Saturday, October 30, 2010
One needed only step into an arriving Metro train this morning to know something major was afoot. Almost no one got out, and--nearing if not exceeding capacity--we took on more people with every stop. The Tea Partiers, ever so fond of Hitler analogies and now familiar from their own rally with such conditions, might call the coziness Auschwitzian.
I arrived at the National Mall around 10:45 or so, off of 7th Street. I thought I saw some Tea Partiers--as indicated by 'November is Coming'-type signs--hanging at the edge then. This one in particular expresses a common Tea Party grievance, although with much more cleverness than I've seen them capable of.
Now "at" the rally, I took a left, into the Henry Park area of the Mall, to get as close as I could. I pushed among what was already a packed crowd and got maybe a third of the way to the stage, at which point most of the crowd's forward movement dropped off. Knowing I didn't want to stand in one place for four hours I squeezed out left onto Madison Drive and went as far as I could go before getting stopped at the VIP zone.
I must halt my narrative in order to describe myself. I was Mormon-clad: black slacks, white short-sleeved collared shirt, tie. (The tie was red.) I did this in order to more credibly sell the sign I was carrying:
Up until this point, and with almost no exceptions after, everybody who saw me and my ridiculous sign "got" it. Most would chuckle, guffaw, take a photo; my sign must have been photographed a hundred times over the course of the day.
I stayed in character throughout, thanking people for their interest in abolishing such an unnatural and disgusting practice as the marriage of the elderly. One old man told me he was already married.
"You should be ashamed of yourself," I said. He laughed. Almost all of those I talked to laughed.
But as I stood at the attendee boundary, probably looking at someone else's goofy sign, a young woman came up and punched me in the chest and stomped off. I stood there agape and slightly wounded in esteem. (In the past two weeks, mind you, I've been almost mugged and nearly job scammed. I'm getting a bit sensitive to these violations of my space and identity.) 'She must really like old people,' I said to no one in particular. A minute or so later the girl returned with her friend and hugged me and apologized profusely for not having read my sign in full.
I find it slightly repugnant that she seemed contrite only for punching the 'wrong' person, but regardless I take considerable pride in having been her target. To be taken seriously is the highest compliment an ironist can be paid.
I wandered back up Madison and passed by some honest-to-god Socialists selling books with Malcolm X speeches and their newspaper, the Militant. Movement conservatives will probably point to this as "evidence" of the rally's "true" radical nature, and yeah, these kinds of groups tend to show up at big liberal events. But their earnestness was (radically?) at odds with the festive atmosphere of the event, hardly representative. And anyway, Malcolm X and Socialism are not nearly as scary as conservatives would have us think.
I ended up settling on the other side of 7th, and shortly thereafter the rally proper began, with immediate difficulties. Several of the participants were so enamored of their own cleverness that they refused to put their signs down. This was a problem, as our only glimpse of the stage up front was provided by several large screens that these clever people and their signs were blocking.
"SIGN-DOWN! SIGN-DOWN!" We chanted, to mostly good results.
The speaker system was also incredibly inconsistent, either too quiet or not on at all.
"LOU-DER! LOU-DER!" Thus did we rally to restore volume, with less success.
The exchange between Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert went fine. So did a pretty funny sketch about the crowd count issue I mentioned earlier, in which the Daily Show crew had audience members at the very front count off and state their ethnicity, in order to get accurate numbers and demographics. But by the time Father Guido Sarducci's (yeah, I didn't know who he was either) fake benediction came around the volume was on the fritz again, and I was getting restless--even after the police fulfilled our request to "Tear down this fence!" and gave us more space on the grass--and so I spent much of the rest of the time wandering around.
Around this time Jon Stewart started bringing out musical guests. His first: Cat Stevens, a.k.a. Yusuf Islam, who blamed Salman Rushdie for the fatwa put out on him. How the hell could Stewart and his crew, famously exhaustive in their research on news figures, invite Stevens without considering this very well-known latter fact?
Stevens played "Peace Train," interrupted by Ozzy Osbourne with "Crazy Train." Get it?
Shortly thereafter I saw some Truthers. Truthers, those cultish malcontents whose skepticism would make David Hume facepalm. A whole two of them, at this street-cramming and ostensibly moderate gathering. Amid the surrounding wackiness, I would say the joke was on them. Much more aware of their surroundings was the group of Communists hawking their wares a block away from the rally's epicenter. "Barack Obama is not a Communist, but I am, and I think you should be too!" the very good-natured barker said while distributing literature for the Revolutionary Communist Party. Again, these types are fringe and disproportionate in both number and impact. I mention them in fact because they were different and interesting.
Eventually I settled down at the Mall's southern edge off of Jefferson Drive, to hear the last Stewart/Colbert segment, and Stewart's closing speech (much more on those later). Once it was all done, almost exactly at three o'clock as scheduled, I wandered around a bit to look for my friends. I left a half hour afterward, a drop in a sea of other departing rallygoers that covered 7th Street as far as one could see. Only then did I realize how crazy the Metro would be. I bypassed the Navy Memorial and went further and tried the Convention Center and Chinatown, but they too were hopelessly congested.
Outside the Convention Center stop there was a fight about to break out between two middle-aged gentlemen, serious enough that a cop to had to intervene. A passerby noted the incongruity: "Come on, man, this was a peace rally!"
I ended up walking an alphabet of blocks to the U Street Metro station, where I stepped into a train car as sardine-spaced as that this morning. It's entirely possible that the people on it were the ones with whom I would have been in line at my previous stop a half an hour before.