Thousands watch Obama at SF Civic Center

January 20, 2009 1:14:32 PM PST
An orderly yet jubilant crowd filled San Francisco's Civic Center Plaza Tuesday morning to cheer for Barack Obama and watch on a large projection screen as he was sworn in as the 44th president of the U.S.

NextArts, the cultural organization that sponsored the free event, predicted crowds of up to 8,000. Tony Imperial, NextArts' director, had counted roughly 3,000 by 8 a.m. By the time Obama took the stage, staffers were too busy to conduct rough counts, but the crowd filled the plaza and spilled into the areas on either side.

"It doesn't get any better than this," Imperial said, watching the people packed tightly against the barrier in front of the screen.

When Chief Justice John Roberts swore in Obama, the crowd erupted into cheers, shouts, chants and spontaneous hugging.

The crowd remained largely quiet during Obama's speech, but his repeated references to hard work in the face of great challenges drew hearty cheers, as did mentions of clean energy technologies and plans to "restore science to its rightful place." The crowd included plenty of folding chairs, strollers and vendors hawking T-shirts and buttons. Police stationed at the event said they did not know of any major problems, although a few kids did try to climb the trees lining the plaza to pass the time.

Some viewers wore business attire, but other wore beads, flags and festive hats usually seen on New Year's Eve or Fourth of July.

Rebecca Rae, 35, who lives in the Nob Hill neighborhood, sported a black tutu, Obama T-shirt, black feather boa and oversized sunglasses.

She decided to attend at the last minute, she said. "I woke up early at 5:30 and I realized it must be for a reason."

Rae said her favorite moment of the simulcast was the crowd's response to live footage of boxes being removed from the White House. "When everyone saw the moving vans loading up stuff, the crowd just went wild," she said.

Ron Dyous lives in New Jersey but flew to San Francisco on Monday so he could be with his son and daughter, who live in Hayward, for the inauguration.

His daughter Lovi, 3, had to take a brief nap on a bench, sitting in the lap of her brother Kimani, 16. Some hot chocolate also helped restore her goodwill, Dyous said.

"It's important for me to do this with them," he said. Dyous and his family arrived at 6 a.m. to obtain a coveted spot in the first row of viewers.

"I believe in the sincerity in his voice and I believe every word he said," Dyous said after Obama's speech.

Like many attendees, Aurora Wood, 32, said she wishes she could be in Washington, D.C., "but this is the next best thing."

The Stanford graduate stood huddled with a friend, eating scrambled eggs out of a Tupperware container she brought from home.

"I love the poetry of waking up to a new era and watching the sun rise over San Francisco," Wood said.

The crowd cheered as Obama, his wife Michelle Obama, Vice President-elect Joe Biden and other dignitaries arrived at the ceremony in Washington this morning. Singer Aretha Franklin and cellist Yo-Yo Ma received loud cheers, as did the announcement that outgoing President Bush's term had technically ended at noon EST, even before Obama took his oath.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein was a frequent sight up on the big screen, her face larger than life in front of the San Francisco City Hall where she once served as mayor.

Attendees started dispersing shortly after Obama's speech concluded. Patricia Liu, one of NextArts' head volunteers, said they collected more than 20 bags of socks and underwear, the donation requested of all those who came to the free event. The group booked the plaza back in June, on a hunch that Obama would win and the public would want to mark the event as a community.