Inaugural security: Leave chairs, tents, strollers at home
WASHINGTON -- No strollers near the Capitol. No tents on the National Mall. None of that Silly String on the parade route.
That's just a sample of the items forbidden from President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration for security reasons. And while many people say the inconvenience is a small price to pay to witness the swearing-in of the nation's first black president, others are scratching their heads, trying to figure out how they will sit, snack, carry diapers or transport tired tots.
Some older people are backing out of their inaugural plans, partly because of a no-chair rule for the parade route. Parenting blogs are abuzz with complaints about the less-than-child-friendly restrictions. Coolers, Thermoses and backpacks are out at both the Capitol and the parade route.
"Of course, they're not going to say, 'no children,'" said Sunny Chanel, a San Francisco-based contributor to Babble.com, a parenting website. "But they're definitely not making it easy for parents with smaller children to go."
The tightest rules are reserved for the lucky 240,000 ticket-holders, who get to sit closest to the Jan. 20 swearing-in ceremony on the West Front of the Capitol. There are understandable prohibitions on weapons and pepper spray. But you also can't carry an umbrella. And don't think about holding up any "Yes We Did" signs -- posters also are not allowed.
It could get tricky as people congregate along the parade route, where many items allowed on the Mall will be off-limits. That list includes bicycles, backpacks, aerosols (which could include Silly String), coolers, thermal containers and chairs.
Signs or placards can be brought to the parade -- but only if they're made of cardboard, poster board or cloth and are not more than 3 feet by 20 feet.
Antron Johnson, who's organizing an inauguration trip with three busloads of Obama supporters from Atlanta and Savannah, Ga., said he's had about a dozen people, mostly elderly, who dropped out after learning about the parade's no-chair policy.
Additionally, Johnson said seven people, including families with young children, recently backed out -- losing their deposits -- because they're afraid they won't be able to maneuver in big crowds. Turnout estimates vary widely, with Mayor Adrian M. Fenty saying 2.5 million to 3 million people are a possibility and the National Park Service planning for at least 1 million.
Johnson said some people are worried about packed Metro trains now that officials are sounding warnings. Metro has said its bathrooms will be closed for security reasons. The option left for parents wanting to change stinky diapers? Hundreds of portable toilets the transit system and park officials are providing downtown.
"It's truly scaring people," Johnson said. "The news is becoming more and more bleak."
The rules aren't so strict on the National Mall, where most people will end up because tickets aren't required. Officials have said everyone will be checked, but they haven't said what that will entail.
People won't be able to see much, except what's on Jumbotrons, but they can bring all sorts of stuff. Besides the obvious no-nos -- firearms, explosives, fireworks -- the only bans are on alcohol, tents and glass bottles.
"The more you bring, the more difficult it's going to make your movement," said Sgt. Robert LaChance, a spokesman for the U.S. Park Police, which patrols the Mall.
Authorities say expect to go through some type of security screening. If you have an item prohibited for a certain area, they will confiscate it. When asked if specific items such as canes, walkers, lighters, matches and diaper bags would be prohibited from the parade route and the Capitol, authorities said they didn't know yet.
On the Net:
Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies: http://inaugural.senate.gov/2009/planyourtrip.cfm?utm
U.S. Secret Service: http://www.secretservice.gov/presidential--inaugural.shtml
U.S. Park Police: http://www.nps.gov/uspp/