Sunday, October 31, 2010

THE RALLY


We were there. We made it to the Rally to Restore Sanity. If you look closely, you can see us right... there! We couldn't see, couldn't hear, couldn't move. It was great.

I'm not going to call it "Jon Stewart's" rally, because it was far more than that. I urge you to treat anything you read in the papers or saw on television with skepticism. I caught a couple of reports on TV last night which gave absolutely no sense of the occasion. I ran through some of the front page reports in the newspapers this morning. I heard that the Park officials had declined to give an estimate of attendance. I found a link to this report on attendance in Capitol Hill Blue which seemed a bit closer to the mark.

Let me describe my own experience, which will give you some idea. Ellie and I got up at five-thirty in New York City and made our way to an already crowded Penn station to board the fully-booked 6:45 AM Amtrak train to Washington. At Union Station, we were met with already dense crowds as we made our way to the Metro to get out to our friends' house in the Chevy Chase area. Greeted by our friends, we dropped off our bags and headed back to the Metro a little before noon, knowing we'd be a bit late for the start...

The Friendship Heights Metro station was a mob scene...

People were waiting in lines ten deep to board the downtown trains. It was clear that the Metro system was utterly unprepared for the invasion. The first train came by, so packed that not a single one of those on the platform could board. We decided to head in the opposite direction, hoping to find a station further out where we'd at least be able to board a train. Unfortunately, half the other people had decided on the same tactic. The outbound trains were almost as crushed as the inbound.

We did manage to board this time, and detrained at the next station out. The situation there was identical. Huge crowds waiting to board, packed trains arriving and departing. Determined to make it, I literally dove through the door of the next train, dragging Ellie behind me. A very large woman in a very large motorized wheelchair gained enough sympathy from passengers to make space for her, and she motored forward--over Ellie's foot. Ellie screeched. The doors closed, leaving our friends gesticulating from the platform. The train moved off.

The rest of the stations along the way were all the same. The platforms were packed with people, the train so full...

... that not one single person could squeeze aboard. In all this mass of people, one man got angry, shouting at those who were trying to board the train. He was soon quelled by fellow passengers. The large woman in the wheelchair needed to get out from the opposite side of the train at Dupont Circle. Miraculously, the crowd opened, inch by inch, ahead of her, and closed, inch by inch behind her. There was a great cheer when she managed to make it to the platform.

We all got off at the Archives station. The flow of people was incredible...


A few hardy souls were trying to make it back in the opposite direction. The tenor of their remarks was "You don't know what you're in for." The monster crowd made its way up to street level, disgorging onto Seventh Street...


... which was as packed, as far as the eye could see, with crowds nearly as dense as the enclosed Metro car. We elbowed our way through three or four blocks to the Mall, meeting more and more resistance along the way. By the time we reached the Mall, it was a matter of shouldering a path through the recalcitrant masses until we reached the middle of the Mall. From here, across the oceans of people, we could just catch a distant glimpse of the single large screen erected by the stage, hear the snatch of a song by Cat Stevens or a speech by Sam Waterston...




(In the far distance, beside the statue in that last picture, you can just make out a corner of the large screen beside the stage.)

Police cars and ambulances parted the crowd a foot at a time with screaming sirens. Otherwise, it was a single giant sardine can of serried ranks of people. The big moment in our part of the rally came when a young man tried to scale a tree to get a better view. He had a hard time, couldn't make it despite hands reaching down from above to help him up. Couldn't, and couldn't make it... The crowd began chanting, "Yes, we can," "Yes, you can," and finally, finally, with help, he scrambled up into the branches. A great roar of approval from the crowd, as though we had all managed the feat ourselves.

We stood there, trapped...


... for a good two hours, surrounded by people who, like us, had showed up. We saw nothing, heard nothing of what was happening on the stage. It was great! But it was clear that, like the Metro system, neither the rally organizers not the Mall officials had been prepared for the numbers that showed up. A lot more amps, a lot more big screens would have been helpful to the literally hundreds of thousands who were in the same position as ourselves: they saw nothing, heard nothing. And yes, I think everyone shared the view that it was great.

When we finally gave up, we reconnected with our friends via cell phone (mobile phones were inoperative on the Mall) and found them a couple of blocks further back towards the Washington Monument...


Rejoining them there...


... we spent another hour watching the crowds with their wonderful signs...



.... and, many of them, with their Halloween costumes. The crowds were less dense here: people could actually move back and forth, but the flow was constant, consistently huge.

Deciding to move on, we found ourselves now more in the flow of traffic leaving the Mall. The restaurants and coffee shops were chock-a-block: no seats, no possibility of service. Anticipating still heavy traffic on the subways, we spent another hour or so in the downtown area, strolling down toward the White House...

... and finding, thankfully, a bench in Lafayette Park where we could sit...

... and rest the weary bones before heading back to the Metro station. Even then, two hours after the rally was over, we found ourselves in the same situation as earlier in the day. Incredibly crowded platforms, trains running by, so full there was no room for additional passengers. We headed back to the street and thought ourselves lucky to find a taxi to take us back to our starting point.

The news reports on television, as I wrote above, had little relationship to the experience I've described. The same with this morning's papers. The media have portrayed this as a light-hearted entertainment event with a handful of stars and two well-known comedians. But as I see it, the rally was only in small part about what was happening on the stage. The vast majority of us had no idea what was happening there, anyway. No. The rally was about showing up. It was about the people who showed up in vast numbers to be counted. And to judge from media reports thus far, we were discounted. It was also about the mood and spirit of these vast numbers of people, whose signs--and whose behavior in highly adverse circumstances--reflected the civility that has been missing in this year's political discourse. It was about an aspect of the American character that is too often ignored--and which the media seems determined to continue to ignore: a mutual tolerance and compassion, a great space in which we all agree on what is right, and just, and needed for our common humanity.

The End..


A FOOTNOTE

Well, not quite the end. A last word about those numbers. I'm becoming a bit of a conspiracy theorist when it comes to the media. I heard Wolf Blitzer slip in to his monologue that "there were thousands of people" out there on the Mall. Well, no, Wolf, if I may be so familiar. Not even tens of thousands. Hundreds of thousands would have been a fair way to put it. While no crowd size estimator, I believe that the estimates of 200,000 have to be low: do they take into account the masses on every access street to the Mall? The media, I believe, have a vested interest in minimizing this event, which contradicts their carefully-constructed narrative about this election--a narrative promoted by the Republicans and their corporate sponsors, who DO have a vested interest in the election's outcome. Aside from a front page picture, the New York Times featured its report on the rally on page 24!

8 comments:

Brian & Mary from Laguna said...

We could feel some of what the day must have been like from your account - what a wonderful experience to be surrounded by those who believe in the goodness within all of us!!! The pictures were great...

Kyle Lovett said...

Excellent report Peter! I had a very similar experience, though I was one of the lucky ones able to park where I work in town.

It was an enormous crowd, well over 200,000 and certainly much much bigger than the Palin rally.(I stopped by that one too) and extremely diverse, polite and upbeat crowd.

I couldn't get closer than the air and space museum, packed in like sardines from that point forward.
The media is downplaying it, and that's sad, it was an incredible experience.

PS That was me you were feeding at the white house. :-P

khengsiong said...

I haven't followed the news of this rally. Not really sure what it is all about. But your post has caught my attention. I will read more about it...

Donna said...

Peter, your experience (and a good night's sleep) almost makes our 11 hour train journey from Savannah seem less grueling....and a better plan than we realized at the time!! We got into Union Station at 7:30AM, had breakfast, walked over and got a reasonably good seat at that first big jumbo screen by the stage (even there we couldn't see the stage for other obstructions). The whole experience was beyond description - the diversity, the gentle kindness, the hopefulness.
This morning I've been thinking of those people with signs that seem so "out of the box" and suddenly realized that they were probably there, regardless of their political leanings, just for that indescribable spirit of the day. Next time I shall spend more time talking with them!!
I am sending the link to my photos (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6AEcOHUq8E) which might interest you as I've included some of the signs that tickled my fancy - my personal photos are first, then some better ones from the web (mine were all taken into the sun and not very clear) and finally the signs, also from the web.
Like you, I'm so pleased to have been counted.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I watched the whole thing on TV (I in my bathrobe, so we were more comfortable than you, out here in California). We had been there for a peace march back in January 2007, which also was discounted by the press (half a million in actuality), and we could imagine it all. We didn't realize you couldn't hear anything, since the waves worked so well. I hope you can watch the show, now that you are home, in the Internet. It was really good. Your message adds to the effect, so thank you for that! We cannot believe the news at all. Amy Goodman and Democracy Now is real, but there is good news that she does not get too. We need the good news to keep us going.

robin andrea said...

My brother had a very similar experience as yours at the rally, Peter. He drove up from Charlottesville, VA and could not even make it on to the metro to get to the rally. He finally found his way on a bus. He did get to see some of what was happening, said he heard Tony Bennett sing.

We watched the whole thing live on Comedy Central TV. It was quite a remarkable event. I've read estimates of over 200,000 in attendance, even if no one wants to really report it. Never trust the news. I'm pretty sure that was part of Jon Stewart's message. They are part of the problem.

CHI SPHERE said...

The major media are part and parcel of the drive to deflate the work of those who seek balance for they are owned by the Red coalition.

The Blue coalition seeks "Sanity" in large numbers and stood together with you without ranting or packing iron to be counted. It is this kind of backbone and solidarity that does the heavy lifting each day as John Stewart identified.

You and Ellie represent the goodness I wish to celebrate each day when I do what I can to live Green, vote Blue and bypass Red on the way to reason. It is the garden of hope that is well cared for
each day and continues to give forth life, feed us with the nourishment of reason through your action.

I thank you both for doing the right thing with many others who believe Change can take place if we Persist as you have.

PeterAtLarge said...

Thanks to all for the responses! See my Tuesday morning note on attendance.