The Good, The Bad, and the Purple

[Read to the end for a tearjerking video on this one: our better angels, from the sea of purplegate.]

It was a glorious day, a hopeful day, a chilly day, and alas, for many, a teary day and “not for the reasons” they’d hoped. So explains my pal, Alison, one of the infamous “Purplegaters” – trapped after a walk of 10 miles, realizing: she was about to miss it.

For those who haven’t heard – estimates are climbing to about 5,000 of folks in the much coveted inaugural purple, orange, and blue ticket sections (to watch the swearing in)  were unable to get in, some despite arriving before dawn, many after walks of hours and treks for days to see this moment. The Washington Post, (and here, if you want your heart broken) covered it, cnn covered it, Foreign Policy had it facebook has a group or twelve (the 3rd street tunnel seemed to be particularly “doomfilled” for many.)

But here’s a snippet from my friend, who was there, after watching on tv in union station, without sound:

My own journey began this morning before sunrise when we set out from Arlington, VA, wearing many layers and braving temperatures in the teens down past the Iwo Jima memorial, over the Memorial Bridge, and into the District. Despite the chill, we felt a palpable excitement in the air, and the brisk walk kept us from feeling cold. We made it to the Mall in under an hour and were heartened by all the red-hatted volunteers cheering us on. We felt encouraged that we only had 17 or so more blocks to the Capitol, where we’d enter the purple ticketed area for the swearing-in ceremony and our new President, Barack Obama’s historic speech.

I never imagined those 17 blocks would become the journey they did.

We’d assumed we could cross over to our gate, based on the Washington Post map we’d studied and studied; we found instead a crush of people and not a cop or security guard in sight. We made our way back through the crowds and over to the 3rd Street Tunnel, after finally getting some advice that that was where we’d need to go.

Another few miles and we were finally at our security checkpoint. At this point, we’d been on the move for over 2 hours and the line we joined was enormous, spanning many city blocks. But it was still before 9 a.m. The tickets said we had until the start of the ceremony at 11:30 to get into the ticketed area.

The crush of people was intense and the line wasn’t moving. There were no signs or announcements informing us of what was happening. A little later, we heard sirens, as two ambulances attempted to pass through the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd on the street. A man tried to cross the crowd carrying his bicycle overhead. People helped him. Still no official word.

And it was now well after 10 am. People were getting restless and frustrated. Some had been here in line since 6:30, 7:30 am.

By 11 am, frustrations were high, people were crying (and not for the reason they originally thought they’d shed tears), and rumors were flying. Still no one in a position of authority came to tell us what to do. To the credit of the mass of humanity with whom we were crushed against for many hours, people were trying to do their very best to be patient and cordial, some cracking jokes with the strangers next to them (by now, we’d become family anyway), and most folks adopting a “we’re all in this together” mentality. I think most of us, myself included, believed we would still somehow make it through.

But by 11:20 things looked hopeless. We finally retreated to Union Station where we hoped we could at least catch everything on a big-screen TV. Hundreds of us, unable to enter our assigned, ticketed areas near the Capitol, watched together the swearing-in of our 44th President, with no sound other than the announcements made by Amtrak about carry-on bags, trains departing, and not blocking the aisles.

I can’t begin to say how disappointing this was. But that’s just me – a former New Yorker who got lucky enough (so I thought) to have a friend with a connection to a congressman. But what about Rodney, our new friend and campaign volunteer who made the trip down from Baltimore. Or Hanna, a professor from North Carolina who has been supporting and working for Obama since 2004 who made the trip on her own just because she had the ticket. Or the gentleman we met on line who drove out from San Francisco. Or the family that trekked up from Atlanta. The stories continue. It breaks my heart to know that these people, who gave of their time and, in many cases, money, to help make history, did not get to be part of it today.


But today, post-massage, her favorite TV show, and some bonding and empathy as purplegate unfolds, my same friend says this: “still tired and quite sore from the 10 mile walk Tuesday – but also inspired by the amazing show of humanity in the purple tunnel video (see below)”

Video courtesy and copyright (c) Brian Voss, January 20, 2009 (as republished on

And see it we do. and say again, (or at least I do): this, this is something special.

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