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Will Feinstein Hold Inaugural "Brownies" Accountable for Incompetence?

05/25/2011 01:00 pm ET
  • Adam Green Co-founder, Progressive Change Campaign Committee (BoldProgressives.org)

Much has been written about the thousands of people denied access to Barack Obama's inauguration -- including the plight of those in the purple ticket line who stood in the 3rd Street tunnel for hours and others (including myself) in the blue line who saw the gates shut on them right before Obama's historic event.

Inaugural Chair Dianne Feinstein has promised an investigation. But, in reading over the quotes coming from various people, it appears that Feinstein will soon face a choice: accept the true version of what happened and hold the appropriate people accountable or allow history to be re-written in a way that covers up some gross incompetence.

First, the fake narrative:

The [inaugural] committee said it had based its plan on “historic precedent” and “calculations of the number of guests that could safely be accommodated in each area.” But the crowds were “unprecedented,” the committee said, and a “huge flow of unticketed people” made matters worse. [Bold added.]

More:

Senate Sergeant At Arms Terry Gainer said he thinks there were a number of problems that led to the chaos. He said there may have been more tickets issued than they could handle. [Bold added.]

This narrative basically implies that the inaugural committee planned as well as could be expected, but so many members of the public came out that some folks at the back of the line inevitably got cut. Kind of sucks, but since 2 million people won't be coming to any events in the foreseeable future, no need to "blame" anyone...let's just move on.

But, how does that square with this report from ticket holder Naomi Ishisaka?

My friends and I got to the line at 6 a.m. to begin what would end up being a 5.5 hour epic wait. Standing among the masses including elderly and children, we waited patiently in the Blue line, with our tickets, to enter security. The first few hours the line never moved. We assumed the gates just hadn’t opened yet. Another hour passed...

No officials ever addressed us...The clock kept ticking and we began to worry that the process we had laid so much faith in for the past few hours was going to be a complete and total failure. People began to debate whether they should give up on the line...most expressed certainty that surely the people in charge had it under control and if we just followed the instructions we were given, we would be OK. We were dead wrong.

Or this report from ticket holder Alexandra Gutowski?

My sister and I, as well as thousands of others with purple standing-area tickets, left the US Capitol in disgust. We followed the rules, got up early, took the Metro and then took our place in a pseudo-line and stood for hours, never moving...there was never any guidance or instruction from any authorities...We never saw any Jumbotrons anywhere which would have made this disastrous experience somewhat worthwhile.

These stories sound similar to my own story, which I posted on the Facebook group dedicated to this issue:

The Blue Line wrapped three quarters of the way around a building. I got up at 6:30am and arrived in line around 9 or 9:30am. By 10:30am, we had barely moved. I decided to investigate. I walked to the front of the line, and what I saw was a mob of people in front of the Blue Gate pushing to get in. The "line" funneled into this mob, but I asked multiple people in the mob how long they'd been waiting and they said, "We just got here." In other words, the line was meaningless. It was the illusion of a line. Lots of good people kept waiting and waiting...trusting that those in charge of the event had a system that was working.

In fact, there was not a single Inauguration staffer or volunteer anywhere to be seen. There was no cop on the beat. No rules being enforced. And that's why so many people are angry after "waiting in line for hours"...it's not that they waited in line and just happened not to get in...they got up early and waited in line, while those who cut the line got in.

Also, there were no speakers or screens near the line, to allow people to watch and listen to what was happening.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen summed up:

Despite following the rules, they were still denied access. And worse yet, they were kept in the dark - deprived of information - as the hours passed and their hopes of seeing history in the making slipped away.

Senator Feinstein has said that "a souvenir program, color photos of President Obama and other memorabilia" will be sent to the victims (to remind them of images they missed). She's also said, "There will be an after-action report compiled, not to cast blame, but to help us understand what mistakes were made so that we can make sure they are not repeated at future Inaugurals."

But why not hold people accountable? Just like "Brownie" should never again work a disaster relief effort, why should people who designed an Inauguration event where "lines" were meaningless and zero staffers were available to help the public at key moments ever be trusted with another major event? This is the question Feinstein must answer.

(If you have a story to share, consider doing it on the wall of this Facebook group.) 

UPDATE: Huffington Post staff put together an excellent composite of what happened in the purple line here, after getting hundreds of first-hand accounts.

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