- At a time of unprecedented crisis and deep divisions, ‘America United,’ the theme of the Inauguration reflects the beginning of a new national journey, he says.
On January 20, President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Devi Harris will take their oaths of office, making Biden the 46th President of the United States of America. Silicon Valley-based Indian American entrepreneur Ajay Jain Bhutoria, who was among those that focused on ensuring that 1.3 million Indian American votes in the swing states were delivered for Biden, will be serving as vice chair of the Presidential Inauguration Committee (PIC), shouldering this huge responsibility.
Bhutoria, who serves on the National Finance Committee of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), told American Kahani that this inauguration would be different from previous years. With the recent attack on the Capitol by an irate pro-Trump mob, and possible threats of violence before the inauguration, law enforcement would be taking no chances. And with a raging pandemic, the inauguration will be marked by a week-long mix of virtual and in-person events.
According to Bhutoria, in a typical year, Congress would receive more than 200,000 tickets to distribute among its constituents, and non-ticketed folks would be encouraged to watch the events from the National Mall. But there’s nothing typical with this inauguration. With this year’s security and health restrictions in place, Bhutoria points out that the inauguration will be reserved to members of Congress and their plus one.
Bhutoria says he’s unclear exactly on how many people are expected to arrive in the nation’s capital, despite warnings to stay home, but the number will be nowhere near previous crowd sizes, “although they would be appropriately masked and socially distanced.” He does add that there will be a small number of Biden campaigners and supporters that will also be present among the members of Congress.
Barack Obama’s historical inaugural events drew more than 1 million attendees and Donald Trump’s 2017 inauguration drew upwards of 300,000 people.
With “America United” as the theme of the inauguration, Bhutoria says, “At a time of unprecedented crisis and deep divisions, ‘America United’ reflects the beginning of a new national journey that will restore the soul of America, and give fruition to Biden’s plans of bringing the country together, and creating a path to a brighter future.”
With media reports of “Amtrak Joe” planning to arrive in D.C. ahead of Inauguration Day by a train from Wilmington, Delaware, Bhutoria says unfortunately, Biden would not be doing that in light of recent events.
Bhutoria adds that the inauguration would be a moment of hope amidst the challenges of 2020 – with 370,000 Americans losing their lives from COVID-19, and millions more suffering from the economic chaos as a result of the pandemic and the violence and political divisiveness that has marked a majority of the past year. According to him, “This inauguration will be a transition point in the history of America, where America will look toward a new chapter in the lives of Americans.”
The event will kick off Monday, Jan. 18, as a National Day of Service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday with groups all over the country taking part in activities like feeding the hungry, mental health events etc.
Field of Flags
Next, at a time when Americans cannot gather together in person for the inauguration, Bhutoria says that the PIC will install an extensive public art display on the National Mall that will include approximately 191,500 U.S. flags of varying sizes, including flags representing every state and territory, and 56 pillars of light. This “Field of Flags,” which will cover the NationalMall up to 13th Street, will represent the American people who are unable to travel to Washington, D.C., and reflect PIC’s commitment to an inclusive event that everyone can enjoy from the safety of their homes.
According to Bhutoria, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies will also host a memorial to honor Americans lost to COVID-19 on Jan. 19, at 5:30 p.m. The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool will be lit, the PIC is encouraging cities and towns across the U.S. to illuminate their buildings and ring church bells during the memorial.
As for the piece de resistance – Bhutoria says “Biden will be sworn in on steps in front of the west side of the Capitol building, despite the insurrection and it being attacked there last week.” He added, “Biden will take his oath on the West front of the White House, continuing a tradition started by former President Reagan,” surrounded by National Guard troops, a grim reminder of the violence last week. The theme for the swearing-in is “Our Determined Democracy: Forging a More Perfect Union,” a reference to the Preamble to the United States Constitution. The event will be televised and streamed live on the committee’s website, YouTube, and Twitch.
Following the swearing-in ceremony, Biden and Harris, along with First Lady Jill Biden and First Gentleman Doug Emhoff, will do a socially-distant ‘Pass in Review’ on the east front of the Capitol. The historic tradition involves a procession of every branch of the military to represent a peaceful transfer of power to the new commander-in-chief. Biden and Harris will then head to a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Barack and Michelle Obama, George W. and Laura Bush, and Bill and Hillary Clinton will attend the event, to mark one of Biden’s first acts as commander-in-chief.
Forgoing the traditional inaugural parade, Bhutoria says the military will provide a presidential escort along 15th Street to the White House. A statement by PIC said that the event will provide “the American people and world with historic images of the President-elect proceeding to the White House without attracting large crowds and gatherings.” Bhutoria added that “a unique ‘Virtual Parade Across America’ will be televised to highlight the diversity and culture of America.
Bhutoria says he has reached out to Indian groups to come up with an Indo-American dance to be showcased during the virtual parade. Biden’s inaugural committee is producing a television special for the night of his inauguration next week in lieu of the normal in-person festivities, Bhutoria said. The prime-time event will air on ABC, CBS and NBC, but not on the Trump-favoring Fox. Cable news networks CNN and MSNBC will carry it live as well.
According to Bhutoria, the 90-minute program, hosted by Hollywood icon Tom Hanks will begin at 8:30 p.m.,and include live performances by Demi Lovato, Justin Timberlake, Jon Bon Jovi among other. “Besides the celebrities, the program, dubbed ‘Celebrating America,’ will spotlight American heroes – frontline workers, doctors, nurses etc., who labored selflessly during the pandemic,” Bhutoria says. The ‘Celebrating America’ special will also include a mix of pre-taped and live appearances from around the country with notable celebrities. “The TV special is modeled in part on the virtual Democratic National Convention this past summer,” adds Bhutoria.
The televised special is the latest instance of the pandemic upending life as we know it and disrupting traditional inauguration festivities. There will be no in-person concerts as there were before Barack Obama and Donald Trump were sworn in. Nor will there be the usual plethora of inaugural balls flooded with tuxedoed and ball gown wearing donors, politicians, and lobbyists rubbing shoulders and making nice. And as the nation and the world gear up to witness the inauguration of a Biden-Harris term, the question foremost on most minds, next week, is whether a despondent Donald Trump will deign to grace the occasion.
Anu Ghosh immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1999. Back in India she was a journalist for the Times of India in Pune for 8 years and a graduate from the Symbiosis Institute of Journalism and Communication. In the U.S., she obtained her Masters and PhD. in Communications from The Ohio State University. Go Buckeyes! She has been involved in education for the last 15 years, as a professor at Oglethorpe University and then Georgia State University. She currently teaches Special Education at Oak Grove Elementary. She is also a mom to two precocious girls ages 11 and 6.