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Peter Clothier

Peter Clothier

Posted: October 31, 2010 09:08 PM

The Rally

What's Your Reaction:


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 Metro Center. 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 to do it 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, constantly 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 that 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 the 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!