How do you host an inaugural parade under the potential threat of violence and a skyrocketing death toll from a highly contagious virus? Virtually.
Even ahead of the January 6 storming of the Capitol, now-President Joe Biden’s inaugural committee planned to modify the day’s celebrations due to the danger posed by Covid-19, which has now killed more than 400,000 Americans. Together, the insurrection and the pandemic have made for a different inauguration, with the usual crowds absent.
Abandoning the traditional pomp of an in-person parade, Biden elected instead to host a virtual “Parade Across America.” Following in the tradition of the Democratic National Committee’s successful virtual convention last summer, the inaugural committee hosted an event featuring regular “heroes” — everyday Americans who have engaged in noteworthy behavior — and celebrities.
The event was kicked off by the University of Delaware and Howard University drumlines, the president’s and vice president’s alma maters, respectively. They escorted Biden and Harris from 15th Street to the White House and began a series of live performances announced by Charlie Brotman, who has announced almost every inauguration parade since President Dwight D. Eisenhower (former President Donald Trump was the only president not to invite him).
Howard University Drumline to perform during the Inaugural 'Parade Across America' @ABC7GMW https://t.co/PhaQbxrY7E pic.twitter.com/c2OthZeZbf— Robert Burton (@ABC7Robert) January 19, 2021
The rest of the event was hosted by Tony Goldwyn, who played a fictional president on Shonda Rhimes’s show Scandal, and featured appearances by Jon Stewart, New Radicals, and Earth, Wind, and Fire, among other famous entertainers.
The virtual inauguration parade featured a segment with TikTok star @doggface208. pic.twitter.com/11WTJgImEt— The Recount (@therecount) January 20, 2021
This new format made for a unique parade, one that showcased everyday Americans, whom the Biden team refers to as American “heroes.” They ranged from a teacher in Texas who went on a road trip to teach her virtual classroom history from important locations to a 12-year-old who played the trumpet for hospital workers during their breaks.
It's time to DANCE America! From sea to shining sea, Americans everywhere are celebrating the new @POTUS and @VP. #InaugurationDay pic.twitter.com/jNzNwdBQnW— Biden Inaugural Committee (@BidenInaugural) January 20, 2021
Biden’s team has hoped to emphasize unity as the theme of the inaugural events and ultimately was able to do so symbolically in his inaugural parade — highlighting Americans from all 56 US states and territories, a first for inaugural parades, according to the inaugural committee. The “Celebrating America” primetime special, which will air at 8:30 pm ET, is expected to follow this pattern, bringing together celebrities and noncelebrities to emphasize the theme of unity.
Follow along for more of Vox’s inauguration coverage here.