Behind the Scenes: Peace Corps Community at the Inaugural Parade
By Erica Burman on Thursday, January 22nd, 2009
Back in November when the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Washington DC (RPCVW) submitted an application for the Peace Corps Community to participate in the Inaugural Parade, I don’t think anyone anticipated all that would be involved.
The application itself was daunting, and once we got word that we had been accepted, we had one week to submit 200 names, social security numbers, place and dates of birth, etc. for the marchers–and one week to submit still more forms (information for the parade script and media guide, Weapons Security Certificiation Form, Equestrian Element information….) to the “PIC” or Presidential Inaugural Committee.
Meanwhile, RPCVW inaugural task force volunteers were busy securing a source for the flags (Peace Corps headquarters kindly lent us theirs) and a means for their transport, working with a designer on the banner (design services also kindly donated), ordering commemorative polarfleece scarves embroidered with the Peace Corps logo so that there would be a common element to our motley crew, and arranging for 4 buses to transport us to the Pentagon.
Originally we had envisioned that in true Peace Corps fashion we would all just show up on the Metro. But no, these are post-9/11 days, and all parade “elements” were required to secure buses for the day. Not an easy task, given that millions of people were expected to descend on Washington for the swearing in and buses in short supply. In the end we scored buses, but at the not insubstantial cost of $10,000.
Marchers were told to assemble in front of the Pentagon City mall by 7:15 a.m. Many were anxious that they wouldn’t be able to arrive by car, taxi or Metro because of travel restrictions and made elaborate plans to ensure they’d be on time (your correspondent slept in the NPCA offices). But just about everyone made it. Once on the buses, RPCVW “bus captains” distributed special parade IDs and contact phone numbers should a marcher get lost or have to drop out of the parade midway. We drove a few short blocks to the Pentagon parking lot for our airport-style security screening and distribution of boxed breakfast and lunch. Everyone and everything had to come off of the buses and we mingled with Inuit dancers, marching band members and Marines in dress uniform. Back on the bus there was more waiting, but it also provided a time to get to know our fellow marchers, who represented all eras of Peace Corps service.
Excitement built as we drove across the Memorial Bridge to the Ellipse staging area in front of the White House. It was our first glimpse of the crowds that had gathered. Amazing. People as far as the eye could see, pressed close, straining against the temporary fences. Some waved when they saw the “Peace Corps” sign in the window of the bus.
We unloaded the flags, sorted and assigned them, and went into a large warming tent where we could watch–or at least hear–the swearing in. Our military escort gave us the 15-minute warning and we started to assemble. Getting Peace Corps people to stand in even rows of nine, with flags in rough alphabetical order…. Well, it was a little like herding cats. But we did it. In the most prominent position–front row, left side–were the flags of Kenya and Indonesia.
There were cheers from our group as finally we got underway. We were quite a dramatic sight–the colorful flags whipping high in the wind, with many RPCVs wearing mementos of their Peace Corps countries. There were fabulous fur hats (revenge of the Eastern Europe/Russia/”stan” volunteers), beaded shell necklaces, flag pins, leg rattles….and even someone wearing a sari (brrr!). We crept along Constitution Avenue….and then were stalled (due, we later learned, to Sen. Kennedy’s collapse). So we waited. And waited. The temperature dropped. Soon even those chemical hand warmers weren’t doing much good. We stamped our feet. We watched the band members in front of us try in vain to stay warm (three were taken away for hypothermia).
Finally RPCVW Parade Task Force Organizer Extraordinaire, Corey Taylor, called for a huddle. Everyone pressed in close, “March of the Penguins”-style. And it actually worked! Everyone felt a little warmer.
For a full album of Parade photos, click here.