Observing Local-Outsider Disconnect on the Fringe of Glenn Beck’s Rally
From the fringes of Saturday’s “Restore the Dream” rally, life went on generally as is in the nation’s capital. As "hundreds of thousands" of Tea Party folks and other Glenn Beck rally-goers gathered at in West Potomac Park between the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument—likely adding weight to the already sinking Reflecting Pool—the Batala all-women’s percussion band practiced in Farragut Square and tourists outside the White House took photos of the street hockey players and Segway tour-goers. Generally, it looked like any other nice summer afternoon in the nation’s capital.
Though I never made it close to the rally itself, I positioned myself outside the John A. Wilson Building next to the electronic “Taxation Without Representation” sign that displays the amount of federal taxes we District residents pay to the federal government and flashes messages supporting D.C. statehood. Certainly, there would be some interesting reactions from the anti-Washington crowd walking past the seat of the District of Columbia government, the one that is still home to Marion Barry, our most recognizable local D.C. official to the rest of the nation.
As I sat and waited for something interesting to observe, hundreds of people displaying various Old Glory fashions, carrying “Don’t Tread on Me” flags and wearing a Jesus version of Shepard Fairey’s “HOPE” poster walked by. I sat for more than a half hour waiting for some profound moment that demonstrated how outsiders just don’t understand the city that is home to their national government.
Nothing much happened aside from a bearded man in cut-off jeans and Harley Davidson shirt who stopped in front of the Wilson Building, saying in a dumbfounded tone: “They got this nice building? Why did we give them this beautiful building?”
While the man, who quickly moved on in the direction of the U.S. Capitol, never articulated who “they” and “we” are, you can probably take a decent guess as to his stance on D.C. statehood. His comments made me feel, as someone whose family has resided in the District for 150 years, as if we here in the District are second-class citizens who must bow down to those who might claim they are the only ones with the rights to say “We the People.”
It's been pointed out that many Tea Party folks complain about how they don't have a voice in Washington, D.C., but yet don't take up our cause for full and equal representation in Congress.
Then again, we are living in a “cesspool,” don’t forget.
So, just how people turned out today? Josh Marshall of the liberal news site Talking Points Memo tweeted: “Major headline outta DC is that turnout so big at Beck event that numbers probably won't need to be fabricated.”
We’ll never know for sure because the U.S. Park Police won’t be doing a formal crowd estimate. (Since a dispute over crowd estimates from the 1996 Million Man March, the Park Police has only gauged the turn-out for the 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama as president.)
The best indicator of turn out may be Metrorail ridership for Saturday. Those numbers won’t be immediately available, but it seems like the all-time record, Obama’s inaguration day, where there were 1,120,000 rail trips, will be hard to top.
Regardless of the turn-out, the rail system was certainly crowded. Following the rally’s conclusion, people “crammed in like sardines.” During my Saturday afternoon ride from the L’Enfant Plaza station to the Foggy Bottom-GWU station on a Blue Line train, a man in a yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” T-shirt made that observation following every station stop. Welcome to Washington! We deal with sardine-like living and discomfort daily!
Despite the less-than-ideal riding conditions, everything was civil until Metro Center, when two younger African-American women were trying to make their way out through the crowded train car. Some fold-out chairs were blocking their path.
“Move! You gotta move! Don't you get it?” one of the women screamed. If the volume didn’t get everyone’s attention, her yelling of “Jesus Christ!” certainly did.
“You can get through. Just shimmy on by,” a white women, with a scowl on her face, yelled back.
“Shimmy” you say? I would have liked to have witnessed an act of shimming in the crowded conditions.
Outsiders unfamiliar with standard transit etiquette are nothing new to D.C. It’s one of our major complaints about living in the nation’s capital. But it goes with the territory. We expect such disconnects.
But sometimes, it seems, we locals are never going to understand the outsiders. And those outsiders are never going to understand us.