Yep, Vaughn was exhausted, but we had set the date with Glenn Beck in March and even having nearly crossed the country twice in a day already wasn’t going to stop us now! He emptied his luggage and threw in some clean clothes being careful not to forget the Patrick Henry shirt given to him at a town hall meeting we had attended. I never really know how to prepare for trips where we fly stand-by. It could just be a trip to the airport and back, but this time we felt unusually assured that things would work out. With everything all set and grandma here, we said our prayers with the kids and confidently headed into the eye of the gathering storm.
We arrived the morning of 9/11. We picked up our rental car and drove to the hotel. It was raining and I was worried because the weather station had predicted heavy rain for the following day. We made our way thru the gloomy weather and after checking in exceptionally early (6am) without any problems (our original plan had us arriving at usual check in time) we gratefully threw ourselves on the bed and slept.
After recovering (we had to fly from Salt Lake City to California and THEN to D.C.) we decided to head in to see the sights before the big day. The rain had stopped, but it was still overcast reminding us of the solemnity of the day. Thankfully it is always exciting to pull in and drive down Constitution Avenue and see all those historic buildings, monuments and memorials. It brightens the mood to think of all the wonderful people who came here and sacrificed so much to start something so great. After finally figuring out where to park we got out to do some bi-pedal touring. It was a peaceful day and it surprised us how quiet the streets were. It was lovely to visit and we especially enjoyed the WW II monument, reading every engraved quote. But as day turned to evening we began to worry that the turn-out tomorrow would be minuscule. Finally I spotted a bold red “Tea Party Patriot” t-shirt crossing the street towards us! Immediate joy! Anxiously I asked her if she was here for the rally tomorrow and that’s all that was needed to become new best friends. She and her son had come from California a week ago and had participated in several gatherings already. We walked and talked for almost an hour and she gave experienced information about how to ride the metro in the next morning. We said good-bye and promised we’d find each other the next day. Walking back to the car we spotted two other small groups with identifying markers(Freedom Works cap and patriotic shirts) and talked to them about where they had come from and what had brought them the distance to participate. Exchanging concerns we again made more friends from strangers. Funny how comforting it is to find others who are as deeply concerned as you are.
That night I could hardly sleep. Gratefully the alarm noted it was time to get out of bed. We got ready quickly, grabbed a fast-food breakfast, we made our way to the metro. Parking there turned out to be frustrating. Again we saw some “ralliers”, this time the marker was their hand-made signs. We called to them and they said they were just heading into I-HOP for breakfast. Maybe we could beat the crowd and take the car all the way in! Dare we? Well, we are dangerous right-wing extremists! As we drove in we tensed a bit as the streets were already lined with cars and buses. Miraculously a moment later we saw a spot and pulled in! It was 4 hour parking, but we didn’t care! Go ahead, ticket us! We are on a role of rogue behavior! Anyway, we were less worried about a parking ticket then the thought of increased taxes. Had we known how overwhelmed the police would be that day, we wouldn’t have given it another thought!
As we got out and our attention wasn’t on parking anymore, we began to really notice large groups assembling. We started following the crowd to Freedom Plaza. It was already making me very emotional to see the crowds filing in. Clapping my hands and jumping up and down like a teenager, I said to Vaughn hopefully, “I think this is going to be big!” I had no idea! We got as close to the stage as possible where a program of speakers and patriotic music was beginning. We climbed up on a ledge to get a look at the crowd and were fortunate enough to stay there the next hour or two as we watched the crowd multiply. It was thrilling beyond description to behold. I couldn’t believe the difference a night made! Where were all these people yesterday?
Finally it was decided that the march would have to begin early because the crowd had reached “critical mass”. I wanted to stay up on the ledge to see the parade begin. With music pouring from the speakers, I watched as a sea of flags and banners from this massive assembly of patriots rolled down Pennsylvania Avenue. I have never witnessed anything so grand! I was awestruck! It wasn’t a noisy crowd either. In fact, even though people were smiling and talking and laughing, it seemed to have the feeling of reverence. Vaughn felt he had stepped into the scene in from “The Ten Commandments” when the Israelites were leaving Egypt! He was anxious to belong to that family, so we jumped down and began making our way along side our conservative brothers and sisters. We laugh now because at the time we thought we were somewhere near the middle to end of the parade. We were NO WHERE NEAR the end, or even the middle! Vaughn looked like a freedom super hero as he wore like a cape his large “Don’t Tread On Me” flag given to us by our fabulous neighbor. As we walked we noticed people streaming in from all the side streets too and the crowd began to grow and grow and grow.
As we approached the Capital Building, capital police began directing us to the side yards on the right or left of the capital steps. We turned and made our way up on the grassy hill. I was hoping to be near a tree so we could sit and lean up against it as we had already been on our feet several hours. Even though the area was already covered with astroturf, you know grandmas and stuff, Vaughn was able to find a small spot near a tree and we parked there. Inspiring messages could be heard through large speakers. Anthem singing brought tears and cheers. We sat there for several more hours listening, learning, cheering and sharing ideas and experiences with the kind people near us. We were so grateful too that the sky had remained overcast, but it never rained as predicted. It was the perfect temperature for such a large gathering, and it didn’t go unnoticed or unappreciated. Vaughn and I so totally enjoyed watching the crowd, reading the signs – laughing at the funny ones and nodding and the serious ones. Such creativity on display! We were revved up when the crowd chanted “Can you hear us now?” or “Freedom,freedom, freedom!” and “2010, 2010”. As I looked out through the trees, I was overwhelmed at the crowd that had mobilized. I really couldn’t tell where the crowd began or ended. It was obvious that this was the largest assembly I had ever been in attendance with. It was deeply moving.
At one point we decided to get up and start walking through the crowd to get a sense of its enormity. Vaughn and I were so impressed that as we walked through the maze, everyone was so polite and thoughtful with an “excuse me” or a “sorry” if there was a slight bump. One girl was laughing saying that CNN was reporting that there were “thousands” of people here. She joked, “they must just mean the line for the bathroom!” The crowd was so large that sometimes we would hear spontaneous cheering from a section afar off. That was cool! We spent the next few hours walking through the crowd, enjoying the patriotic mood from largest congregation of devoted and resolute conservatives ever assembled here. As the last speaker said her good-byes, we looked around as the crowd began their procession homeward and noticed that the area around us had been treated with respect. Later it was reported that we left virtually no trace besides trampled grass. And, it was also reported that there were no arrests. It was peaceful from beginning to end.
The numbers may never be officially revealed but those who were there can confidently proclaim that hundreds of thousand if not over a million would not be an exaggeration. We didn’t even know then all the places people were standing until we saw pictures of it days later. Vaughn and I made our way back to the car and eventually out of D.C. and back to our hotel. As we put our heads down again, we prayed in thanks for the opportunity we had had that day to be a part of something so amazing. As we nodded off, we reminisced about some of our favorite signs like, “Nancy Pelosi’s ATM machine”, “Not the party of No but the party of Hell NO!” and “My dog makes two shovel ready projects a day” or “Part of the angry mob” adjacent to a picture of a family holding hands. We fall asleep with sore feet and smiles on our faces.
We recognized that this was just the beginning and that we would still have our work cut out for us at home, but now that our batteries had been recharged, our hearts lifted, and our hope in God and country revitalized, we knew we would be able to meet the challenge. Our thanks go out to all those volunteers who made it possible and all those flagwavers who made it unforgettable!