When President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris took their oath of office on Wednesday, Seattle members welcomed the transfer of power with celebrations – and some exhalations of relief.
Unlike in November, when Biden’s victory over then-President Donald Trump was declared, there were no reports of impromptu celebrations on the streets. And unlike four years ago when Trump was inaugurated, there were only small demonstrations and no violent clashes between his supporters and opponents. Still, a march of anti-fascist protesters critical of Trump and Biden through downtown Seattle on Wednesday night resulted in broken windows and arrests.
Gatherings have been dampened by the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing security concerns following Trump’s storming of the U.S. Capitol, and possibly an air of exhaustion after the past four years of seemingly endless conflict and chaos.
In the Pioneer Square neighborhood of Seattle, a small group of masked cyclists gathered to watch the dedication ceremony on a projection screen set up in the back of a van parked in an alley.
“I don’t know that I was overwhelmed by emotions. I was just relieved. We’re turning the page, ”said organizer Doc Wilson, managing director of Peace Peloton, a non-profit group that supports black-owned companies through organized bike tours and other events.
When Biden and Harris were sworn in, people hugged and celebrated. Wilson said “we have a realistic expectation” about the extent of the changes the new administration can make, given the more than 70 million people who have voted to keep Trump in office.
“But any glimmer of hope and fresh air were welcome,” said Wilson, who after the inauguration led about 50 cyclists on a meandering ride from Pioneer Square near a bicycle repair shop to a black-owned Central District restaurant.
Microsoft employee La Shanda Hurst said she was emotional as she watched the inauguration. She was excited to see Barack Obama sworn in as the first black president in 2009 and 2013, but “this one was even deeper than that,” she said. “The First Woman VP The first culturally diverse woman, and then add the shift that she is a lady from Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated and graduated from HBCU.”
Like Harris, Hurst is a member of the predominantly black sisterhood Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. and studied at a historically black university. Harris graduated from Howard University in DC and Hurst from Grambling State University in Louisiana. She sees a Biden-Harris government as one working towards change.
“Joe Biden brings hope. Together they mean a whole new day. “
Throughout the day, Hurst communicated with sisters around the world through text threads. She even added a pink and green frame – the colors of the AKA – to her Facebook and Twitter profile photos to show the meaning of the dedication day. “Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. congratulates Madame Vice President”, read her Facebook frame.
For Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, the day was “a sigh of relief.”
“We have had one of the most controversial times as a country,” Durkan said in a statement. “It culminated in a furious uprising, amazingly led by our Commander-in-Chief, who preferred his country and our constitution.
“As we turn the page about this presidency, we must remember that before we can reconcile we must have truth and accountability for these actions,” Durkan said.
Seattle, dubbed an “anarchist jurisdiction” by the Trump administration, was threatened with losing federal dollars for tolerating occupation and vandalism during protests. But with Biden in charge, Durkan hailed the “hopeful repercussions” of a federal partner who would work to “restore our communities and ensure America works for all”.
Some members of the Washington State Congressional Delegation were in Washington DC to hear Biden’s speech calling for national unity. Democrats hailed the speech as a harbinger of better days. Republicans criticized his early announcements of executive orders.
“I felt that every part of the ceremony really fits this idea of unity and progress and that makes me very hopeful,” said US Representative Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, in a telephone interview. She sat near the opening stage as part of the small crowd that was in the heavily fortified area guarded by 25,000 members of the National Guard.
DelBene said it was especially encouraging to see Harris sworn in as the first female vice president. “It’s so magical to see and it will be a long time,” she said.
MP Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, was unable to attend the inauguration as she isolated herself after completing COVID-19. In a statement, Jayapal welcomed Biden and said she was “deeply proud” of Harris as “the first woman, the first South Asian American, and the first black woman to ever hold that position of public trust”.
“This is a really significant moment in the history of our country, including so many women, people of color and immigrants,” said Jayapal.
US Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, who attended the inauguration in person, wished Biden “Success as the 46th President of the United States” in a statement.
But she also criticized Biden’s plans to re-join the Paris Climate Agreement and cancel the Keystone XL pipeline.
“There couldn’t be a worse time to double these executive orders as our economy recovers from the COVID-19 crisis,” said McMorris Rodgers, who joined a failed lawsuit to reverse the results of the swing state elections , and the only one was a member of the Washington delegation to vote against the charges against Trump.
Governor Jay Inslee welcomed Biden’s climate agenda, which was influenced by Inslee’s own political agenda outlined in his unsuccessful presidential election.
“We get calls from friends in Canada saying they are glad America is back. We also. Especially when it comes to climate change, ”tweeted Inslee on Wednesday.
In downtown Seattle, Biden’s first day in office on Wednesday night was protested by anti-fascist protesters who have been demonstrating for months. A group of about 100 people, mostly dressed in black, marched and demanded the abolition of the immigration and customs authorities (ICE). In chants they condemned both Trump and Biden.
In front of the federal immigration court on Second Avenue, several in the crowd lit an American flag. Some windows in an AmazonGo store and Starbucks in Pike Place Market are broken. Seattle police arrested at least two people from 7:30 p.m.
As the group gathered in Occidental Square, a protester said seeing Biden call for unity during his inauguration was an insult to those harmed by racism, xenophobia and homophobia.
“Demanding unity with people who actively want to harm people is disgusting,” said the protester who named Anna.
In Olympia, despite fears of attack or occupation of state capitals, everything was quiet on Wednesday as state lawmakers continued their largely virtual legislative period.
While the state capitol continued to be surrounded by a security area of a chain link fence, there were no major protests during the day. And there was a notable absence of the Washington National Guard on guard duty, as they have been for the past few days.
Up to 600 Washington National Guard personnel and hundreds of Washington State Patrol soldiers from across the state have been deployed since January 6, when the U.S. Capitol was stormed. That same day in Olympia, dozens of people, some armed, walked past a security gate to enter the governor’s villa in a half-hour protest.
The cost of setting up security was substantial, exceeding $ 1.6 million for the state patrol alone, with no additional undisclosed costs for National Guard staff staying in hotels. Karina Shagren, spokeswoman for the Washington Department of Military, said she expects the National Guard to pay more than the state patrol.
In the coming days it is expected that the security forces in Olympia will be gradually reduced. According to State Patrol spokesman Chris Loftis, that schedule – and how much the cuts should be – continues to be debated.
The long-term approach to security on the Capitol campus is also uncertain in light of increasing concerns about the potential for violence.
“What this new page will look like in terms of the security posture, profile, equipment and mobilization required for a new environment with security concerns remains to be determined,” Loftis said.
This week, some leaders in far-right groups, including the Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys, advised to stay out of state capitals after the storm on the U.S. Capitol.
“People feel like they’re going to settle down,” said Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson on Tuesday as he teamed up with a few dozen people who attended a rally to crack down on COVID-19 restrictions to protest in Napavine, Lewis County.
The authors Melissa Hellmann and Heidi Groover contributed to this report.