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Sundries
...a sweatshop of moxie

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Doomsday

My dear Sundries readers, it's not often that I read a series of testimonials and I do not know how to react.

As I recount the story of the people who were turned back from watching the Inauguration of President Barack Obama, using their own words, I am filled with such a sympathy for them, but also mixed with incredulity and sometimes even distaste.

It's probably akin to an Obama supporter hearing me say that when I saw Governor Palin's face on that dais as John McCain was giving his concession speech -- when I saw her eyes glisten but not break down, I scrunched up my face in pain, and lowered myself into the sofa crying, unable to watch further. It's not easy saying that, because you know it might not be received the right way. You just hope there is a shred of humanity amongst those who oppose your views, who will not be heartless about your emotion.

I am in that position today.

Have you heard about the purple ticket holders, who had special tickets to view the Inauguration? They had been given away by the likes of Nancy Pelosi, and all the other legislators whose staff members were also included in the mix.

They are calling the tunnel in which they waited an ungodly number of hours to enter the gates, the Purple Tunnel of Doom. They have even made a Facebook group with that name, "Survivors of the Purple Tunnel of Doom", as if they were ex-war combatants, comforted by the presence of others with whom they can share their war stories.



(That won't be the only military allusion you will hear about this, so keep an eye out for that)

The less charitable amongst us, including many Republicans reading this who remember the treatment they received at the hands of pro-Obama supporters, might have trouble giving these people sympathy -- especially since these Purple Tunnel survivors are getting called racist even by their local media, for complaining about the shoddy organisation.

Racist, eh?

Because you have a beef about something related to Obama, and don't feel you should keep quiet in the land of the free? Tough luck there, bub.

But it's not all cold heartless I-told-you-soing from me. As much as I do not share their enthusiasm for President Obama, I am human enough to transpose myself into that tunnel, and imagine I am waiting for the inauguration of the person I had so eagerly campaigned for (perhaps Governor Palin, in this reverie), only to see my dreams of participation shattered. Worse, my pain is therefore dismissed as whining.

It's not that easy, folks. It takes a very brutal person to laugh at their sadness. Yes, they go over the top, and seem like spoilt children who furthermore have the hyperbole of circus posters about their suffering.

If I were so inclined, I would mention that this implosion of organisation in a predominantly black-run city reminds one too eerily of the mess of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. The problem is that NOLA doesn't get hurricane practise like clockwork, every four years.

Further, considering the tactics required to keep order during the Million Man this or that, Protest this or the other, it just doesn't pass the "well, they can't prepare for such a large event" test.

They should be past masters of this task, no matter how large the crowds. There is no excuse.

Unlike Katrina, there is no unpopular president for Kanyé West to blame. It wouldn't be right anyway, because it's not his doing, but that has never stopped anyone from assigning blame arbitrarily.

I wonder, though, if this is one of the reasons we haven't heard any specifics from those in the Purple Tunnel of Doom in media. They do not know how to approach the story of disaffected Obama supporters, angry, disappointed, and completely depressed about the situation.

It would really harsh that Obama Presidency mellow, so they're shunted off to the backpages.

Fortunately, blogs can rectify that, and the excerpts of the stories below are my way of sharing this situation with those who may know little if anything about it.



Voice Number 1:

- "A reported two million people watched Barack Obama's inauguration today. I, unfortunately, wasn't one of them. If you don't care why, and just want foreign policy blogging, skip the rest of this post and come back tomorrow.

See, I went to the show with a few friends who received excellent Purple tickets as a reward for untold hours volunteering as foreign policy advisers for the Obama campaign. We got down to the security checkpoint for the Purple section bright and early (I left home at 4 AM), and were guided into a long tunnel which had been closed to traffic. We waited in line for nearly four hours, in a claustrophobic tunnel with no porta-potties, no food or drink, and not a single official or volunteer in sight. Finally, we got within sight of the Purple Gate -- only to find that it had been closed. Thousands of people in front of us hadn't gotten in (not that anyone bothered to tell the people languishing in the tunnel that the gate had been closed, mind you). Thousands of purple ticket holders were behind us. It's remarkable that there wasn't a riot. I rode the metro home with a lot of people who had been turned away, including an elderly African-American woman muttering over and over to herself that it had been one of the worst experiences of her life.

Searching for a foreign policy angle so that it isn't just my own bitter rant (and can be justified on FP.com)...

Maybe it's a metaphor for how foreign policy advisers to the Obama campaign feel -- thrown out into the cold, shunted into a dismal and dank tunnel, abandoned without any communication, and ultimately locked out of the show.

Or maybe the Israelis could study the experience to learn how to stop the Gaza tunnels -- give every Hamas member a Purple ticket.

Either way, I just hope that Obama runs his foreign policy more effectively than the inaugural committee ran the ticketed sections today. What a dismal way to begin the new era. Bleah. I hope it was a great speech."


Voice Number 2:

"If you are saying we should move on from this, then you MUST not have been there. Clearly you didn't go through the same horrifying experience that I did with my brothers and sisters in this Tunnel of Doom. I was compromised financially and I'm not sure how I will recover in the short term. I will not give up my fight until this situation is made right. I wouldn't be true to myself if I did."

Voice Number 3:

"Regardless of the investigation findings, I've been robbed of a lifetime experience. Further, I brought along my 10 year old cousin to witness history in the making -- an experience I knew would solidify his drive to overcome the obstacles in his life as a young African-American kid living in poverty and within a single parent home. We did everything right to get to the blue gate a little before 8am, including leaving at 4am from Richmond, VA. He endured the bitter cold, the long waits, and even the butterflies in his shoulder. But, as our fears became reality that we would not get through, he started to cry. His tears cut me deeper than missing the swearing-in.

So, I ask my fellow blue and purple ticket holders to consider their loss as a political contribution and withhold any future contributions until you recoup your loss. For me, the experience was priceless, so the math is simple."




Voice Number 4:

"Friends who have seen my emotional aftermath want me to "let it go." But I've been so emotionally invested in this election that getting a ticket to this shared American experience only to have the purple tide rush over me and thousands of others like me, AND crippling my ability to see or hear the inauguration at all, has become hard for me to rationalize."


Voice Number 5:

"I (along with my husband) had Purple tickets. I am heartbroken. We are seniors who have worked actively for Democrats our whole lives. This was our one chance to see our primary and general election candidate sworn in. We can never get this day back. And we are too old to ever try this again. We what we were told. We got there on time. Despite false reports otherwise, all the people I saw were orderly and cooperative. There was simply no line management, nothing. I feel like we were herded like cattle by police who knew they were not going to let us in. No one even tried. Even as our wonderful new president's staff was setting about to end Guantanamo Bay, we were unjustly " imprisoned" (ordered into the tunnel by police), left there to rot like so much garbage. This much I learned: despite all Barack's assurances, I do not count. I was disenfranchised on 1-20-09, a great, but simultaneously devastating, day."

Voice Number 6:

"To those who suggest we 'get over it', and to all the 'organizers' behind this event, may I say I would love to meet with you face to face to discuss this situation. How about say, tomorrow morning at about 6:30am in the 3rd Street tunnel. Just walk down there about 1/4 mile, turn around and stand still for 41/2 hours. I may or may not turn up (NOT) and then you can go home. I will then say sorry and expect you to 'get over it'.

This sense of powerlessness is life-altering, and perhaps it was important to get a taste of that on Obama's inauguration day. I don't think I've ever been in such a situation before, and on the drive home I couldn't help but think of all of those people in this United States who are so completely powerless, who make a monumental effort to give their kids something, only to find themselves a disposable, useless pawn in the game. Power on."




Voice Number 7:

"I saw a grown man defecate in a tunnel in front of thousands of people. This was not OK."

And finally, Voice Number 8:

"Sorry this has been a bit late in writing. I am suffering from an inaugural hangover that NO hair of the dog will alleviate. Back track to the early hours of the am Tuesday the 20th (4:30) to be exact. I had laid out all my layers the night before. Loaded my pockets with only essentials...camera, trail mix, kleenex, 2 packs of therma cares and 4 packs of hand and foot warmers.

Armed with enough gear to give Mt. Everest a go, I grabbed a quick muffin, a banana and some gatorade and began to hydrate so I would only need one possible pit stop. I headed out the door and walked 29 blocks in the chilling cold to the beginning of the line for the purple ticket holders. A line that even now at 6:00 stretched back over a mile through the car tunnel that goes under the mall. As I started walking to the back of the line, I found myself fighting a bit of claustrophobia trying to keep my mind from thinking about all of the the possibilities that could happen to 150,000 people lined up through a mile long tunnel (picture the buried alive scene in Kill Bill). The other thing I noted, was that there were NO security people anywhere to be found. Up top...there were hundreds of military personnel and road closures.

As I took my place in line...I befriended a beautiful young couple who had traveled from NY by bus to get to DC. They were filled with the same hope and excitement that filled us all that morning. As we stood, and stood, and stood, the line was moving painfully slow. It did give all of us a chance to talk and get to know one another. This magic of talking to so many people from so many different places, backgrounds and ages was the same magic I felt working on the campaign. The spirit that Obama was able to instill in an entire nation, a nation badly in need of inspiration. By this time there was a bitter chill in the air, about 23 degrees with a wind chill of...cold. The young girl next to me was complaining of very cold feet so I took out my extra foot warmers and gave them to her. In the 60's, people shared drugs...for this event...foot and hand warmers.

We had gone about halfway into the mile long tunnel, all 150,000 of us and it was starting to get alarmingly close to kick-off. There was a woman and her 3 kids in front of me who was starting to doubt the process but was trying to hold it together for her kids sake. Feeling that the group around me (and myself) could use a bit of a pep talk, I said, "don't worry guys...this is Washington DC, they are so used to doing this, they have handled the masses before and do it better than any city in the world, they are organized and we WILL get in." The woman thanked me and offered me an apple slice.

A moment later...the longest loudest version of if your happy and you know it filled the tunnel, it was incredible.

Did I mentioned that on the other half of the tunnel, emergency vehicles and VIP black SUV's would occasionally drive by the line with sirens blaring at 60 miles an hour...that did a lot for the nerves!!! By now...I had an extreme amount of anxiety standing in this tunnel but tried to hold it together.

Finally after what seemed like hours (4 to be exact) the end of the tunnel was visible and the line was moving. The familiar Yes We Can was now the chant of the hour as all of us breathed a sigh of relief, fresh air and natural sunlight. All of us were just happy to be out and could see the Purple VIP gate in site at about 100 yards. As I got within about 50 feet of the gate...I was greeted with a verbal kick in the stomach. People were yelling, "they have closed the gate...they are not letting anymore people in".



Impossible I thought. I have a Purple ticket...a ticket from Nancy Pelosi...they must mean the general gate. As I pushed my way up to the gate...this nightmare had become a horrifying reality...I had taken a week off work, paid a ridiculous sum of money for my plane ticket, woke up at 4:30 in the morning, walked 29 blocks in freezing temperatures, stood in a dingy, dirty, mile long tunnel for 4 hours with 150,000 other people packed in like sardines trusting only the good in people, and fantasized about this moment for the past 2 and a half months only to be turned away at the gate??????

There was no one there to talk to...not one cop or soldier as no one wanted to bare the brunt of this brutal reality. I thought about scaling the fence and thought better about getting shot. It was now about 11:15. The end of the mall (Lincoln Memorial) with a possible entry was 4 miles away with no taxi's or subways that wasn't an option. This can't be real....this is a bad dream.

The reality set in all at once. I slumped into a sickened ball. Washington let me down, the presidential inaugural committee let me down and I could not make the disconnect that Obama too...had let me down. I began to walk with tears streaming down my face away from downtown. I could hear the trumpets sounding from the marine band as I walked. My tears turned into rage and back into tears. My stomach was in knots. Even worse, there were no cabs or subways to get me out of town so I walked (and cried) the15 blocks until I finally reached the cab zone. I had the cab driver take me back to the house I was staying at in Georgetown. My head was splitting and my stomach was in knots.

I made it back to the house in time to here half of Joe Bidens swearing in. As I sat in my room watching the TV I realized I was not really listening, even as Obama was being sworn in I did not hear or see anything. My head hurt, my body was exhausted and my thoughts...stinging with hurt and disappointment. Halfway through the terrible poet, realizing that I did not want to stay in DC thru Thursday, I called Virgin airways and asked if they could get me on an earlier flight. I explained what had happened and was on the 5:15 flight back to San Francisco. I fell asleep before the plane took off.

After sleeping for almost 13 hours last night, I can tell you that I am still not fit for human consumption. I'm angry and my heart hurts and I need some time to sort through it all. I feel I let us all down...as so many of you were living this dream through me. I can't even turn on the TV as it is just a brutal reminder of the day that wasn't.



There were many people who didn't get in with me yesterday including the woman with the kids and the couple from NYC. In the tunnel we were comrades and to all the Purple pass holders who didn't get in...we now have earned our purple hearts. Keep living your dreams because when you lose your dreams...you die."


I know many are tempted to laugh at the hyperbole of the statesments above. Words like Gaza, Hamas, Purple Heart, disenfranchised etc. etc. etc. were bandied about to explain their suffering on the day.

On one level, it's madness, and the particular lack of maturity displayed by those who feel they are entitled to something in life, and then don't get it.

But these are not four or five year-olds who didn't get a lolly. They are grown men and women who made palpable sacrifices to share a moment they had worked for, some with financial sacrifices, all with emotional ones.

I can feel for them, even though at times I feel like they invested so much in the person of this person, that they were bound to come crashing to the ground eventually. In a sense, it serves as a warning to me especially, should I ever participate so fully in a forthcoming Presidential campaign.

One has to say to oneself, remember, nothing in life is about certainty. A ticket does not mean you WILL get inside, just that you MAY.

Just like President Obama's presidency is not certain to succeed, but may fail.

Getting a grip of reality is really just one more layer that wisdom gives you as you grow older. For many, realisations and dreams seem to be one and the same. And sometimes you realise that once your usefulness to a person is over, your importance to them is over too.

This is what happened here, inside this tunnel in shades of purple.

And of course, that is the real disaster of this sad event. Too many people had to grow up the hard way.

IN THE COMMENTS: Some really good stuff like Synova's common sensical and empathic reaction.

"I don't think it's funny and I don't think they're whining either.

I *never* even try to go to anything like this. When my husband worked at Lucasfilm we could have gone to a big premier party for Episode 3 and tried, but when the parking was full we decided not to try to park elsewhere in San Francisco and walk with our four small kids. But it's a situation that I avoid with a vengeance. I don't even go to special sales at stores.

What people go through to participate in an event like the inauguration is not trivial. It's not cheap. And the physical toll is significant. Even without such an emotional component to start... if it had be *me*... I'd have been in tears and I don't even like the guy.

What should have happened is that an announcement should have been made as soon as possible after the problem was apparent that anyone with tickets they hadn't been able to use would be able to redeem those tickets to get into an event staged just for them that Obama would attend. OR that the tickets could be mailed in to exchange for some special bit of swag or memorial item that no one else got."

I agree that would be a nice gesture, but that strikes me as something a President of either Party wouldn't do so as not to establish a precedent.

As my father says, Americans have unrealistic expectations due to your culture of accountability. When things do not go right, whether in ordering a pizza which arrives late and cold, or not getting into an Inauguration, people feel redress is owed them. In other countries, people shrug, and accept it (as Dr. Kill wrote) because "Sometimes, sh*t just happens."

That doesn't make you all wrong, obviously. It might even be the correct expectation to have in this world. But it does make for a lot of disappointment because few things ever go according to plan.

Jeff also points out this nonsequitur.

"I was disenfranchised on 1-20-09, a great, but simultaneously devastating, day.""

sigh. I do not think that word means what that person thinks it does.

I was thinking the same thing. Unless he believes their presence at the Inauguration counts as a "vote" of support...

UPDATE: This being the land of the free -- to make a buck out of anything, we already have the memorial t-shirt.



American Apparel t-shirt. $22. S/M/L/XL.

Labels: , , ,

19 Comments:

  • Hey, thanks--for telling us their story here--and for doing the job others should be doing too!

    Gloomy title though.

    By Blogger chickenlittle, at Sat Jan 24, 01:40:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Thanks, Chickenlittle!

    The title is viewed through the prism of their pain, which reflects their childlike disappointment about the Inauguration.

    "Purple Tunnel of Doom", the other tilte, would sounds too Pink Floyd. ;)

    Incidentally, I'm really shocked to have read for the first time, anything about what these people went through. There has been NOTHING in my local papers, nor really online.

    It's a blanket of silence, and possibly a harbinger of things to come...

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Sat Jan 24, 02:26:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Purple hearts? Seriously?

    By Blogger JSU, at Sat Jan 24, 03:21:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Sounds like a lot of people were promised things that couldn't be delivered when it came down to it. Hmmm...

    I can't laugh at what happened, but I'm not sorry for them either. Not after the way they--with help from the media--treated the opposition in those last couple months.

    As time goes on, more and more people are going to find out what it feels like to be on the receiving end of our pro-Obama media.

    Anyway, you've done a great post, Victoria, with a lot of wisdom in it. (I had not heard about this story
    until reading it here.)

    By Blogger knox, at Sat Jan 24, 03:29:00 pm GMT-5  

  • I'd call them the "Forgotten Riders of the Purple Sage," but that actually gives too much credit to Obama's sagicity.

    And sometimes you realise that once your usefulness to a person is over, your importance to them is over too.

    I feel for them, and for you too. It’s been a while, but I’ve been there myself. We all have. Those of us who are human, at least.

    By Blogger chickenlittle, at Sat Jan 24, 03:37:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Easy, sweetheart. Sometimes, shit just happens. This sounds like one of those times. The fact that it is Federal Government shit, lovingly wrapped in red tape, means ain't no one gonna be responsible. In fact that's why it happened, no one wanted to man up and open the gates. Of course, if there was a way to blame GWB we would have heard somewhat more about this

    By Blogger dr kill, at Sat Jan 24, 04:49:00 pm GMT-5  

  • I blame the inauguration committee. They delegated their duties downward and it was continued to be delegated down until it hit bottom. NOW they are going to look into it and see how it happened. It happened because no one did any planning.

    By Blogger jeff, at Sat Jan 24, 08:14:00 pm GMT-5  

  • "I was disenfranchised on 1-20-09, a great, but simultaneously devastating, day.""

    sigh. I do not think that word means what that person thinks it does.

    By Blogger jeff, at Sat Jan 24, 08:17:00 pm GMT-5  

  • I don't think it's funny and I don't think they're whining either.

    I *never* even try to go to anything like this. When my husband worked at Lucasfilm we could have gone to a big premier party for Episode 3 and tried, but when the parking was full we decided not to try to park elsewhere in San Francisco and walk with our four small kids. But it's a situation that I avoid with a vengeance. I don't even go to special sales at stores.

    What people go through to participate in an event like the inauguration is not trivial. It's not cheap. And the physical toll is significant. Even without such an emotional component to start... if it had be *me*... I'd have been in tears and I don't even like the guy.

    What should have happened is that an announcement should have been made as soon as possible after the problem was apparent that anyone with tickets they hadn't been able to use would be able to redeem those tickets to get into an event staged just for them that Obama would attend. OR that the tickets could be mailed in to exchange for some special bit of swag or memorial item that no one else got.

    By Blogger Synova, at Sat Jan 24, 08:32:00 pm GMT-5  

  • My comments in the update, as usual. :)

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Sun Jan 25, 12:36:00 am GMT-5  

  • "In other countries, people shrug, and accept it"

    Like, say, Zimbabwe?

    By Blogger JSU, at Sun Jan 25, 12:51:00 am GMT-5  

  • Like, say, Zimbabwe?

    Like I said, JSU, I think the way Americans are may just be the right way to be in life, because you are constantly improving it by holding people accountable.

    This is the land where "Customer Service" toll line was invented, after all.

    But you see, that can spawn a mindset where people then can believe they are worthy of Purple Hearts after suffering disappointment in a queue.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Sun Jan 25, 01:21:00 am GMT-5  

  • I will be blogging in the morning guys. I want more people to read this blogpost, than maybe got the chance on Saturday. :)

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Sun Jan 25, 01:24:00 am GMT-5  

  • Well, I think there's a difference between recognizing that this sort of screw-up is unpleasant, intolerable and bitch-worthy (#7 -- gross!), and complaining about it in the most comically narcissistic way imaginable.

    I think the first impulse was part of the culture before the second... If it had been Republicans, I suspect the complaints would be just as vehement, but rather differently phrased.

    By Blogger JSU, at Sun Jan 25, 01:53:00 am GMT-5  

  • Hey again, JSU. :)

    I was going to write after Synova's comment that I suspect Republicans stuck in that tunnel might've had the same reaction had it been to a person they really wanted to see inaugurated -- but I stopped, since I don't think they would've seemed so...entitled, oh I don't know, maybe that's not the right way to say it.

    It's just that there is an overwhelming sentiment in these "Voices".

    Of almost owning a part of Obama, and therefore, a sense of entitlement to be a part of his next step in life, since they were instrumental in its fruition.

    The older man who said he should get a Purple Heart also called what they went through imprisonment, and practically connoted the police protecting the barriers as goosestepping Gestapo.

    There is a tremendous disconnect here.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Sun Jan 25, 02:04:00 am GMT-5  

  • Seems to me there is a social contract involved: if you have a ticket and show up on time, you should get in to see the show, not just maybe. Somebody messed up in a big way - too many tickets printed, counterfeit tickets, etc and managed to alienate some of BO's staunchest supporters. Classic case of shooting one's own foot in the case of the organizers.

    By Blogger Lionheart, at Sun Jan 25, 04:01:00 am GMT-5  

  • I completely agree with commenter Knox above. I don't feel sorry for these people. They helped to foist Obama upon the rest of us.

    "They do not know how to approach the story of disaffected Obama supporters, angry, disappointed, and completely depressed about the situation."

    It's called Schadenfreude.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jan 25, 07:53:00 am GMT-5  

  • We have here a bit of "foreshadowing" as used in literary works.

    Thousands of people stuck in a tunnel, each holding a worthless ticket from Nancy Pelosi! Wait a few years. Ms. Pelosi et al. will provide you with worthless medical care and retirement benefits as well.

    Behold the future.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jan 25, 08:29:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Does anyone know how many attendees were affected? (I did read an account of someone who I think was at another location with another ticket color and wasn't able to get through the gate, so I don't think the problem was limited to the Purple Tunnel of Despair.)

    As for their reaction, some of these people traveled hundreds or thousands of miles to see an event that mattered deeply to them, only to find that some screwup prevented it. And not only that, they got very close.

    Naturally they're disappointed and upset. Anyone would be under those circumstances. That they didn't get an apology or any sort of official (or unofficial, i.e. media) notice or sympathy makes it worse.

    By Blogger jaed, at Mon Jan 26, 12:51:00 am GMT-5  

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