Like tens of thousands of others, I attended the Rally to Restore Sanity on Saturday, October 30. Unlike those who were sane enough to get there at a time that seemed way too early, I attempted to arrive at the mall between 10 and 11 a.m.
My plan was simple. I would drive to Silver Spring, take the Red Line in, and meet my sister at the American Indian Museum, which is on the Mall. She volunteers there once a week and has wanted me to see it for years now, so we thought we’d see the museum, eat lunch at their coffee shop and then go out on the mall for the rally.
This is how it actually went.
There were a minimum of a thousand people trying to get on the Red Line at the Silver Spring Station at any one time. It took me 25 minutes just to get my farecard; then another 25 minutes to get stuffed into a train.
Though my sister had told me to get off at Metro Center, which is closest to the mall, a local on the train told me to get of at Judiciary Square, which is right on 4th Street, where both the Museum and the Rally were being held. This sounded sensible. All I would have to do to get to my sister is walk to the other side of the Mall.
But those who did the physical layout of the mall for this Sanity rally were, obviously, certifiable. In all the rallies, marches, and presentations I’ve gone to on the Washington Mall since my first in 1967, I have never had the problems I had at this one.
First, the Mall was “fenced off." There were barriers all the way down the Mall, preventing access except near the spot-o-pots around near the Justice Department and at 7th Street. These 10-foot-wide access points were jammed with people trying to get through, to the point that, eventually, you couldn’t.
In all other such gatherings I'd attended, the Mall had been open. This meant that even when cheek-to-jowl, people could slide into temporarily open spaces and make it across. With the “across” spaces limited at this Sanity rally, eventually there were simply too many people and it became jammed, like hair clogging a drainpipe.
My simple stroll to the other side of the Mall to get to my waiting sister failed. I tried for over an hour at different points to get past the clog, and, in the end, just gave up.
Earlier, when waiting for the train in, I had called my sister on her cell and left her a message—I think she must have been coming in on the train from VA at that time—and so I thought is would be a simple to call her and say, “Hey, I can’t get through, meet me at 10th,” or get through somewhere else that was not constricted.
However, cell networks were down—well, at least, mine was. I tried four times to get through to her from the Mall, even borrowing someone else’s cell and network. I was able to call her at home—where she wasn’t—and left a message, hoping she would call home to ask her husband if I’d called. She didn’t, and ended up waiting for me for over two hours.
Hoping that at some point she might be able to get through to me, I decided to try and actually see and hear some of what I’d come to experience. Good luck with that.
Whoever placed the screens and speakers put them in the middle of the Mall, creating a narrow line of both vision and hearing. Where we were, on the side, no one could see a screen, nor was any sound tilted our way. When the bands were playing, you could hear. But when someone was speaking, you could not.
In every other Mall event I’ve been to, screens and speakers have been placed at angles on the sides, offering a wedge-shaped hearing/viewing area, instead of a thin straight line. At one point at the Sanity rally, people began chanting “Louder! Louder! Louder!” and they turned up the speakers to the point where you could almost, sort-of hear. But it was difficult.
Even so, oddly enough, it was a wonderful day—partly because, in the midst of that insane set-up, the interminable delays of trains, and everything else that went wrong, everyone was smiling. There was no hate, no whining, no self-aggrandizing behavior. People from all over the U.S., of all ages, races and sexual persuasions, were kind and helpful, and ready to talk to and laugh with anyone.
I missed everything I’d come to see and hear; I even missed lunch with my sister. But what I got, which I had not expected, was a renewed belief that America is still here. That we haven’t been wiped away by all the negativism and the fear-mongering and the downright stupidity that we've endured over the last 30 years, particularly the last 10.
This simple rally with its simple point—the need for sanity (though totally insane logistically)—renewed my faith in my country and its people.
To look at the Questions, Amendments and bond issues, just click here.
Lynda Lambert, a college English instructor, writes from the Hampden neighborhood in Baltimore.
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