All eyes are on D.C. today, as Barack Obama’s inauguration culminates a four-day spree of pop-culture and politics.
Though a few pundits may gripe about the media saturation, the phrase “this historic moment” may be overused right now but is indisputably accurate. This is a life-changing day, and the mood here in D.C. is unlike anything anyone has experienced.
There is a logjam of people, turning even the most mundane task — like traveling a few blocks by public transportation — into a major hurdle. But people are surprisingly good-natured.
After eight years of a Bush administration, after a series of traumas to the global economy, people are ready for a change, and today is the day.
To underline the feeling of goodwill in the nation’s capital, D.C. has astonishingly welcomed Hollywood stars with open arms.
This week, the celeb presence in Washington carried a message — one that came as a surprise to some capital veterans. Some of the stars came not just for the show but to make a statement about public service.
Congressional staffers and other aides are all too familiar with celebrities who turn up at hearings to lobby for a cause, never to be seen again.
But the past weekend has brought a parade of showbiz figures eager to prove their agenda is more substantive than red-carpet revelry.
By making commitments to public service and various causes or in championing the arts, entertainment personalities are seeking ways to channel their energies after so many campaigned or raised money for Obama.
It remains to be seen how long such commitment will continue, but throughout Monday, stars were out in force.
Musicians participated in panels discussing the influence of their work on the political culture. Others, like Usher, were planning to help beautify a local elementary school. The Declare Yourself fete late Sunday drew John Legend and Lindsay Lohan, and Norman Lear spoke about his next project, “Born Again American,” promoting public service.
Before a crowd of hundreds of activists, educators and politicos at a D.C. high school, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher unveiled a Web video directed by Moore called “The Presidential Pledge,” in which an array of celebrities make service commitments ranging from using fewer plastic bottles to, as Kutcher stated, “always representing my country with pride and dignity.” The video, which also debuted on MySpace on Monday, also features Laura Linney, Cameron Diaz and Jason Bateman.
One purpose of the vid is to tap into the extensive involvement of entertainment figures in Obama’s candidacy, Moore said. During the campaign, Moore noted, “This energy and this desire was out there.”
In lining up celebrities, “We were greeted by a chorus of courage,” Kutcher said to the breakfast audience, “because when you make a pledge, you are making a promise. You are holding yourselves accountable.”
While some skeptics may have doubts about the level of commitment, Hollywood types have found a receptive audience.
At the same high school event, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) delivered a moving tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., drawing a standing ovation. Following him in the lineup of speakers, Tobey Maguire took the stage and, for a few moments, choked back tears.
“Wow, that was amazing,” he said to the breakfast audience. “I didn’t realize this was such an emotional morning.”
Maguire was enlisted by ServiceNation — which sponsored the high school event along with groups such as Entertainment Industry Foundation — to lead a council of celebrity ambassadors, and the “Spider-Man” star said he had lined up Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen DeGeneres, Salma Hayek and Robert Downey Jr.
“In this moment, I am kind of caught up in trying to commit to service on a deeper level,” Maguire said.
Obama’s most visible use of entertainment figures is expected to come via invites to musicians, signaling a greater commitment to the arts. But others in entertainment are calling for more funding for the arts. Quincy Jones has suggested that Obama even appoint a secretary of the arts, and an online petition has drawn more than 60,000 signatures.
The impact of music on the political process was highlighted in a panel at Howard U., part of Pepsi’s “Refresh the World” symposium. A group of hip-hop stars talked about how their music, with its worldwide, cross-cultural reach, paved the way for Obama’s candidacy.
“I think it is very important to give us some credit,” said Sean Combs, who was joined by Queen Latifah and Ludacris, among others. “I think we are at least partially responsible for what is going on tomorrow.”
Noting the day’s theme of service, he added, “We have stepped up and will continue to step up.”
“We are trendsetters. Everyone on this stage is a trendsetter,” Latifah said, “but because we are trendsetters, we have an opportunity to be heard.”