As the reality of the Inauguration has finally set in, I look back on Tuesday's events with sadness, disappointment, grief and frustration. You might be thinking, "Was I watching the same Presidential Inauguration as you?" Well not exactly, but I tried with every fiber in my being to make it happen. I have never traveled so far to achieve so little and felt so ignored, invisible and forgotten in my entire life, and yet the only solace I feel is the bonding I have had with hundreds of others that I met in DC that fateful day, in the cold and early morning of January 20th, 2009.
Yes, I was one of the thousands of purple ticket holders who survived, "The Tunnel of Doom on 3rd Street," as it would become known to those of us who suffered through the most disappointing day of our lives. It wasn't just that my mother, Kimberly Field, a life-long Democrat and political activist, was 60, and was finally going to be attending her first Presidential Inauguration of her life, even though she has worked on very Democratic Presidential Campaign since Bobby Kennedy. And it wasn't just the fact that we had scrimped and saved and paid over $1,500 in airline tickets and made arrangements with friends in the Baltimore area for lodging, and planned detailed travel and transportation arrangements months in advance. And it wasn't just the fact that I had registered hundreds of voters in the Van Nuys, CA area and been a political activist my entire life and waiting to finally have a leader and president that I could actually look up to and inspire me, and was looking forward to this Inauguration as the most important of my lifetime. Let me tell you, it was all these reasons and much, more more.
You must understand, my mother and I had planned since the day after the election in November that we must be part of history, must be part of this amazing day even though we didn't have actual Inauguration tickets. We booked our flights right away and decided we would just go to DC to be part of the masses and experience the most historic Inauguration of our lifetime, and being there in person was all that mattered. I was overjoyed when I found out six days before we left for DC that I was going to receive two purple tickets from a friend who had worked on Obama's campaign for the last year. I will never forget calling my mom and giving her the great news and telling her how close we were going to be (right behind the media and seated yellow section) and that we would actually be able to see Obama from our purple section. She was at work when I called her, yet tears filled her voice and she was speechless.
The night before the Inauguration my mother and I stayed up all night with my friend (who had also traveled from LA to be with us for the big day) and we thought we had pre-planned every step of the day. We had planned metro routes, streets closures, driving times, layers of clothes and a timeline for the day's events. Little did we know how that timeline would actually turn out to be.
I kept notes of the days events and here is the breakdown of events that we lived through that famous Inauguration day in freezing DC weather:
4AM-Leave Baltimore for DC by car (with three friends in tow, including my mother) We all had two layers of clothing on and purple tickets in hand and were full of excitement. We had maps, tickets, packed food and water, as we had heard we would be in line until 9am, when they were going to be opening the gates.
5AM-We enter the Metro Link from downtown DC to Judiciary Square (which was the actual train stop we were instructed to get off at, since we had Purple Tickets). Hundreds of people had already swarmed the metro stations, but we had planned ahead and bought metro tickets the night before. The energy was magnetic as everyone spoke of happiness and hope and amazement as they were about to witness one of the most important day of their lives.
5:30AM-We depart Metro Link train and walk half three blocks to the nearest crowd of Inaugural Volunteers who instructed us to go to the 3rd street, since we were Purple Ticket Holders. I noticed right away the lack of police, guards and volunteers, and there were thousands of people already lining up the streets, parking lots and surrounding areas, some with tickets and some without.
5:45AM-There were no signs, flags or directions posted anywhere in sight, and everyone was in disarray. After being instructed by an officer to go around the barricade and walk two streets up and come around the block again, we were told to get our purple tickets out, and there appeared a man dressed in dark and wearing a bright orange vest, (who we assumed was a volunteer), who asked to see our tickets. Once it was clear that we all had purple tickets, we were instructed to go into a tunnel straight ahead on 3rd street. There was a police barricade set-up in front of one of the tunnels, and they were instructing everyone to cross the street, single file.
6AM-Two more friends join us in line (from LA) who had also spent thousands of dollars to be there and had purple tickets. I make friends with a nice man, also in line, from New Jersey, named Andre.
7AM-The line we were in started from 1st street (just a block from the Capitol Building) and stretched for over a mile, filling up the entire 3rd street tunnel; there were an estimated 4,000 people behind us in this dark, cold tunnel. There were no outdoor restrooms, no food vendors, no beverage carts, or anything for miles and there were no Inaugural volunteers, police or guards still in sight. Although everyone in line was still peaceful at this point, people were growing tired, hungry and confused and wanted some direction.
8:30AM-Our line is growing defensive, and protective and we notice hundreds of people entering the tunnel who did not have tickets, but were streaming by in groups, and they were constantly trying to cut in front of us in our line. Anger started growing as we had to constantly kick people out of our line. When we asked them why they were in the tunnel, they said they had been instructed there.
9AM-Andre and I decide we are going to the front of the line to see if the gates were open and if they were letting anyone inside yet. We all knew the ceremony was starting promptly at 9AM and we were still stuck in a dark and cold tunnel with thousands of people, growing restless and worried that something was really, really wrong.
9:30AM-What I witnessed at the front of the purple ticket line, I will never forget as long as I live. There was a mob of what appeared to be over 1,000 people storming the barricade at the front of the purple gate. There were children, elderly and even several disabled people in wheelchairs being pushed, crushed and shoved around, and the organized line of actual purple ticket holders started yelling at the mob, saying things like, "We have been here since 4am," and "What are you doing, you don't even have tickets," and "Where are the police?" All this mob of pushing people would say is, "No Line, No Line!" I quickly noticed that this was only the barricade in front of us, not even the actual purple gate for entry. I pushed my way through the mob to climb up on a brick wall that faced 1st street and was so confused by what I saw. To my disbelief, I realized that the purple gate was actually a block up ahead on 1st street and was locked and there were no police, guards or volunteers in sight. I started asking random people around me what was going on, and they said that "the purple section was already full inside and that none of us were getting in."
Well, this couldn't be possible, I thought to myself. This must be a mistake! Andre and I got separated in the crowd, by a young man who had pulled my jacket off, trying to get ahead of me on the brick wall and was yelling at me to get out of his way and that he "didn't have a purple ticket but had scoped out the area the night before, and knew that he could get through another gate without a ticket, since he heard that security wasn't even checking anyone at the nearby silver gate (near the mall). In disbelief, the next thing I heard was a police car with his siren, pulling up behind me. Amazingly, the Reverend Jesse Jackson appeared in the back seat of the police car and people started mobbing the car, and all I could hear was that he had come down to check on the purple ticket holders and said "The Inaugural Ceremony must not continue until all ticket holders were inside." The police officers in the car assured him all ticket holders would get inside and they drove off through the 3rd street tunnel and took him back to the Inauguration ceremony.
10AM-Word is spreading around the line that we are probably not getting in and dozens of people start crying everywhere, some even walk out of the line to try and see where they could climb to, so they could at least hear the rest of the ceremony. We were all in disbelief together. There were ticket holders from the front of the line making their rounds through each section of the line telling us, "you may not get in people, the ceremony is half done at this point, our purple gate is still locked," and "we have no one up there to help us." At this point there were stories coming to the front of the line of people urinating on the walls, due to the lack of no restrooms anywhere and being trapped in this tunnel for hours.
11AM-As we had now been trapped waiting patiently for over six hours, and with the Inauguration almost completely over, we had lost any faith in our purple ticket meaning anything at this point. As I looked at my diabetic 60-year old mother who could barely stand anymore, I told her and my friend that we had to brave the cold and climb one of the fences to escape to at least a viewing area where we could try and find a nearby speaker or jumbotron TV to watch the rest of the ceremony. After climbing a chain link fence and asking two strangers to help lift my mother over the five foot fence, we made it to another fence surrounded by military police, where we were frisked twice by two male officers and told that we could go on to the sidewalk ahead. We quickly realized we were now half a mile away from the Capitol Building and could not even see it from this barricaded sidewalk. We ended up walking another two blocks to the Canadian Embassy on Pennsylvania Avenue and joined mobs and hundreds of people trying to get a glance, if even for a second, of the Inauguration ceremony on the outdoor, ten foot tall TV screen they had hanging on an outside fence. There were two sets of ten foot tall chain link fences between us and the atv, and a concrete wall blocking our view. This only added to our frustration after standing for six straight hours in a dark tunnel, and we all began to cry. If it wasn't for the outside speakers set up in front of the Canadian Embassy, we wouldn't have even heard the swearing-in of President Obama. So after six hours, freezing temperatures, climbing fences, no bathrooms and no food in sight, we ended up being able to hear the swearing-in part of the ceremony, but not actually see anything with our own eyes, except the mobs of people around us.
The worst part of my story is that with no direction, no police, no Inauguration volunteers, and no help in sight, we were all left in the dark tunnel on 3rd street with thousands of people who were trapped like animals behind a concrete barricade and locked fences over eight feet tall. I can't imagine treating an animal this way, let alone people. And for anyone who I meet that says, "Well honestly dear, you should just feel lucky you were there," this is my response to that. If you had waited your whole life for this moment and put endless dollars and volunteering hours into your efforts, only to find out that you would be directed and then trapped in a dark and cold tunnel while the rest of the world watches the Inauguration live on television, or millions who got to witness it in person, and this was going on two blocks away from you, well believe me, you would be upset too!
My goal is not to seek revenge. I just want answers. I want to know why Diane Feinstein, as the chair of the Inauguration, wasn't more prepared for this. I wan't to know why the purple gate was the only gate out of all of them that had zero police, guards, or volunteers. I want to know why the policeman in that car lied to Jesse Jackson. I want to know why the spokesperson for the US Capitol Police, Sgt. Kimberly Schneider, said in an email to the press that "certain ticket holders who hadn't been screened for the swearing-in ceremony, were rerouted to prevent crowd overflow that could pose a danger to public safety." Nothing could be farther from the truth. How do you explain over 240,000 tickets were issued by the Inaugural Committee for this event, and that the committee then gave the false impression that everyone got in, not just to Jesse Jackson, but to the media and the entire world watching?
I want to know why even when tears were streaming down my face, every Inaugural volunteer I found -- when we finally made it on foot to Pennsylvania Avenue -- didn't have any idea what happened. In fact all they would say is, "We just don't know what happened to the volunteers for the purple gate, we lost them, we just don't know what happened."
I want to know what happened, and over 4,000 people in that dark tunnel on that freezing cold DC morning -- who were trapped, then denied entry -- deserve to know what happened too. I don't care if it takes weeks, months, or years, the purple ticket holders will keep speaking up and demanding our voices be heard, until the truth finally comes out and we can avoid this nightmare from happening at any future Inaugurations.
It's as if the 3rd street tunnel didn't exist and we were one problem they could hide in a dark, cold place with no escape. Well we have escaped and our voices are being heard now, from the Washington Post to the Los Angeles Times, thousands of our voices are being released into the mainstream media and public.
I'm sure Obama would agree that this situation was very preventable, and I wonder if he knows just how bad it really was. With the recent investigation into this ticket matter, started by Diane Feinstein, I hope some resolution comes out of all this. I don't want Inauguration commemorative gear. I think a ticket to the 2012 Inauguration when Obama is re-elected, would be a nice start for the thousands of purple ticket holders, who's tickets meant absolutely nothing. Thank you Arianna for letting our voices be heard!