Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Cursed Purple Tickets (or, how I worked for two years to get Obama elected and then couldn't view the Inauguration)

I'm one of those Obamaites some people hate. Since the day he announced his candidacy, I have been working full-bore to get this man elected. I've been a volunteer and a staff member. My family has been brought to the verge of economic collapse due to my dedication toward the campaign and its untold volunteer hours. Life has been put on hold, household repairs have gone undone, there has been tension in my relationship with an extremely supportive and patient spouse, who would have loved to see my passion for Obama put into a proper financial perspective. My two children have sold bumper stickers, buttons, and have put up with Mom blogging for Obama in her "spare time" for almost two years.

And you know what, there are thousands of people throughout the country who have worked as hard as I have, if not harder

And that's why my let-down about the Inauguration is that much greater. Because I was unlucky enough, along with thousands of other Obama volunteers, to have been given one of the "Purple Tickets of Doom."

My understanding is that many of those dedicated volunteers and campaign staff were rewarded for their efforts with purple Inauguration tickets. The true believers came from across the country, put airline tickets on credit cards, slept on people's floors, woke up at 4 a.m. to get to the Inauguration… only to find that we were to be parked in an underground tunnel under DC waiting to be let in, and then were turned away at the gates as the Inauguration began. As one African-American man said on his cell phone to his kids: "I came all the way to DC and didn't see shit but some tunnel."

My 73-year-old father and I made the trek this morning with our purple tickets clutched proudly in hand. As African-Americans, this event had such significance. My father earlier said quietly that he wished his parents could have seen this day come to pass. I flew in from Los Angeles, he drove 6 hours from North Carolina.

We got on the Metro from our Alexandria, Virginia, hotel without incident. The Metro ran smoothly, even though the cars were crowded.

However, once we got to our purple ticket entrance, the day spun out of control. We arrived and there was little information about where to stand. People were packed to the gills. Those closer to the front of the line explained where the back was. The sight was staggering, we walked the length of the 3rd Street tunnel that was packed with people as far as the eye could see. My initial thought was "where are the Porta Potties?" There was not one the entire length of the line of thousands of people.

We waited in line for a couple of hours. We were "lucky" I suppose because we came relatively late at 7:30am. There were people waiting in the purple line since 4am that morning. Some were packed in the tunnel for four hours!

Here is a picture I took of the inside of the tunnel.

And another one posted by Annetta Lynn on the Facebook group Survivors of the Purple Tunnel of Doom.

And another by Fernando Adler.

(I like the caption: "The Purple Tunnel of Doom - the 395 tunnel under the Mall - 4-5 hours - 50k people, a mile long, no bathrooms, no cops, no food, no light....No Hope!")

There is an element of humor here in that I'm trying to make lemonade from lemons, but on the serious side, this could have been a recipe for disaster.

Washington DC authorities are fortunate that the crowd was of good will and thrilled about the Inauguration. But it could have turned ugly real quick. Minimal to no police presence, people packed for hours like sardines in an underground tunnel, no toilets to relieve oneself, and then at the end a surge of movement forward.

As the Inauguration started, the line moved rapidly toward the gate. Luckily, people were mostly orderly. But as we got closer to the gate, we were told by people pushing in the opposite direction of the crowd that the Purple gate was closed. We had to turn around and push in the opposite direction of the forward moving mass to leave.

One woman on Facebook posted that she was picked up by the moving crowd. Blog post "Purple People Pissed" details the crowd surge.

My father and I desperately looked for a hotel to sit down and watch the proceedings, only to be told that the restaurants were full. The frustrating thing was that there were no Jumbotrons in the area so we were on a frantic search to watch the ceremony. We were pointed to a bar and grill across the street and pushed into a restaurant so crowded that you could barely move.

We watched the Inauguration on the restaurant's big screen TV, and got as far as Aretha's opening song. I felt light-headed and looked back. My father looked faint. He told me he had to sit down. I took him outside and he rested for a moment on a curb. He needed to go back to the hotel to rest. We'd been on our feet for more than 4 hours.

We decided to avoid the crowds leaving the Inauguration and took the train back our Alexandria hotel, missing Obama's getting sworn in and his speech. I guess I'll have to catch it on Youtube.

The most maddening part was coming back and reading DC Police Chief Phillip Morse in the Washington Post addressing the ticket overflow issue: "There's nobody that didn't get to see the inauguration today who had a ticket."

Uh huh.

UPDATE: It wasn't only the purple tickets that were doomed. Check out this video posted on Facebook by Kevin Morris that shows the crowd situation in the blue line. They didn't get in either. From a safety perspective, the size of this crowd and the lack of police presence to control it is completely unacceptable.

Also, the story is getting some local play. NBC Washington reported on "Surviving the Purple Tunnel of Doom."

Just added: NPR ran a piece about the horrendous experience.

And we can all breathe a little easier... Congress is investigating.

But to end on a positive note: here is a video of Obama supporters singing "Lean on Me" to keep their spirits up.

And I applaud the creativity evident in this song "Purple Tunnel of Doom." (They used one of my tunnel photos in the video!)

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