In the wake of last week’s violent siege of the U.S. Capitol — and as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the United States — officials are urging Americans to forego traveling to Washington, D.C. for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ inauguration.
The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies announced in December that it would not offer tickets to this year’s inauguration. And with the National Mall officially closing for security precautions, those who still hoped to get a glimpse of the incoming administration on Jan. 20 will be kept at arm's length. There will be no in-person concerts at Wednesday’s inauguration, as there were at those of President Donald Trump and Barack Obama in years past.
Fortunately, the Presidential Inaugural Committee has plenty of virtual events planned in the lead-up to next week’s official transfer of presidential power. The events will start over the weekend, culminating in the star-studded “Celebrating America” program hosted by Tom Hanks on the evening of Jan. 20. The theme of the week as a whole is “America United.”
“At a time of unprecedented crisis & deep divisions, America United reflects the start of a new journey to restore the soul of America, bring the country together, and create a path to a brighter future,” the committee wrote in a statement announcing the week’s theme.
Several events have already been announced, with more to come in the following days.
From pre-inauguration parades to post-inauguration performances, here’s a list of ways you can participate from the comfort of your own home:
All Day: In order to honor the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Presidential Inaugural Committee will host a day of service on Monday, Jan. 18. Entitled “United We Serve,” the day is intended to inspire people across the country to volunteer their time to a local organization or group.
The committee has partnered with dozens of nonprofits and activist organizations across the country to host the event, and offers links to pre-organized events on their website.
“The National Day of Service is an opportunity for all Americans to unite and serve at a time when the global pandemic calls on all of us to work together and support our communities,” the event page for the day reads. “No matter where you are, you have an opportunity to give back and the agency to do so. Most volunteer activities only require an hour or two of your time, and all events will be virtual or socially distanced, in accordance with CDC protocol.”
President-elect Joe Biden, along with his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, his daughter, Ashley, and his granddaughter, Finnegan, volunteered in Philadelphia at Philabundance, a hunger relief organization, where they packed food for Americans in need.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, are slated to volunteer in Washington, D.C.
The site also suggests at-home activities for people who aren’t able or interested in volunteering with a group, including: creating cards for patients recovering from COVID-19; letter writing to seniors in nursing homes; knitting blankets for the homeless, and virtual read-alouds to students.
The day will conclude with "United We Serve" A Celebration of the National MLK Day of Service at 8:00 p.m. ET, which will feature speakers, entertainers, and "stories celebrating the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to service."
Participants include Aloe Blacc, Rev. Dr. Bernice King, Martin Luther King III, Chesca, Rep. Sharice Davids, Rosario Dawson, Andra Day, Yo-Yo Ma, Rev. Al Sharpton, Sean Patrick Thomas, Diane Warren, Lynn Whitfield, Bebe Winans.
Also on Monday will be a commemorative event for all those who are unable to travel to Washington in light of the ongoing pandemic. Nearly 200,000 American flags will cover the National Mall in order to reflect the group’s “commitment to an inclusive and safe event that everyone can enjoy from their home.”
12:00 p.m. ET: Discovery Inc. and Discovery Education will host "I Do Solemnly Swear: The U.S. Presidential Inauguration," a virtual learning experience for students, teachers, and families about the inauguration featuring a greeting to students from Dr. Biden, as well as interviews with historians and inaugural experts.
5:30 p.m. ET: The Presidential Inaugural Committee will host a nationwide memorial to those who died of COVID-19 across numerous landmarks.
In Washington, D.C., Harris and Biden will participate in the first-ever lighting ceremony around the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, illuminating 400 lights in total in their first stop in the nation's capital. Other iconic landmarks across the country will also participate in the national moment of unity, including New York's Empire State Building and Seattle's Space Needle.
The committee is encouraging more cities across the country to ring church bells and illuminate buildings for a moment of rememberance, with at least a dozen cities – including Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Houston, and Chicago – already planning on joining the event.
Biden and Harris will be joined by their spouses at the Lincoln Memorial on Tuesday, as well as Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, who will deliver the Invocation; singer Yolanda Adams, who will sing Hallelujah; and Lori Marie Key, who will sing Amazing Grace.
“[...] In the midst of a pandemic – when so many Americans are grieving the loss of family, friends, and neighbors – it is important that we honor those who have died, reflect on what has been one of the more challenging periods in the nation’s history, and renew our commitment to coming together to end the pandemic and rebuild our nation,” said Presidential Inaugural Committee Communications Director Pili Tobar.
The Biden-Harris inauguration on Jan. 20 will mark exactly one year to the day that U.S. officials confirmed the first case of coronavirus in the United States. Since then, over 23 million Americans have contracted COVID-19, with more than 397,000 dying from the virus, according to data from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
The events can be streamed live on the PIC's social media channels.
10:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. ET: "Our White House: An Inaugural Celebration for Young Americans" will be the first-ever curated livestream for young Americans before and during the Inaugural Ceremonies, according to the PIC.
The livestream will feature a special message from Dr. Biden, commentary from historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Erica Armstrong Dunbar, a segment on presidential pets produced by Nickelodeon, trivia questions (including some asked by Doug Emhoff), segments produced by the Library of Congress, and more – all hosted by Keke Palmer.
By 12:00 p.m. ET: Per the 20th Amendment of the Constitution, elected presidents begin their term in office at noon on the day of inauguration, meaning they must take the oath of office at some point before then. Biden is expected to take the oath on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol, having said he is “not afraid” to do so outside despite heightened threats of violence across the country.
Biden will give remarks after taking the oath, although no exact time has been released.
Lady Gaga will sing the national anthem at the inauguration, and Jennifer Lopez will perform when Biden is sworn in as the nation’s 46th president next Wednesday.
At the swearing-in ceremony, the Rev. Leo O’Donovan, a former Georgetown University president, will give the invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance will be led by Andrea Hall, a firefighter from Georgia. There will be a poetry reading from Amanda Gorman, the first national youth poet laureate, and the benediction will be given by Rev. Silvester Beaman of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilmington, Delaware.
Biden and Harris will be joined by their spouses following the ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where they will lay a wreath in honor of the men and women in uniform who have died in service to the country.
“This will be one of the President-elect’s first acts as Commander-in-Chief, and he will be joined by President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, President George W. Bush and Laura Bush, and President Bill Clinton and Secretary Hillary Clinton,” per the PIC website.
The inaugural committee also announced a “virtual parade” will take place on inauguration day.
“The parade will celebrate America’s heroes and reflect on the diversity, heritage, and resilience of our country,” the committee said in a tweet.
8:30 p.m. - 10:00 p.m. ET: “Celebrating America” Primetime Program
This star-studded post-inauguration event that will feature performances from A-list actors and award-winning singers alike.
The event, which will be hosted by “Greyhound” actor Tom Hanks, will “showcase the American people’s resilience, heroism, and unified commitment to coming together as a nation to heal and rebuild,” according to a press release. Titled “Celebrating America,” the program will cap five days of events leading up to next Wednesday’s inauguration — the theme of which is “America United.”
President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will each deliver remarks during the 90-minute prime-time program, and will be followed up by performances from stars including Demi Lovato, Justin Timberlake, Ant Clemons, and Jon Bon Jovi.
On Wednesday, the Biden Inaugural Committee announced that joining the star-studded roster will be Eva Longoria, Kerry Washington, the Foo Fighters, John Legend, and Bruce Springsteen.
“This inauguration presents a unique opportunity to spotlight the resilience and spirit of an America United,” said Presidential Inaugural Committee CEO Tony Allen in a statement. “We have witnessed countless heroes this past year step up to the frontlines and serve their fellow Americans, so we are telling their stories, spreading their collective light, and celebrating the best of our country and its people with this prime-time program.”
In order to promote virtual access to the inaugural celebrations, viewers can tune in to any major news station to watch Wednesday’s “Celebrating America” performance from 8:30-10:00 p.m., as well as the Presidential Inaugural Committee’s YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Twitch channels.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.