Distant but devoted, Biden supporters gear up for virtual inauguration

Then-candidate Joe Biden during a2019 campaign stop. Biden will be sworn in as president Wednesday in a largely virtual event, as organizers grapple with COVID-19 safety protocols and heightened security after a mob stormed the Capitol in a deadly attack two weeks ago. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)

New Jersey National Guard soldiers and airmen set up security positions near the Capitol last week. As many as 25,000 guard members were expected in Washington for Wednesday’s inauguration as the city was put under tight security amid fears of armed protests. (Photo by Master Sgt. Matt Hecht/U.S. Air Natinoal Guard)

WASHINGTON – In any other year, Ak-Chin Chairman Robert Miguel would have headed to Washington to be part of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

But Miguel will instead be watching the swearing-in from home, one of the thousands who would normally have flooded Washington this week but were told to stay home because of COVID-19 and the security concerns following the deadly Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol.

“I wish I could have been there, I got invited, definitely,” Miguel said Tuesday. “But again, through the travel restrictions and the COVID at a high, especially here in Arizona, we felt the best way for me to participate was through virtual video and what not.”

After a year filled with virtual conventions, virtual schooling and even virtual legislating, Arizonans like Miguel are taking the largely virtual inauguration ceremonies in stride. They are planning watch parties and contributing video for the days of online events and concerts that celebrate the inauguration.

Miguel recorded a statement the campaign used for its day of service Monday to mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day, while singers from the Fort Yuma-Quechan tribe took part in a welcome video on Saturday.

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Other groups in Arizona will be hosting watch parties. Members of Aliento, an Arizona immigrant advocacy group, had watched the debates and the elections online this fall, so watching the inauguration online seemed natural to some youth members.

“They asked us, ‘Hey are you doing a watch party?'” said Jose Patiño, Aliento’s director of education and external affairs.

“And we were like we weren’t planning on it, but we probably should, so then we decided to do one,” Patiño said. “Our whole goal is to provide a space for them to kind of process what is being said.”

The inauguration will be broadcast from a city that is under a security lockdown, amid FBI reports that right-wing supporters of President Donald Trump were threatening armed marches on the day of the inauguration, in D.C. and in state capitals across the country.

In the face of those threats, officials have fenced off the entire National Mall where crowds usually assemble for inaugurations. An estimated 25,000 National Guard troops, including soem from Arizona, have been deployed to Washington, manning checkpoints on closed streets blocks from the Capitol and the White House.

So far, those threats have not materialized. But the mere presence of the “vastly increased security” was enough to deter Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, from attending in person.

“Congresswoman Lesko will not be attending the inauguration due to vastly increased security and subsequent difficulty traveling throughout Washington, D.C.,” a Lesko spokeswoman said in an email Tuesday. “She looks forward to working with the Biden-Harris administration for the good of all Arizonans and Americans.”

Other members of the state’s congressional delegation are split, with some saying they plan to attend and others planning to watch from home. Gov. Doug Ducey, who had been a stalwart Trump supporter, announced last week that he intended to be in Washington to witness Biden’s swearing-in in person.

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“In America, we believe in the peaceful transition of power,” said Ducey, whose statement noted that he was honored to attend Trump’s 2017 inauguration. “It doesn’t matter who you supported in the election – once the election is over, we put country before party.”

Others who will not be in Washington were no less enthusiastic.

Miguel said he “was really happy that I was able to participate in one way, shape or form to celebrate this prestigious and great event.”

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Tucson, said she will be watching from home, and she encouraged others to do the same.

“Although I will not be traveling to Washington, D.C., to witness this moment in-person … I will join millions of Americans in celebrating the beginning of this new administration by taking part in some of the many great virtual events planned for this week,” Kirkpatrick said in an emailed statement Tuesday.

Despite the heightened security and the pandemic in this year that “has brought tremendous hurdles and challenges, it has also brought me hope and strength,” an optimistic Kirkpatrick said in her statement. The new administration will “work to unite our country” and she noted that Harris will be the first female vice president – facts that she said cannot be diminished by a virtual celebration.

“These moments will be uniting and refreshing, and little girls across the country will point to TV screens and smile as they finally see themselves in a powerful, poised American leader,” Kirkpatrick said.

Sarah Oven Se-ra Oh-ven (she/her/hers)
News Broadcast Producer, Phoenix

Sarah Oven expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’ degree in journalism. Oven, who has interned with The Arizona Republic and The Cronkite Journal, is working for the Phoenix news bureau.

Molly Hudson Mohl-lee Hud-son (she/her)
News Broadcast Reporter, Phoenix

Molly Hudson expects to graduate in May 2022 with a master’s degree in mass communication. Hudson, who has interned with NBC’s Dateline, The Arizona Republic and KTAR radio, is working in the Phoenix News Bureau.