Witnessing history: Local resident, native attend inauguration

ESCANABA – History may remember President Barack Obama’s second inauguration with speech transcripts and attendance numbers, but for two Delta County natives who attended the ceremonies the day was much more.

Tara Kutz, a Bark River native, did not have to travel far to witness the day’s historic events. She has made D.C. her home since she took a position with the progressive student organization, Campus Progress, in 2010. The group works closely with the White House and President Obama’s Youth Initiative.

Kutz watched the Inauguration from the National Mall, along with 850,000 other people, despite having tickets for a gated area. “I had a better time in the Mall area,” she said.

As someone who works with politically active young people, Kutz took note of the president’s comments about the importance of young people and the effect it had on the young audience members around her.

“I was standing next to a group of high school students, and it was really cool to watch their reactions. Especially when the president spoke,” said Kutz.

Another Delta County native, Christopher Germain of Escanaba, watched the proceedings from a reserved area, located closer to the Capitol Building and behind a roped off seating section for celebrities and high-paying political donors.

“They kept showing us pictures on the monitors of everybody back there (on the National Mall) and it was just insanity,” said Germain, who added that he couldn’t imagine watching from the Mall.

Germain made the trip to D.C. for both of Obama’s inaugurations, but this year was the first time he witnessed Obama take the Oath of Office.

“First time it was a little bit different, our whole section got locked out of the Inaugural. There was an issue – a security breach – with our section,” he said.

Germain, who has always had an interest in politics, serves as the Region One Director for the Young Democrats of Michigan, on the Michigan Democratic Youth Caucus board, and is the chair of the government affairs committee for the Upper Peninsula Association of REALTORS, as well as the association’s president. His involvement gave him a unique perspective on the inaugural events.

“It’s like a red carpet events for nerds, because you see all these people on C-SPAN,” said Germain.

According to Germain, each member of the House and Senate receives 100 tickets to distribute to people who are interested in attending the inauguration. It takes about a month for someone who has requested a ticket to learn if they will be receiving one.

“Give or take I think it’s like 55,000 people get tickets to the inaugural. So, when you figure that out out of how many millions of people are actually in the country, it’s a really rare opportunity to get in there.”

Security was tight in areas reserved for ticket holders and was administered by the Transportation Security Administration.

“(It was) TSA, because they already had the equipment and the knowledge of how to screen people going into the airport. There’s these big tents that they set up on the perimeter of the Capitol lawn so you just go through those,” explained Germain, adding the process was almost identical to going though metal detectors before boarding a plane.

Once inside the gates, Germain and his friends had to stand and with thousands of other spectators waiting for the program to begin. The wait lasted hours, but when the program started the crowd experienced a piece of history.

“It’s really kind of humbling. It’s the same process that’s happened since the country’s birth. They still fire off the cannons, they still go through the whole ceremony that took place back then,” said Germain.

When Germain attended Obama’s first inauguration he attended the Michigan Inaugural Ball, but this year he did not attend any balls. Kutz, however, attended a number of events throughout the city for different organizations including an unofficial ball attended by the president.

Even though the Presidential Inaugural Committee only sponsored two official balls this year – The Inaugural Ball and the Commander-in-Chief’s Ball – a third ball was held for Obama’s campaign staff. Kutz attended this Staff Ball thanks to her friendship with someone who worked on the campaign.

“It was more of an intimate thing – even though there were a couple thousand people there,” said Kutz.

Just like the two official balls, the Staff Ball was held at the Washington Convention Center. In addition to what Kutz describes as a more “off the cuff” remarks by the president and vice president, entertainment was provided by Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, who performed a duet.

“Of course she (Lady Gaga) was dolled up. I don’t think she ever wears normal clothes,” said Kutz.

When asked if she would attend the next presidential inauguration, Kutz admitted that she wasn’t sure, adding that it could depend on if she supports the incoming president.

Germain, however, felt that the experience was not dependent on who was being inaugurated.

“There’s a lot or partisan gridlock, there really is, but I would tend to believe that anyone that was able to go see the process, for the most part, probably would,” he said.