archives, Mt. Vernon Square and Smithsonian stations will be closed throughout the day for security reasons.
Metro is providing about 60,000 parking spaces in 29 lots and 22 garages for motorists on Inauguration Day.
Obama plans to kick off the weekend's festivities on Saturday with the National Day of Service, a call for Americans to serve their communities in honor of King's legacy. The Obamas began this observance four years ago and the president said he hopes his successors will continue the practice. A former community organizer in Chicago started the volunteer program four years ago, and inaugural organizers say he hopes future presidents will continue it.
The Presidential Inauguration Committee recently announced a range of volunteer activities in and around the District and in cities and towns nationally, and it is encouraging Americans to pledge a commitment to serve on MLK Day and beyond. The committee is organizing a fair on the National Mall to encourage service on that day. The Obamas and the Biden family have committed to work on projects in the city.
Those who can't make it to the Inauguration can catch the event on streaming video. The Presidential Inauguration Committee also launched an app that can be used in iPhones and Androids to watch the ceremony. The app also provides maps of both the parade and the swearing-in ceremony, and the locations of viewing screens, restrooms and vendors and delineates ticketed and other areas.