One year ago this Saturday, in the early morning hours of October 2, 2010, I stumbled out of my apartment in Washington Heights and caught the A train downtown. I was headed to Canal Street, where a contingent of intrepid, sleep-deprived WGAE members and staff was gathering at 5:45 a.m. to board buses bound for Washington, D.C. Our destination: a large, labor-sponsored rally, which was meant to be the answer to Glenn Beck’s kooky Restoring Honor Tea Party event that had been held on the Mall in late August.
Huddled together on the darkened sidewalk along 6th Avenue just north of Canal, we had no idea our rally would have its thunder stolen by a different progressive gathering, the one that Jon Stewart had announced for October 31st, which he dubbed the Rally to Restore Sanity. So many rallies, so little time. And ours, alas, just didn’t have a catchy name (One Nation Working Together – sorry but that definitely needs a rewrite).
The 5½ hour bus ride to Washington D.C. was not especially memorable. I tried to catch up on my sleep, then introduced myself to some fellow scribes. WGAE staff did an excellent job of organizing: attendance was taken, sandwiches and beverages were handed out and the Guild’s red t-shirts were distributed.
The bus dropped us off in the parking lot of RFK Stadium, where we joined tens of thousands of other union members from around the country. It was a stirring tableau…until practical matters intervened and we were forced to wait for an hour in the mother of all lines to catch the Metro to the Mall. Kudos to Guild staff for providing us all with subway passes and keeping our contingent herded together.
When we reached the Mall, we trekked to a spot along the Reflecting Pool, about a quarter mile from the speakers’ podium in front of the Lincoln Memorial. It had turned into a beautiful autumn day and from that picturesque location we raptly listened to a succession of gifted, inspiring, progressive speakers deliver uniformly brilliant, impassioned oratory that would have given Martin Luther King a run for his money.
The speeches I heard that October afternoon were not especially memorable. Unfortunately, President Obama didn’t make an appearance. A year later, I can’t recall a single speaker or what they talked about. The same was true the day after the rally!
After two and half hours of hanging out on the Mall, our WGAE staff minders informed us that it was time to head back to the buses for the ride home. The seven hour bus ride back to Manhattan was not especially memorable. My recollection is that we returned to our gathering spot in Lower Manhattan at about 10:30 p.m.
Superficially recalling that day a year later, I remember spending twelve and a half hours on buses and three hours on subways in order to sit on the Mall for a couple of hours listening to a succession of mediocre speakers at a now-forgotten rally that barely registered in the media. Dr. King’s 1963 March on Washington it wasn’t.
I probably sound like a grumpy curmudgeon and perhaps I am. But, honestly, I had a wonderful and memorable experience that day. It was truly exciting to trek down to the nation’s capital with union brothers and sisters and make our political views known. I relished the deviation from my normal routine and the fun and adventure that this journey provided.
And two of the seeming drawbacks of the day – the long hours spent on buses and the inferior quality of the speeches – turned out to have unexpected benefits.
The bus rides provided ample opportunity to spend quality time with fellow writers. Long conversations flowed. Old friendships were renewed. New ones were forged.
And the mediocre speeches allowed me to wander away from our gathering spot to take in the sights and sounds of the rally and photograph some of the unique and unforgettable characters who were drawn to it.
Like the guy dressed as the Grim Reaper who carried a huge, hand-lettered poster that read, “Death thanks the GOP for its stance on healthcare reform. You guys sure make my job easy.” And the elegant, gray-haired, octogenarian woman who held above her head a placard bearing the words, “Feed the Poor. Eat the Rich.” And the bearded, middle-aged man whose sign proudly proclaimed “Amnesiacs Vote Republican.” These signs weren’t written under a WGAE contract, but good writing is still good writing!
In retrospect, I am especially delighted that the Guild took it upon itself to organize this field trip, providing the buses and the meals and even the Metro cards. It seemed to signal a new, more activist bent to our union and I really welcome that.
I hope there is another, similar field trip in the Guild’s future. This curmudgeon would be more than happy to rise again at 4:30 a.m. to be part of it.