Anger flares as ticket holders are turned away from parade

Angry Democrats lashed out Monday when they were denied entrance into President Obama's inaugural parade despite holding $44 tickets.

Dozens of ticket-holders were turned away from the parade's bleacher seats near the White House after Secret Service officials were told to lock all the gates at around 2:45 p.m. – roughly 35 minutes before the presidential motorcade left the Capitol en route to the White House.

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There are conflicting accounts as to why that decision was made – some agents said the bleachers were full, others said it was simply a security matter – but the response from those affected was one of universal exasperation.

"I'm really ashamed of the United States treating people this way," said Dr. Jomarie Alano, 64, a history professor at Wells College who made the almost-400-mile trek from Auburn, N.Y., with her 13-year-old daughter. "The president said we were all equal; I was not treated equally today. I was treated like I was just some thing in the crowd that wasn't important."

Latonya McGowan, 47, a Washington-area native who works for the federal government and volunteered for the inauguration, was also vexed.

"That was ridiculous," she said, walking down H Street away from the parade with her daughter and holding two useless $44 tickets in her hand.

Alano, McGowan and a number of others who missed the parade said the combination of slow-moving crowds and Metro closings made the trip between Obama's swearing-in on the National Mall to the parade entrances specified on their tickets simply unmanageable in the allotted time.

McGowan said she and her daughter stopped at a Starbucks for a 20-minute bathroom break and continued straight to Lafayette Park. They were too late.

"We left right after Beyonce sang," she said. "We got here and they said we can't get in."

Alano echoed that complaint, saying she spoke at the gate with an official of the Presidential Inauguration Committee (PIC) who told her "something to the effect of, 'You should have known not to go to both events.'

"So the only way I could come to the parade is to skip hearing the president, which I thought was the most important part," she said. "But they made it physically impossible to get … here in the [given] amount of time. … We could not have come any faster."

Alma Lee, 75, of Roanoke, Va., voiced another common complaint coming from denied ticket-holders: While the tickets warned "seating not guaranteed" and "early arrival recommended," they did not say what time the gates would close.

"Nobody knew it. These tickets don't have a time on them on anything," said Lee. "They should have announced it at the swearing in."

Asked how she felt, Lee didn't hesitate. "Mad," she said. "I won't say that other word."

Another woman who was turned away was not so reserved.

"I'm pissed," said the ticket-holder, who did not want to be identified.

A Secret Service agent at the 15th Street gate said the PIC staff "told us it's full" and ordered the gates shut around 2:45 p.m.

But another agent had a different story for McGowan. "I asked them if it was full and they said, 'No, it has to do with security,'" she said.

The first vehicle to leave the Capitol on the parade route did so at 3:21 p.m., according to the White House pool report.

Marquita Sanders, PIC's director of volunteer operations, was summoned by the Secret Service to speak to Alano and other disgruntled Democrats at the 15th Street gate.

When the ticket-holders pleaded to be let in, Sanders said it's "not something that I can accomplish."

"This is a national security event, so there are limitations," she said.

Officially, parade ticket holders were the only people allowed into the ticketed areas from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Monday, according to the PIC. Inauguration organizers advised people with tickets to go through security and make it to the ticketed viewing area before 1 p.m., after which their seats were not guaranteed.

Some ticket-holders who arrived too late to see the parade were resigned to their fate outside the gates.

"Capitol Hill to here by 2:45? There's no way," said one woman after being turned away. "But what can you do?"

Alano was not so passive.

"He [Obama] said in his speech that we're all important," she said. "But we're learning today that we're not all important."

Jordy Yager contributed.