From The Front Lines: My Experience At The 9/12 DC Protest
I knew as soon as I got to the metro station at 9:30 that today would be historic. Despite being all the way at the end of the red line – normally a 40 minute ride from the heart of downtown DC, but made long by the track work being done every weekend – the station was packed with people waiting up to 20 minutes just to purchase tickets. The train was almost full by the time it left the station, and within 3 stops it was beyond even rush hour loads.
At 11:00 I arrived at Metro Center station not expecting to see the large crowds until I got to Freedom Plaza. I never made it. Although the schedule said the march from Freedom Plaza to the Capitol would start at 11:30, eager protesters were already streaming toward the Capitol. Approaching Pennsylvania Ave. I saw a giant, mobile mass of humanity. The street was full of patriots (pic; time-lapse), from sidewalk to sidewalk. Music and commotion could be heard in the distance, but it was clear I wasn’t going to make it to Freedom Plaza, as I was sucked into the fold of marchers and on my way to the Capitol Dome.
Occasionally I stopped to admire the array of signs and colorful personalities passing by. Although the rapid expansion of government has given them so much to be justifiably mad about, the atmosphere was not only energetic, but downright jovial. Almost everyone was friendly, chatting with those near them about their respective home states, and all smiles. Every few minutes a tremendous roar would begin in the distance – a wave of cheers traveling from one end of the march to the other. It was simply breathtaking.
The enthusiasm didn’t let up upon reaching the Capitol grounds. A wide variety of speakers, mostly local activists and members of various conservative organizations, kept the crowd captivated. Various chants would break out, one of the most frequent being “USA! USA! USA!” though “you lie! you lie!” wasn’t uncommon either. “We’re here” was offered in clear defiance of Obama’s pledge to “call out” his opponents, but “can you hear us now?” was the most common declaration. They’d have to be deaf not to.
The speakers represented the diversity of the crowd – ranging from traditional conservative to libertarian – by bringing calls to both support the troops and audit the Fed. The main theme, however, was simple: we want government off our backs and its nose out of our lives.
The event was also notable for what it lacked. There was no violence. There were no vitriolic, racist outbursts. No riots. No confrontations with police. From what I saw the police were friendly and helpful, and the protesters repaid them with smiles and thanks. If a child was separated from his parents, event organizers took to the microphone to make sure they were reunited, then followed up later with the good news – to loud applause. I’ve heard descriptions of one or two objectionable signs, but encountered none myself despite deliberately wandering through much of the crowd. There’s always something to object to at any protest as people take it too far, but it was atypical for the event.
I don’t know how many people were there. I’ve seen everything from 70,000-200,000 to an estimated 2 million (Update: this figure was erroneously attributed and is not credible). Whatever the final turnout numbers – made more impressive when you consider the thousands more rallying simultaneously all across the nation – the message is clear: we’re not going to lie down and take it without a fight.