This morning I decided it was shaping up to be a nice day to bike around the Mall area. At the same time, I thought it would be interesting to check on what the big fuss is all about surrounding the Pentagon Freedom Walk. Turns out it was much ado about nothing.
Recall that the entire route was kept closed. Pre-registration/pre-screening was a requirement. The first thousand registrants were to receive Freedom Walk t-shirts. Or, as summarized neatly in the WaPost: “What’s unusual for an event on the Mall is a combination of fences, required pre-registration and the threat of arrest.”
Indeed. As a long-time Washingtonian, I’ve been to movie filmings on the Mall; I’ve been crushed by the crowds at larger demonstrations; I’ve had ice thrown at me but never, ever have I bumped into a police officer at every corner, on every block, as I did today — near the White House, on the Mall, Foggy Bottom, Watergate, you name it, and you’d find multiple officers on foot, in squad cars, on bikes, on horses.
One clue explaining the enhanced police presence dowtown comes from the Post:
“The U.S. Park Police will have its entire Washington force of several hundred on duty and along the route, on foot, horseback and motorcycles and monitoring from above by helicopter. Officers are prepared to arrest anyone who joins the march or concert without a credential and refuses to leave, said Park Police Chief Dwight E. Pettiford.”
Oh my. And let me tell you, the Metropolitan Police (DC) were out in full force as well.
Poor Rummy. There very well may have been more police on duty than actual Freedom Walkers. So much for “welcoming the event as a way to counter anti-war protestors.”
I saw my first group of Freedom Walkers near the Convention Center at around 8:30 am. A nice family of four, all wearing their t-shirts w/ corporate sponsors on the back. They looked lost — after all, the DC Convention Center is not near the Pentagon. While they were probably looking for the Metro stop, I decided that they were fine on their own and continued on my way.
Figured I’d cruise through Lafayette Park across the street from the White House on my way to the Mall. It’s always good fun to find a group angry with Bush to start off the day. Alas, I found the general area blocked off by police —
Yes, that’s the empty suit’s house in the background. So, off on a detour to the Mall. At the Lincoln Memorial I found the first sign of the march, which was to begin at 10:00 am at the Pentagon
If you are at the Lincoln Memorial and face the Washington Monument, you have the Reflection Pool in front off you. The public was completely cut off from the east side of the Reflection Pool. So, in the photos that follow, I am on the west side of the Reflection Pool.
Chatting with a few policemen, I was told that the event was scheduled to end sometime before 1:00 pm. So, I know you are as relieved as I was to find out that the organizers made sure that Freedom Walkers would not suffer any discomfort by providing a generous number of Freedom Port-A-Potties!!
Now, to get oriented in preparation for the Walkers … the concert stage is to the left of these Port-A-Potties, and to the right, more Port-A-Potties.
Yes, w/ all of the Port-A-Potties and hundreds upon hundreds of officers, one could feel certain that the Walkers would be safe and secure from the likes of … me. It was very hard thinking about New Orleans while taking this in.
At 11:00 am, the Saints Came Marching In.
The event stage is the metal-gray construction to the right of the tents. The crowd was not even packed in front of the stage! And as you start looking to the right, you can see how rapidly it thins out. In fact, I continued to pan to the right to see …
Lincoln laughing his ass off at the lame turnout.
I am certain that they did not even achieve the lower estimate of 3,000 that they anticipated. In fact, in talking to some of the Walkers later, they felt pretty certain that just about everybody got a shirt , so either the Pentagon was feeling generous or perhaps the turnout was in the vicinity of 1000+.
A two-man, two-woman country band called Little Big Town started the show. Oh, despite my not being officially invited, I could hear everything just fine. Next up, the Star Spangled Banner as performed by the United Youth (?) of the VA National Guard. They did a nice job. Then, a DJ from WMZQ (a DC country station) informed that this is only the FIRST Freedom Walk — next year they hope to do this in all major cities across the US!! Then asked the crowd to cheer for Rummy, who was shaking hands somewhere in the vicinity. A good deal of blather neatly linking 9-11 and the troops in Iraq — and another cheer for the troops, who were somehow plugged into this event. Then Clint Black, who asked for a moment of silence and then launched into his set.
What was kind of amusing is the number of ppl slowly filing out by the tents as Clint Black started his set. It was my cue to leave as well.
I did talk to a few groups of Walkers and kept politics out of it. They were all local, and they thought the other co-marchers were mostly local as well. In support of this was the fact that many picked up their t-shirts in advance. My hunch is that a good chunk of the “turnout” consisted of Pentagon employees and their families.
Finally, for something a little different, an original British Call Box in Foggy Bottom.