By Chloe Miller ’14, News Editor
On Jan. 21, 2013, Barack Obama was officially sworn in for his second term as President of the United States after winning the election in November. As an incumbent, Obama’s ceremony was less attended than his history-making inauguration of 2009, but 2013 was no less important. Sharing his inaugural day with the birthday of another groundbreaking African American, Martin Luther King Jr., Obama laid out his plans to continue to unite the nation for the next four years. The entire weekend was full of events, but Monday’s swearing-in ceremonies, the inaugural address, parade, and especially the famous Inaugural Ball were the most anticipated and celebrated.
For two Trinity students, the Inauguration also marked the celebratory end of several long months they spent as field organizers for the Obama campaign last fall. Rose Lichtenfels ’14 and Suzy Wang ’14 both took the option of an “open semester,” Wang in the spring of 2012 and Lichtenfels in the fall of 2012. An open semester is Trinity’s way to encourage students to create their own learning environments and step out of the box. Wang, a Public Policy and Economics double major, and Lichtenfels, a Political Science major, each worked with their advisors to design their own curriculum while they were way from Trinity. Working 90 hours a week on Obama’s now-famous grassroots campaign strategy was enough to teach them both more than they could ever have imagined, but in addition the students are completing papers and presentations to help bring their campaign work back into their Trinity education. “Trinity was really flexible and accommodating, and there was just so much that I couldn’t have learned at school,” said Lichtenfels. Lichtenfels worked in Iowa and Wang in Chicago and then Colorado to push Obama’s campaign agenda forward in those important battleground states.
Wang described the campaign experience as something that really fell into her lap. She worked as an intern in January 2012 in Operation Vote, a strategy group in Chicago, where the Obama campaign was based. She was offered a position in Colorado and decided to stay on through the spring, summer, and eventually fall semesters. Lichtenfels was working for a Senate campaign in her home state of Virginia and was contacted by Trinity alumna Kate Cummings ’11, and encouraged to take the field organizer position in Iowa. One week later, she was on her way to Cedar Rapids. After putting in endless hours of grassroots campaigning, such as canvassing door-to-door, running phone banks, and mobilizing people on a neighborhood level to get out the vote, the 2012 election came to an emotional, victorious end in November. A few months of relaxing and reflecting on their experiences, January’s Inauguration was the perfect way to wrap up the stress of the campaign and look forward to President Obama’s next four years in office.
Inauguration weekend began for the President and the First family with the traditional National Day of Service on Saturday, Jan 19. This nationwide event is traditionally associated with Martin Luther King Day, but this year especially Obama and his administration made special efforts to engage thousands of volunteers in D.C. and across the nation. Wang worked a three-week pre-inauguration stint with the Presidential Inauguration Committee, specifically focusing on Day of Service events in the D.C. area. It was similar to campaign work, Wang said, but obviously culminated in a much less stressful end. Barack and Michelle Obama did their part for the Day of Service by building and painting bookshelves at a D.C. public elementary school.
The President’s official swearing-in always takes place on January 20th, though the ceremony was held on Monday, Jan. 21. Another popular event on the evening of the big day was the Candlelight Reception, a cocktail party honoring the inauguration’s biggest donors. Lichtenfels worked a few weeks before the inauguration to organize that event as well, which was held at the National Building Museum in D.C. Both Wang and Lichtenfels enjoyed playing a behind-the-scenes role in some on the Inaugural events, but both were glad to have the official Inauguration Day off to just enjoy the ceremony, the crowds, and the emotions of a very moving day.
Obama’s swearing-in ceremony and subsequent inaugural address were very high-profile affairs, with performances by Beyoncé and Kelly Clarkson, and the famous Marine Corps band. Obama’s address was 18 and half minutes long, and carefully laid out specific policy positions for the new Obama administration. Obama clearly defined several important policy causes, from protecting the middle class to a renewed attention to climate change to preserving social service programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. Perhaps most historical and memorable about this year’s address was the direct support for equal rights for homosexuals, the first time that had been mentioned in an inaugural address. Obama’s address was bold and much more clearly defined than the one he made four years ago. The president showed new confidence and a willingness to attack the political barriers that are hindering our nation’s progress. It was a distinctly liberal set of goals, but the President used the same optimistic rhetoric he is so well known for to unite the cheering crowd and give America a tangible and directed set of goals for the next four years.
After the President, his honored guests, and Obama employees, volunteers, and supporters alike had braved the cold and the crowds of the national Mall, the night culminated in the famous Inaugural Ball. The President’s official ball is held at the Washington Convention Center and is by invitation only, of course, but dozens of private groups hold their own inaugural balls all over the city. Lichtenfels and Wang were valued guests at the Obama Staff Inaugural Ball, which was held at the Convention Center as well. It was close to the official action, but allowed the 4,000 attendees to finally celebrate the end of their hard work, reconnect with field teams from before the election, and receive commendation from some of the leaders of the campaign. Jim Messina, 2012 campaign manager, and David Plouffe, the 2008 campaign manager, both gave speeches on stage thanking the thousands of staff members. Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett also performed at the staff ball.
Tears and emotions certainly ran rampant at both the official ball and the staff ball. Michelle Obama reinforced her fashion icon status in a red Jason Wu gown and the Obamas shared their first dance to Jennifer Hudson performing Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” Joe and Jill Biden were also on display dancing to Jamie Foxx singing “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”
For Wang and Lichtenfels, the Inauguration was a great wrap-up to the long, hard fight they put in during election season. “The only word to describe it is surreal,” said Wang, referring to watching the inauguration ceremonies. “You feel like you’re still on the inside, and you have such a different perspective, but at the same time you feel removed.” Both Wang and Lichtenfels said that working on the campaign taught them a new way to go about politics, using the now-famous grassroots approach. Both students say they would love to work on campaigns in the future, but now embrace the small-scale, community-specific focus of Organizing for America as a way to break the traditional mold of working in Washington. Keep an eye out for these passionate Trinity students as they explore future projects, follow President Obama’s next four years to see how his term matches up to the goals laid out in the inaugural address.