Staff Q&A/Emily Plowman

Emily Plowman, inauguration attendee Photo credit: Mark Stehle

On Inauguration Day, Emily Plowman stood among thousands on the National Mall. She saw people clapping, hugging, crying and, eventually, listening in hushed silence to Barack Obama’s first speech as President of the United States.

It was a sight she’ll never forget.

“My parents have always been active in politics. They met getting their Ph.D.s in Washington, D.C., and I used to always hear stories about JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr. For the first time, it felt like I would be able to have stories like that one day for my children,” she says.

Plowman, a program coordinator in the Annenberg School for Communication, traveled to her sister’s house in Arlington, Virginia, for the inauguration and walked, with members of her family, all the way into the city. It was, she says, a memorable day, and represented everything that interested and inspired her during the campaign. “It just seemed that so many different people from so many different walks of life came together for once,” she says. “And it really struck a chord.”

She hopes, in the face of massive problems confronting the nation today, that this feeling of togetherness will endure.

“I just like that feeling of unity that we all were able to have and I hope that it continues,” she says. “It’s nice to see how many young people got involved in [Obama’s] campaign and I hope this sparks the future of campaigns as well.”

The Current recently sat down with Plowman to talk about why she decided to go to the inauguration and what her memorable day was like.

Q. Did you decide on election night to go to D.C. for the inauguration?
Mostly it was my eldest sister who was like, ‘We’re going, we’re doing this,’ and having another sister who lives in Arlington [Virginia], it was kind of like, ‘Why not? Why wouldn’t we?’ Worst-case scenario—we go, it’s ridiculously crowded, we can’t move, we walk back and we hang out and we get pizza. It wasn’t a question, it was just, ‘When are we going to go down and how many of us are going to go?’
It was great, we were all able to make it, my siblings and I. Unfortunately, my one sister who lives in Arlington—she volunteered to stay home with all the children because I have nieces and nephews, so the one who lived there didn’t actually get to see it. There were five of us that went. We just had a blast. It was a great day.

Q. I understand you walked from Arlington to D.C. That’s quite a hike.
We did. It’s about 3 ½ miles. We had planned all along to take either the bus or the Metro. We were going to wing it that day to see what would be the best scenario, and we woke up at 7 o’clock that morning and switched on the TV and they were reporting how hundreds of thousands were already there, so we were like, okay, maybe we won’t be taking the bus or the Metro. We Googled it and found out that it would only take about an hour-and-a-half walking, so we said, ‘Why not?’

Q. How did you keep warm on such a freezing day?
We all layered up. We were all wearing about two to three pairs of pants, three to five tops, coats, hats, scarves, we had hand warmers, body warmers. We had water, energy bars, we made sandwiches and stuck them all in backpacks and we got going and it was freezing, but it was so worth it. It was really like we were part of a pilgrimage. It was amazing. And there was a bunch of us walking. It wasn’t just us. We saw a lot of people and we passed the Air Force Memorial and Pentagon and we walked over the bridge. It was actually a really lovely walk. It made the trip even more worthwhile. Getting there was part of the fun.

Q. Did you watch the inauguration from the Mall?
We watched from the World War II Memorial, right near the reflection pool. There was a JumboTron right there and loads of people.
I thought it was very well-organized, from my standpoint. I heard a lot of mixed reviews. I knew some people that went and couldn’t leave their area, they couldn’t get into places where they had tickets, they couldn’t get to the Mall at all, they couldn’t see any screens and then I heard some people say the merchandise was just insane—there were tables and tables of it. Now, I didn’t see any of that. None of it. Where I was, there was no complaining, there was no pushing, shoving, people getting frustrated. It was just a joyful, positive experience. Everyone was just happy to be there and happy to be part of history.

Q. Do you anticipate being more involved in future elections?
It definitely has sparked my interest a lot more than any other candidates ever have. I would definitely consider volunteering in a political sense in the future, whereas before, no one ever really made me feel like I wanted to do that.

Q. Any other impressions of the day?
At one point, I was looking around and just thinking, all these people, we’re all freezing, we’ve all come out to be a part of something, but we’re basically all watching TV. We could be doing this from our couch. We don’t see [Obama], we don’t see any of the other people. We’re watching a giant screen. It’s still something. There was something very modern, but something very old-fashioned about it. People like to still be part of the day even though you’re not actually witnessing it firsthand. I think it’s as close to any of the stories that my parents used to tell that I’m going to get.

Originally published Feb. 5, 2009

Originally published on February 5, 2009