As President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris swore their oaths of office Wednesday, Seattleites greeted the transfer of power with quiet celebrations — and some exhalations of relief.
Unlike in November, when Biden’s win over then-President Donald Trump was declared, there were no reports of spontaneous celebrations breaking out in 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, one march through downtown Seattle on Wednesday evening, by anti-fascist demonstrators who are critical of both Trump and Biden, resulted in shattered windows and arrests.
Gatherings were dampened by the COVID-19 pandemic, lingering security worries after the storming of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of Trump, and perhaps a touch of exhaustion after the past four years of seemingly unending conflict and chaos.
In Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood, a small group of masked bicycle riders gathered to watch the inauguration ceremony on a projector screen set up in the back of a moving van parked in an alley.
“I don’t know that I was overwhelmed with emotion. I was just relieved. We are turning the page,” said organizer Doc Wilson, executive director of Peace Peloton, a nonprofit group that supports Black-owned businesses through organized bicycle rides and other events.
As Biden and Harris were sworn in, people hugged and celebrated. Wilson said “we have a realistic expectation” about the scale of change the new administration can make, given the more than 70 million people who voted to keep Trump in office.
“But any glimmer of hope and fresh air was welcome,” said Wilson, who after the inauguration viewing led about 50 cyclists on a meandering ride from the Pioneer Square site near a bicycle repair shop to a Black-owned restaurant in the Central District.
Microsoft employee La Shanda Hurst said she felt emotional as she watched the inauguration. She was excited to see Barack Obama’s swearing in as the first Black president in 2009 and 2013, but “this one was even deeper than that,” she said. “The first woman V.P. The first culturally diverse woman, and then also add the layer that she is a lady of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated and graduated from an HBCU.”
Like Harris, Hurst is a member of the predominantly Black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. and graduated from a historically Black university. Harris graduated from D.C.’s Howard University and Hurst from Louisiana’s Grambling State University. She sees a Biden-Harris administration as one that will work toward change.
“Joe Biden brings hope. Together, they signify a whole new day.”
Throughout the day, Hurst communicated through text threads with sorority sisters around the world. She even added a pink and green frame — AKA’s colors — to her Facebook and Twitter profile photos to recognize the significance of Inauguration Day. “Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. Congratulates Madame Vice President,” read her Facebook frame.
For Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, the day offered “a sigh of relief.”
“We have lived through one of the most divisive times as a country,” Durkan said in a statement. “It culminated in a raging insurrection led, astonishingly, by our commander-in-chief, who chose himself over his country, and our constitution.
“As we turn the page on this presidency, we must remember that before we can have reconciliation, we must have truth and accountability for these actions,” Durkan said.
Seattle, dubbed an “anarchist jurisdiction” by the Trump administration, had faced threats of losing federal dollars for tolerating occupations and vandalism during protests. But with Biden in charge, Durkan hailed the “hopeful implications” of a federal partner who would work “to restore our communities and ensure that America is working for everyone.”
Some in Washington state’s congressional delegation were on hand in Washington D.C. to hear Biden’s speech calling for national unity. Democrats hailed the address as a harbinger of better days ahead. Republicans criticized his early announcements of executive orders.
“I felt like every part of the ceremony really fit in with this idea of unity, of moving forward, and it makes me really hopeful,” said U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, in a phone interview. She was seated near the inaugural stage as part of the small crowd allowed inside the heavily fortified zone guarded by 25,000 National Guard members.
DelBene said it was especially heartening to witness Harris being sworn in as the first woman vice president. “It’s so magical to see, and long time coming,” she said.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, could not attend the inauguration because she has been isolating after contracting COVID-19. In a statement, Jayapal welcomed Biden and said she was “deeply proud” of Harris as “the first woman, first South Asian American and first Black woman to ever hold this position of public trust.”
“This is a truly meaningful moment in history for our country, including for so many women, people of color and immigrants,” Jayapal said.
U.S. Rep. 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 have the U.S. rejoin the Paris climate agreement and cancel the Keystone XL pipeline.
“There couldn’t be a worse time to double down on these executive orders as our economy recovers from the COVID-19 crisis,” said McMorris Rodgers, who joined in a failed lawsuit seeking to overturn swing-state election results and was the sole member of Washington’s delegation to vote against impeaching Trump.
Gov. Jay Inslee welcomed Biden’s climate agenda, which was influenced by Inslee’s own policy agenda laid out in his unsuccessful presidential run.
“We are getting calls from friends in Canada saying they are glad that America is back. So are we. Particularly when it comes to climate change,” Inslee tweeted Wednesday.
In downtown Seattle on Wednesday evening, Biden’s first day in office was met with protest from anti-fascist marchers who have demonstrated for months. A group of about 100 people, mostly dressed in black, marched and called for the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In chants, they decried both Trump and Biden.
Outside ICE offices on Second Avenue at Spring Street, several in the crowd lit fire to an American flag. Some smashed windows at an AmazonGo store and the Pike Place Market Starbucks. Seattle police made at least two arrests as of 7:30 p.m.
As the group gathered at Occidental Square, one protester said watching Biden call for unity during his inauguration felt like an insult to those harmed by racism, xenophobia and homophobia.
“Calling for unity with people who actively want to harm people is disgusting,” said the protester, who gave the name Anna.
In Olympia, despite fears of attacks or occupations of state capitols, all was quiet on Wednesday as state lawmakers continued their mostly virtual legislative session.
While the state Capitol remained ringed by a security perimeter of chain link fence, there were no big protests as the day wore on. And there was a notable absence of Washington National Guard members on sentry duty as they have been in recent days.
Up to 600 Washington National Guard personnel, as well as hundreds of Washington State Patrol troopers drawn from across the state, have been on duty since Jan. 6, when the U.S. Capitol was stormed. On the same day in Olympia, dozens of people, some armed, made their way past a security gate to trespass on the grounds of the governor’s mansion in a half-hour protest.
The cost of the security buildup has been considerable, totaling more than $1.6 million just for the State Patrol, not including additional yet-to-be disclosed costs for National Guard personnel who are lodged in hotels. Karina Shagren, spokesperson for the Washington Military Department, said she expected the National Guard’s costs to be higher than the State Patrol’s.
In the days ahead, the security forces in Olympia are expected to be gradually drawn down. But that timetable — and how large the reductions should be — remain under discussion, according to Chris Loftis, a spokesperson for the State Patrol.
Also uncertain is the long-term approach to security at the Capitol campus amid heightened concerns about the potential for acts of violence.
“What that new page looks like as far security posture, profile, equipment, mobilization that would be needed going forward for a new environment of security concerns is yet to be determined,” Loftis said.
This week, some leadership in far-right groups, including the Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys, have counseled staying away from state capitols amid security build-ups in the aftermath of the storming of the U.S. Capitol.
“People feel like they are going to get set up,” said Joey Gibson, founder of Patriot Prayer, on Tuesday as he joined with a few dozen people who attend a rally to protest COVID-19 restrictions in Napavine, Lewis County.
The Napavine rally mainly drew local residents who were focused on grievances by city planning commission members who have been unable to meet in the town hall due to the mayor’s decision to keep it closed.
Staff writers Melissa Hellmann and Heidi Groover contributed to this report.