Balls for a cause, dresses for less for Obama inaugural
AFP - Tuesday, January 20
WASHINGTON (AFP) - - The US economy may be in the doldrums, but revelers and gala organizers are celebrating the inauguration of Barack Obama with all the usual pizazz and glitz. They're just doing it more frugally and tacking a message onto their celebrations.
At a charity shop in a Washington suburb, Christina Seneff was trying on gowns Saturday to wear to the Blue Diamond Ball, a 500-dollar-a-ticket soiree being held to promote universal health care.
"I don't need anything new. And I'm a firm believer in recycling, clothes included," she told AFP as she tried on a pale blue satin dress, priced at 34 dollars but on sale for 75 percent off.
With a bit of bling -- also available in the charity shop, which benefits the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill -- Seneff will look just the part for Tuesday's ball, which will feature performances by singer-activist Jackson Browne and Graham Nash of the 1970s group Crosby, Stills and Nash.
Even event organizers are playing down the glitz and playing up a worthwhile cause.
"These balls are incredibly expensive and people are saying, 'Let's scale back here and there because we want to have a platform, we want our message to go out, to be on the new administration's first 100 days' agenda," Nicole Gianturco said of Event Emissary, the company organizing the Blue Diamond Ball and the Green Inaugural Ball, which promotes environmental causes.
"But there's also a genuine feeling of excitement among the planners and the people that are attending the balls. People are excited that their money is not just going toward an event planning company -- it's going to an issue they believe in," she said.
To press the message of the Green Ball, food and drink will be organic, sustainable and local; leftovers will be turned into compost at a small farm in Maryland; and five percent of each 500- or 1,000-dollar ticket sold will be donated to non-profits.
Disabled Americans held their community's first ever inaugural ball Sunday -- their way of thanking Obama for putting them on the political map.
"The disabled community represents 54 million Americans and this is the first time they're coming together to honor an incoming president," Karen Lee, a spokeswoman for the Power and Pride Disability Inaugural Ball, told AFP.
"It's because Obama has taken up their cause," she said.
"He supports equal opportunity in education, employment; he speaks about ending discrimination and independent living; he mentioned the disabled community on the long list of people who helped to get him here."
"Obama sees us as part of the mainstream, part of the political landscape," Andrew Imparato, head o fhte American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) told AFP at the gala evening.
"The disabled community has a lot of hope for the promise of his administration," he said.
The Arab-American community, which has been at the receiving end of discrimination in the United States since the attacks of September 11, 2001, is also celebrating.
That's nothing new -- they have celebrated presidential inaugurations in the past -- but this year "is the first time you might confuse it with a ball," Nadine Wahab, public affairs manager at the Arab-American Institute told AFP.
"Arab American engagement in this campaign was big and this is an extension of that. There's a need for us to continue to be part of the political atmosphere in Washington, and these events are important for that," she said.
American-born queen Noor of Jordan, the widow of King Hussein, has confirmed that she will attend the inaugural celebration, Wahab said.
All the balls, official and unofficial, in Washington and elsewhere in the United States, will allow "everyone to celebrate the hard work that so many people put into getting this man elected," said Lee.
"But come Wednesday, let's hold his feet to the fire on things he's promised," she said.
At the NAMI charity shop, manager Rhona Sollod sorted through rhinestone jewelry for a client who was attending an inaugural ball.
"I've not seen so much excitement over a president since John F. Kennedy," she said.
"I don't think Obama will be able to turn around the economy that fast, but the spirit of the country is so much better," she said.
Obama-electricity was also rippling through a consignment shop in Washington where the elite shop to save money.
"I have three 12,000 dollar Chanel dresses. I do them for 2,000 dollars," owner Inga Guen said.
"In the past week, there is so much electricity in this shop, my hair should be standing up in the air," she said between serving customers.
"We always celebrate a new president, but this time, we're celebrating a rock star."
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Christina Seneff selects gowns in the NAMI thrift shop in Kensington, Maryland, on January 17, 2009, to wear to the Blue Diamond Ball, a 500-dollar-a-ticket soiree being held to promote universal health care. The US economy may be in the doldrums, but revelers and gala organizers are celebrating the inauguration of Barack Obama with all the usual pizazz and glitz.
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