Rally to Keep Fear Alive
Saturday, October 30 2010
location: near Sligo Creek Park, Silver Spring, Montgomery County, Maryland
Before setting out for the Rally to Keep Fear Alive, I went down in the basement and found some cardboard and magic markers with which to make protest signs. The one I'd had in my brain for weeks was "Fear: because rational caution is never enough," so that was the first sign I made using the largest piece of cardboard. Since I had two other pieces of cardboard, I made another sign reading "Corporations and Zygotes are People Too!" (complete with stylized images in red ink depicting smiley-faced businessmen and jiggling single-cell humanoids). I gave the other sign possibility to Gretchen, who made a sign reading "Fear Sanity!" (though there would be others at the rally who'd made signs reading exactly the same thing).
On the Silver Spring Metro platform, we saw many others with their signs, as well as one unfortunate preteen gentleman with a convincing Justin Bieber hairdo (which is basically a Trump comb-forward for the youth of today). Unfortunately our train was delayed because, for some reason, on this day of peak Metro demand, authorities had decided to run the trains on only one track (which meant, perhaps, that they had to pull over to the side now and then to let other trains pass).
It was still early, so our train, when it finally came, was not especially packed. But we only took it down as far as Fort Totten and transferred to the Green line (which Glen Beck's ralliers had been warned to avoid several weeks ago, presumably due to the fact that it passes through African-American parts of Washington). We were stopping at a vegan bakery called Sticky Fingers so we'd have food at the rally. But of course Sticky Fingers was mobbed with people, and it took awhile (though not as long as we'd initially feared) to make our way up to the counter in the line. In addition to bakery items, we bought previously-prepared sandwiches from a cooler.
Back at the metro station, it wasn't long before a train arrived. Unfortunately, though, it was packed to capacity with ralliers. As was the one right behind it. When the third one came, we were determined and forced our way onboard, shouting to the occupants, "you have to make room" and "we were dying out on that platform." But everyone was good natured as they compressed their dwindling interpersonal space to allow us to aboard. "Wait— Jon Stewart, I thought this was for the Glen Beck rally?" Gretchen said at one point and we all had a good chuckle. There were so many people on this train at this point that there was no place for the nose of the young woman to my left except my armpit. But still we managed to make room for a few more people at a few other stops. As we approached our destination (the National Archives), we found the Metro Stations increasingly deserted. At a certain point it had just become easier to walk than to wait for a train that was anything other than completely crowded.
At the National Archives, the platform was a mob of humanity whose progress was being slowed by the way the Metro system works; it demands that you swipe (or, technically, feed) your card at both ends of your journey. Emerging from our train, an joyous whoop passed over the crowd. We were ready to rally! As we slowly climbed the stairs and approached the card machines, we could turn around to behold the largest subterranean crowd I've certainly ever seen. It's a miracle that the crowd's sidewise pressures weren't hurling people off the platform and onto the tracks.
Emerging into the daylight, we could see plenty of fun signs, many of them tongue-in-cheek or absurdly self-referential (as one would expect for a crowd organized by Comedy Central's two fake newsmen). "Anyone for SCRABBLE later?" one asked. "I'm holding a sign!" another declared. And one said simply "Meh." When political, they tended to mock fear, extremism, or Hitler mustaches (which look particularly funny on bright yellow smiley faces).
We decided to try to stake out a place in the crowd out on the National Mall, hopefully within sight of one of the jumbotrons, but we soon realized this was an impossibility. The density of the crowd was too great to permit sitting, and you couldn't really see or hear anything if you stood. There were also currents of humanity in the crowd that tended to push you along or uncomfortable waves of human compression. It certainly wasn't a safe place for someone with any sort of medical condition (and periodically medical personnel had to force their way through the crowd to extract someone).
We ended up near the front of The National Gallery of Art along Madison Drive (which forms the north edge of the Mall), and there we ate our lunch. I also made another sign on a flap of cardboard hanging from the back of my "rational caution" sign. It read, "If God didn't want US to invade other countries Why did He make them talk funny?"
Gretchen went for a walk to scope out whether or not there were better places (we couldn't see anything except the streaming crowd and all we could hear was the PA system echoing incoherently off the various marble buildings). When she returned, Gretchen suggested I climb the front steps of the National Gallery for a better look at the crowd. I did so and wasn't disappointed; every scrap of land visible between the trees was occupied by human heads (presumably each perched atop a human body).
At some point Gretchen noticed that intrepid members of the crowd weren't just climbing trees for a better view; they were now staking out places atop all the nearby portapotties. But further to the west were some portapotties whose roofs had yet to be claimed. So we walked over there and claimed them, soon finding ourselves surrounded by others having the exact same idea. Portapotty roofs don't actually contain much structure, so it was important to stay near the edge and avoid the middle, which tended to partially collapse no matter how careful one was. One also had to keep one's face away from the pottie's vent stack, which released a horrendous fragrance comprised of vapors from fresh urine, feces, and whatever chemicals are added to keep the turds pickled for all eternity.
From atop these particular portapotties, the view of the crowd (the sea of heads) was great, but the audio was still pretty much useless and the jumbotrons were barely visible, being blocked from this vantage point by several trees. We weren't up there very long before the police came through and shooed us off. But before long all such petty crowd control was abandoned; it seems Comedy Central had only planned for a crowd size of 60,000, but over 200,000 had shown up.
We found out way to another set of portapotties with a slightly better view just in time to catch the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens doing a weird mashup with Ozzy Osbourne. The former was doing "Peace Train" and the latter was doing "Crazy Train." And then there were the O'Jays at the end there resolving it all somehow by singing about a "Love Train."
Gretchen eventually decided to go back to the place atop the portapotties where we'd been earlier, the place from which we'd been evicted by police. The police didn't seem to be policing portapotty roofs any more. I didn't really want to sit up there though, so I left Gretchen there and walked around on my own, heading west a few blocks (with a flow of humanity) and then back, holding my signs in the air the whole time.
At one intersection down there, various people had clambered to the tops of street signal poles. One of these people was dressed as a fairly convincing Jesus and was holding a sign about how Jesus hearted Obama. Somebody handed him a different sign reading "Smoke weed every day," and passersby went nuts when he held it aloft. Meanwhile a young woman was having a bitch of a time trying to climb another signal pole, and I heard someone telling his friend, "Next time maybe she'll remember not to wear hooker boots before climbing a pole."
Quite a few signs made supportive references to masturbation, probably an in-your-face to famous anti-masturbation Senate candidate Christine McDonnell. One said "I masturbate and I vote," and it was carried by an attractive young woman. A nerdy guy in front of me split from his friends to give her a high five, and I remarked, "You might want to wash your hands after doing that."
Back at Gretchen's portapotty, I found her surrounded by others. Like most in this crowd, the people near her were young. One young woman who kept bothering us with inane questions and ten-degrees-off-of-actual eye contact turned out to only be 17 years old. The atmosphere had the warm vibe conducive to instant friendships (sort of like Harlem the night Obama won the presidency), but annoying people are still annoying even under such favorable conditions.
Since this portapotty perch was far from perfect, eventually Gretchen wanted to leave. We found our way one block north and sat down on the sun-drenched steps of the National Archives (Gretchen went to see if we could get inside, but as with all museums, the line for admission stretched for over a hundred feet). The day had been perfect for a rally, so it's unlikely Pat Robertson was speaking about it in relation to God's judgment (as he would have had the weather been cold and rainy). By now the rally had ended and people were pouring from the Mall in a continuous river of humanity that we could see pouring down 7th Street. Eddies of it spilled past us on Constitution Avenue, and people carrying signs held them for us to see or stopped to do little performances. There were, for example, a group posing as Chilean miners who did a rousing version of the Chilean soccer chant (or whatever it is that they did when the more extroverted of them emerged from the mine).
The cellphone network had been overloaded and rendered useless, and it was interesting to watch people who normally depend on the logistical support of their phones try to get by in this early-90s paradigm. One woman near us on the Archive steps asked for directions to various Metro stations, saying she'd come with a group from Boston and been separated from her people. A little trickle of text data came through and told her that her people were at the corner of 7th and Constitution, but that information was too imprecise and time-sensitive to be of any value.
At some point the river of humanity started to lessen in volume and we decided it was time to head to our next destination, wherever that would be. We started walking north, hoping to put enough distance between us and Mall so that we could find a bar or restaurant that wasn't completely mobbed. Blocks from the Mall we saw long lines of people in front of lame national franchises such as Subway, Starbucks, and Gordon Biersch (the douchebaggiest "microbrewery" on Planet Earth). Meanwhile, the streets were completely choked with vehicles. What kind of idiot would be driving south through DC today? Someone in an SUV made the mistake of acting impatient as we paused to let a cop car with a flashing light pass, and Gretchen told her to fuck off. It's one thing to be part of of the hive mind of a rally; it's another to be impatient non-rallier in an SUV too stupid to know not to drive in DC during it.
Our first option for a restuarant wouldn't open until five, so we went to our second, the Busboys and Poets at 5th and K. Initially it looked like we wouldn't be able to get in in a timely manner; as with all the other restaurants we'd passed, there was a long line. But Gretchen had to pee, so she jumped over a barricade to get into the outdoor patio area, and from there she noted two empty spots at the bar and sensed that I could probably sneak in. There was a burly guy and velvet rope at the door, but when Gretchen opened that door and beckoned me in, I nobody seemed to care.
There was still a lot of instant best friendliness in the air, and the woman seated next to us at the bar acted like she'd known us all her life. She was wearing a complete tea set in the form of a series of customized necklaces (an in-your-face to the Tea Party) and she'd just ordered a cheeseburger (a real one). I ordered an IPA and wasn't disappointed; it was to be the very first Portland-grade IPA I'd had since actually being in Portland back in June. What makes a Portland-grade IPA? It tastes almost exactly like grapefruit juice, with (possibly) a perfumy finish.
There are a lot of vegan options at Busboys and Poets, but we started with a humble serving of fries. It was a stingy portion but they were very good. Unfortunately, as I discovered, fries and ketsup do not go well with a quality IPA.
After awhile, our chatty friend left, soon to be replaced by Paul and Michelle, an unlikely pair of liberals who had driven up from Norfolk. He was a painter and she was a graphic designer, but they had a blue-collar essence that most of the liberals I have known (generally coastal and metrosexual) have lacked.
At some point Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! arrived and gave an uplifting speech. She was then joined by Van Jones, perhaps America's most well-known African American environmentalist. Soon there after there was a little free-form rhyme busting by a local slam poet. By this point Gretchen and I had ordered a vegan pepperoni pizza and a veggie burger with more fries, and I'd spaced out my IPAs with two shots of espresso (a great idea from Paul, my new best friend) and a Negra Modelo.
At some point Van Jones introduced Dick Gregory, who took the mic and ranted with an odd mix of rage, comedy, and incoherence. He looked a little like a homeless guy. Wait, was this the civil-rights-era comedian Dick Gregory? Back when I was a little kid I'd read Nigger, his classic comedic memoir. (My parents had a copy because they'd lived in the same apartment building with Gregory in Chicago back in the mid-1960s, and had thought they should know more about him.) It was that Dick Gregory indeed. He lives in DC now and is frequently seen at Busboys and Poets.
Eventually the activist lefty part of the evening wound down and we all filed out and found our way to a much less crowded version of the Metro system. Still, something was profoundly wrong with it. Trains were coming at widely-spaced times and arriving on the wrong tracks, occasionally taking us to stops Gretchen didn't even know existed. Had the Bushies still been in charge I would have thought the Metro fuckups this weekend were part of some sort of anti-rally conspiracy.
As we walked back to Gretchen's parents' place from the Metro, I gradually developed an urgent need to use the facilities, and not the sort of facilities I use with impunity either. Somebody was doing major renovations at their house and there was a portapotty on the front lawn, but unfortunately the door to that portapotty was locked with a tiny Master lock. In the end I was forced to use the bushes, in this case a dense clump in somebody else's front yard. Had the clump been less dense, I might have been better able to conceal the injury I inflicted. But the injury, such as it was, wasn't any worse than the kind routinely inflicted by, say, a Great Dane (or other 170 pound canine). Furthermore, relatively few of those have an entirely vegan diet. It was autumn, so there was plenty of "toilet paper" around, though it wasn't of the highest quality.
note: I didn't bring a camera, so I took these photos of my signs later
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