Saturday, January 10, 2009

Barack Obama inauguration to be a 'Neighbourhood Ball' with free invitations -

One way or another, it will be a night to remember. But if Barack Obama has his way, the evening of Jan 20, his inauguration day, will be recalled as an egalitarian festival where his ordinary supporters hogged the limelight from the great, the good and the glamorous.

It is traditionally a night where the elite put on their glad rags and hit the town, parading at glitzy official inaugural balls.

This year however the premiere event will be a "Neighbourhood Ball", where hundreds of Washington residents, many from poor, black parts of the city, as well as "grassroots" followers of the president-elect will be invited for free among a crowd that will be several thousand strong.

Other tickets will go for as little as $25, compared to the average $250 for more exclusive affairs.

President-Elect Barack Obama - Barack Obama inauguration to be a 'Neighbourhood Ball' with free invitations
Barack Obama is planning an inauguration night to remember Photo: AP

Dozens of small, cheaper events with beer and wine rather than cocktails and spirits, are being organised to honour the first black president.

"This is an inauguration for all Americans," said Mr Obama. "I wanted to make sure that we had an event that would be open to our new neighbourhood here in Washington DC, and also neighbourhoods across the country."

A spokesman for his transition team added: "With tickets available free or at an affordable price, it is the first official inaugural ball of its kind." The validity of Mr Obama's claim that big money will not hold its normal sway over the inauguration has however been called into question.

His transition team has trumpeted its limit on individual inaugural contributions to $50,000 and a ban on lobbyists, corporations, political action committees and trade unions from contributing at all.

Writing a big cheque for the inauguration, which is privately funded, has long been seen as a way of inveigling your way into the good books of a new administration, and Mr Obama has ordered that the names of all donors sending more than $200 online be placed online.

But Mr Obama's desire that America can for a night at least be a classless society will be hard to satisfy.

With the final bill for the swearing-in ceremony, parade and parties estimated at $45 million, $24.8 million has been raised so far.

Of that, $21.6 million has come from big spenders, rather than the small donors the Obama camp likes to boast about.

The new restrictions haven't prevented Many Wall Street and Silicon Valley executives from contributing the maximum $50,000, or from "bundling" donations from friends and family to the maximum of $300,000.

George Soros, Steven Spielberg, Halle Berry and Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records, are among the high profile donors.

Public Citizen, a watchdog group on political financing, found that of the 189 large "bundlers", 103 had also donated heavily to Mr Obama's election campaign.

"It's the same well-connected big-money people who are now funding the inauguration," said Craig Holman, from Public Citizen. "What they get is a chance to influence policy or get government contracts." The Obama team denies there will ever be any quid pro quo.

Any rancour will however be forgotten on the night, when Mr Obama and his wife Michelle will bestow the honour of their first dance at the Neighbourhood Ball, which in keeping with his revolutionary use of the internet during the election campaign, will be broadcast to living rooms and community centres across the country. Supporters will be able to text-message the president.

It will also be hard to keep a good celebrity down. There will be a star-studded Creative Coalition ball – an unofficial event where Sting and Elvis Costello will perform and where the guests will include Anne Hathaway, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins and Spike Lee.

Bruce Springsteen and William are meanwhile among the rumoured performers for the Neighbourhood Ball or another official event. Oprah Winfrey is moving her afternoon TV show to the national Kennedy arts centre for the week.
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