There are a lot of articles floating around the internet today on the issue of the crowded ticketed areas on the Mall for the inauguration (see here, here and here for examples). They all focus on the dreaded “purple tunnel” that ultimately prevented hundreds (or thousands depending on your estimation) from gaining entrance to the viewing area.
[As I speak, actually, Rachel Maddow is talking about this exact same thing; Facebook has a page to accommodate the people who are mad].
In fact, according to the AP article cited above, the situation was such a big deal that the the Senate’s Sergeant-at-Arms, Terrance Gainer, felt obliged to apologize. He said he was sorry for the trouble and believed that it really started because people were wearing bulky coats. Right. No one believes that.
I am here to tell you that the problem had absolutely nothing to do with the purple tunnel, bulky coats, unicorns, George W. Bush or that funny fur hat Former President George H. W. Bush wore during the inauguration. (My apologies because I can’t find a proper photo of HW in his funny fur hat).
The problem was two-fold as far as I could see, based on my experience waiting in line (with a ticket) at the Blue Gate.
The first was that there was no way to easily, airport security style, funnel people into the gate. People saw a crowd of people and just decided, since they couldn’t see what was going on, not being the size of Andre the Giant, whether they were approaching a crowd or a line. We waited in a mass, crunching up against a barrier for no apparent reason, believing we were actively working toward the gate, for at least an hour before we mutinied.
Really, it was mutiny. I almost snapped for what I believe was the first time in my life.
The second problem was that the police kept telling us we were doing the right thing. That if we had a blue ticket we were “in the right place”. I realize now that they had no idea what they were talking about. If they had walkie-d their colleagues, they would have understood that they were encouraging us to wait in a non-line.
At 11 o’clock I looked at Dave and said, “we are leaving now.” And he readily agreed. We made our way horizontally through the crowd, to hurdle a barrier, or something similar, that would allow us to get out of the line we believed we were in.
As it turned out, when we moved about 15 people to the left, we found out that we were not at all in a line, but just a bunch of people. Out of that bunch of people, it was easily apparent that the crowds were trying to approach the Blue security gate from a number of points, as if you were funneling cats into a mouse hole. I hope I don’t need to draw a picture of that to give you an idea of what we were dealing with.
Needless to say, after figuring out that we were in the middle of a big giant “F**k You” courtesy of the Capitol Hill Police Department, we decided our best move was to run, with all deliberate speed, as far as we could to be able to see a jumbotron.
And run we did. I was winded and have come out of the whole situation with very sore thighs. We ran around the barriers, since you couldn’t just move through any of the Smithsonian buildings or gardens. We ran through crowds. We ran as we began to hear the cannons and the choirs. In short, we ran until we had cleared a ditch just shy of the Washington Monument and could see the top of a jumbotron.
And then, in a fit of emotion at the crowds around the Lincoln Memorial, far in the distance, I burst into tears. That shouldn’t surprise you if you know me.
Really, seeing the masses surrounding the WWII memorial and the Lincoln Memorial were the most emotional. The only time I’ve seen such crowds around Lincoln were images of the MLK “I Have a Dream” speech. Obviously that was under different pretenses than this; the dichotomy was inspiring and emotional.
At that point, we were within site of a screen, could hear the proceedings, and glad to be out of the “line”. I started taking pictures and kept crying until we began the exodus from the Mall.
The whole experience on the Mall was really amazing. It was exactly as I had expected it to be, with millions of people in great spirits, thrilled to be witnessing history. I was particularly struck by a black family that began to sing the Star Spangled Banner with the choir at the Capitol. I couldn’t remember when I last heard such a heartfelt rendering of the National Anthem.
As we began to make our way out of the Mall, in a throng of people, it was clear that the police had planned just as poorly as they had for the ticket situation. There were a very limited number of exits out of the Mall and northward, meaning that you had thousands of people walking in a very small area.
We climbed over pipes and drains just to keep moving. As Dave said, we were going through the traditional inauguration obstacle course.
Part of the exodus was reminding yourself that it was a peaceful enterprise. Usually you see images of people walking in a crowd in a horror movie. The asteroid is coming! sort of thing.
Oh. It was also very cold. It was as cold as I have ever been in my entire life. I have very bad circulation, but from what I understand, friends were also nearly frost-bitten. My fingers were stuck, my toes hurt. I’m sure time will help to make me forget the bitter frozen-ness of the occasion, so remind me if I try to deny the sub-zero temperatures.
After we made our way north, we met our friends for lunch. It was a meeting of toe warmers, tales of long lines, and chilly weather. But I don’t think there was anyone who regretted bearing any of it. We’re all politicky nerds, but I think it was worth it even if you weren’t. The emotion of being on the Mall with millions of others, people who had taken off day of work, who had made every effort to see something like this — it was really unbelievable. One day I’m sure I will forget the details, will think I made it in with a ticket or wasn’t nearly as cold. Let this serve as a testament to the truth.
It was freezing. I cried my eyes out. But it was the most moving experience of my life.
Yes we can.