We were excited to go to DC for the ONWT event. My wife became a citizen in 1998 and this was her first major political rally. Our daughter will be six in January and we thought this would be an excellent introduction to some of the things grownups are talking about.
So we bought three tickets for the Boston-DC buses organized by a coalition of progressive groups in coordination with the Boston local of the SEIU. $25 each, easy.
The buses were to leave Friday night, arriving 6 am in DC. Our group was to meet at the SEIU local in Dorchester, a neighborhood of Boston.
We got there early, which was a good thing. It was raining heavily outside, so the registration/signin was taking place indoors in a large room. The scene was one of, um, considerable confusion.
There were two groups of organizers and riders. The progressive groups were on one side of the room, the SEIU and affiliated union groups were on the other. We signed in and paid $5 each for DC metro passes, then went over to the side of the room to wait.
About forty minutes later the PA system activated rather painfully, and we began hearing a series of announcements.
About fifty percent of the buses that had been contracted were not going to show up. People who weren't signed in might not get to go; if they hadn't paid, they should just go home. It was still uncertain how many buses would arrive.
A few minutes later this message was repeated with more detail. A woman from the SEIU took the mic and assured the union membership that they would all be riding to DC; she began counting off SEIU members/family/affiliates, and instructed them to "go outside and stand next to the buses, but don't get inside yet!"
The progressive groups were still trying to get their shit together. Eventually those of us who had signed in and were sufficiently determined coalesced around one of the second-level organizers, and went outside. We were told there were two or three empty buses dedicated to the progressive alliance.
Unfortunately, the SEIU people had disobeyed their leader's instruction (understandably; it was raining and they had no wish to stand around getting wet when there were empty buses waiting). What this meant was that rather than have three buses full of progressives and four buses full of SEIU folk, there were seven buses, each about 4/7ths full — and rather than make the SEIU people get out and relocate so the progressive groups could have their dedicated buses, we were just going to have to distribute ourselves among the buses on an ad hoc basis.
Aside from the fact that there had been considerable time devoted to establishing bus captains, sign-up lists and other resources based on the earlier arrangement, all of which was now wasted, that was okay. The real drag was that the whole bus cancellation fiasco and consequent logistical confusion had delayed our departure by an hour and twenty minutes or so (not a problem for the grownups, but our daughter was starting to get a little frayed). I was starting to come down with a cold, alas.
We finally set out. We filled out the contact forms and copied down the cell numbers of our bus captains. My wife and I sang our little girl her goodnight songs and she settled down to sleep. At which point the bus PA system came on, deafeningly, and the SEIU bus captain announced we were going to watch a movie. It was 12:30. Just a little after midnight. For the next two hours they played "The Blind Side," a heartwarming football drama featuring Sandra Bullock. Goodbye, sleep. The night passed.
We got to DC at about 8:30 and pulled ourselves together, moving from the stadium parking area to the metro, following directions to the National Mall. It worked well, and we stationed ourselves on the left side of the reflecting pool about 2/3 of the way to the Lincoln Memorial, in the shade of one of the trees. I wanted to be able to leave in time to catch our return bus, so rather than try and get as close as possible, it made more sense to give ourselves a little room.
Since I knew that Kossacks were planning on meeting along that side, it seemed a good idea to make a sign. I pulled out a magic marker and wrote "GOT KOS?" in big letters on the back of a cardboard poster, and attached it, first to a tree and then to my back (after the park people told me I couldn't put anything on the trees).
It worked. I met quite a few Kossacks including Possum, dna2rna, Oregon Gal, and several others whom I've not yet been able to find on the search function, including a guy named Steven Wragg (sp?) with whom I had an extensive and fascinating conversation. Steve, if you read this, please comment! I missed a bunch of Kossacks who were either further away (on the Washington Monument hill) or closer up. Ah well. My cold was making me uncomfortable and kind of stupid anyway.
The density of the crowd was never very high. The open areas between the trees and the porta-potties never filled up during the time we were there (we arrived at 11 am). The sound system was not very good. If you were in front of the loudspeakers it was deafeningly loud, if you were behind them the quality was muddled and echoey.
My wife, who was fully conscious during the event, writes the following:
It was a great time -- WarrenS was completely out of it -- his cold was making him rather stupefied, alas!
There were tons of people. When I moved closer to the monument, I could see what it was like -- people trying to move around without knocking anyone over; people arguing with Park Police who had inexplicably closed off access to where we had come from, and we had to walk all the way around Independence Ave. in order to get to where we had been; people chatting with each other -- it was great!
When I looked up and down the reflecting pool area, I saw a sea of people stretching all the way towards the Washington Monument. When I went towards the food and water stands, I saw LONG lines of people, and had a conversation with some of them. Apparently 3000 buses had come in from all over the country, and that means about 165,000 people had turned up. Add the local population and the surrounding towns, and you get about 175,00 or 200,000 people, and that’s DENSE, folks! And yet, it didn’t feel dense, from where we were sitting, so that worked out great.
I saw a young group of college kids singing sarcastic songs about bank bailouts and student loans, Sarah Palin and other such topics. There was a "Latino" contingent with great signs, and slogans which were chanted. There were NEA signs, and one fantastic sign about the GOP, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Dick Cheney et al being criminals. There were people clad in red, SEIU people clad in purple, some others in green, and other groups I couldn’t identify.
The speeches were great, but you had to be standing away from the Reflecting Pool side in order to hear them well, and when I did hear them, they were definitely stirring speeches (but I couldn’t make out who the people were, Somebody Flores from California made a great speech, I remember.
At 3:30 we set out for the Metro. There were huuuuuuuge lines that were moving extremely slowly, so we walked an extra block and got into the subway from the other end of the station; no lines. From Smithsonian to Stadium was just a few stops. The train was extremely crowded but everyone was good-natured.
We got back to the Stadium an hour before our stipulated departure time.
Our printed instruction sheets from the SEIU buses said we were to return to Parking Lot 8, which we did. But our bus was nowhere to be found. Our bus captain and the two seconds-in-command didn't answer their cell phones. The hour of margin we'd accomplished dwindled gradually to nothing; we'd been told that if we weren't on the bus by 6 pm we'd be left behind.
Other people from the progressive contingent on bus accumulated at the information tent. We kept calling our bus captain and getting no response.
At 6:10 I saw someone I recognized. He made some phone calls and determined that we were in fact supposed to be in Lot 7. With the help of a golf cart, we got ourselves over there and found our bus. The bus captain apologized for the mixup and noted that the cell phone batteries for her phone and those of her assistants had all conked out. Sheesh.
The bus finally left the lot around 7:30. One of the bus captains offered us a choice of movie: a documentary on the Longshoremen's Union, a documentary on the Civil Rights movement, or "Bread and Roses" with Adrien Brody. We chose the latter and settled in to enjoy it. Less than an hour out of DC we stopped; apparently another one of the Boston contingent had broken down; we took on a few passengers. Inexplicably, it took us over an hour to transfer three people from one bus to another — and irritatingly, the movie stopped and could not be returned to the same scene; the remote control had vanished. So they put on the Longshoremen's documentary instead once we got started again.
We watched that for a while...and the bus pulled into a rest stop and the movie switched off. A bunch of us were getting pretty tired at this point. The bus ride from Boston had not been comfortable and neither my wife nor I had had more than two hours of sleep since Thursday night.
It was eleven pm when we started up again. The bus captain announced that we were going to watch the third movie.
I spoke up, and the following conversation took place:
WarrenS: "Why don't we not show the movie, and get some sleep instead?"
Bus Captain: "Why don't you ask people yourself, then?"
WarrenS: "Okay. Yo! Everybody! Let's get a vote. All those who want to watch the third movie, say 'Aye.' "
Three People on the Bus: "Aye."
WarrenS: "All those who don't want to watch the movie, but want to get some sleep instead, say 'Aye.' "
Forty-Seven People on the Bus: "AYE!"
WarrenS: "The Ayes have it. Let's get some sleep."
Bus Captain: "Okay, we'll watch the movie, but keep the sound lower."
Coming in the context of three separate movies about negotiations, democracy, fairness/unfairness and the rights of humans, this last twist was a peculiar irony. We watched the movie, or rather, we tried to sleep while listening to the movie.
We finally got back to Boston at 6 am and went home. All of us went to bed; our daughter woke up by 7:20, got dressed and began playing. Eventually she prodded me awake at 9 and asked for breakfast, so we cooked some pancakes together. My wife (who had kept me from completely falling apart during the trip by administering cold medications, water, and treats) stayed asleep a while longer.
It was a great trip. We're glad we went. We took photographs but they're not developed yet; our digital camera is down.
This afternoon the following email arrived in our inboxes, from Jennifer Doe, one of the organizers with Massachusetts Jobs For Justice:
Due to circumstances beyond the control of the sponsoring organizations (1199/SEIU, NAACP, Jobs With Justice and others) most of the 72 buses scheduled to go to Washington were not able to go. The bus company canceled buses just as we were scheduled to leave. We have had buses break down, not show etc, but never have we seen this happened to us on such a large scale. Still, more than 1,500 people from Massachusetts were able to attend the historic rally of which we will have more news soon. We apologize for any inconvenience and will be pursuing action against the bus company.
What I'm wondering is, who owns the company that owns the company that owns the company that owns the company that owns the company that owns the company that owns the company that owns the company that owns the bus company? Did this happen anywhere else in the country?
How many people were unable to attend?
That's all for tonight, friends.