WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Saturday that his inauguration will be a symbol of U.S. democracy, as well as an "affirmation that we're all in this together."
Grabbing a paintbrush and pitching in at a volunteer event to spruce up an elementary school in northeast Washington, Obama invoked the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — whose birthday is celebrated Monday, the day Obama publicly takes the oath of office for a second term in front of hundreds of thousands on the National Mall.
Obama will take his official oath today just before noon in the Blue Room of the White House; the Constitution states that presidential terms expire at noon on Jan. 20. Monday's festivities are ceremonial.
"I'm always reminded that (King) said everybody wants to be first, everybody wants to be a drum major; but if you're going to be a drum major, be a drum major for service, be a drum major for justice, be a drum major for looking out for other people," said Obama, who will take the oath on Monday using a Bible that King used, as well as one used by Abraham Lincoln.
Obama was joined Saturday by first lady Michelle Obama at the Burrville Elementary School event — and by thousands across the country at other events, including Obama Cabinet officials, marking a National Day of Service. The Obamas in 2009 started a tradition of holding a service day the weekend before the swearing in.
Obama called the volunteer events "really what America is about. This is what we celebrate."
He said his inauguration will be "a symbol of how our democracy works and how we peacefully transfer power," but he added: "It should also be an affirmation that we're all in this together and that we've got to look out for each other and work hard on behalf of each other."
Vice President Joe Biden, his wife, Jill, and a dozen of their children and grandchildren joined volunteers at the D.C. Armory for a Unite America in Service event organized by the Points of Light organization, which Biden noted was inspired by former President George H.W. Bush. At his 1989 inaugural address, Bush called on a "thousand points of light" to help others.
Volunteers at the event packed 100,000 care kits filled with necessities for deployed and wounded U.S. service members, veterans and first responders. The kits included lint rollers, dental floss, toothbrush and toothpaste, wipes, bandages and cotton swabs.
Biden also invoked King. He said the late civil rights icon instilled "this notion of absolute service." And, he added, "we have to move back to reaching out to people."
Though attendance is not expected to rival Obama's 2009 inauguration — when 1.8 million people crowded into the city to be a part of his historic swearing in — there was a festive feel to downtown Washington on Saturday. Tourists bundled for the January cold snapped photographs of themselves in front of the inaugural parade viewing stand at the White House, and thousands attended preinaugural parties.
Some Republicans are lying low — or getting out of town.
"My wife had a partial knee replacement, so I am staying with her in Mississippi," Trent Lott, the former senator from that state, wrote in an email. "Most Republicans will be otherwise busy. Some will attend events and parties, because it does only happen every four years."
Though some view the inauguration as partisan, Steve Kerrigan, chairman of Obama's inaugural committee, said he and his staff hoped that Americans would "walk away from this with the sense that it is not just a celebration of the president, but a celebration of the entire country."
Information from the New York Times was used in this report.