Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln

I had intended to write this email a week ago, but have not succeeded in actually finishing it until now. So I apologize for the news being a little dated! There will be a second email about more recent events coming in the imminent future as well! 

The last weekend in August was characterized by some great moments with Mr. Lincoln (images of the "ride" at Disneyland anyone?). I actually worked at Lincoln on August 26th, 28th, and 30th so my life really was centered upon that memorial for a few days! Though I was working at the same location each of the three days brought very different experiences. 

The first talk I gave on Thursday was to a pretty large group (about 25) which included three folks that had come from Washington state across the country to visit Washington DC for Glenn Beck's "restoring honor" rally on Saturday. I spoke to them briefly before the talk started and they not only stayed for the entire thing, but also made a point to talk to me afterwards. The conversation was not unlike others I have had following programs I have given, but it stood out to me largely because of how deeply moved the one gentleman in particular was. The first thing he said when I approached me after the program was to ask me if I had every taped the program. When I responded in the negative he told me I needed to video it so that my grandchildren would one day be able to see what their grandfather had done and the impact that I was having upon this nation. It really took me aback and I took it to be a significant compliment. 

Apparently he was quite moved by what I had talked about. The talk had gone nearly an hour and my throat was very dry so I went to the back room to get a drink and sit down for a few minutes, but I had only just sat down when I heard a knock at the door and found the same man outside telling me that had some other people that needed to hear my talk. I followed him outside and found three women that he had brought with him into the chamber so that they could hear what I had to say. I put aside my fatigue and immediately engaged them in conversation. I ended up talking to them for about 40 minutes, but very little of what was spoken of was actually my normal "talk" at Lincoln. We covered American history from the birth of the nation through the Civil War and they seemed to be very happy with it as a whole. It was a great way to start the day!

I was at Lincoln again on Saturday, but it was quite a different experience! That day was the day of the aforementioned rally and I found myself right in the midst of it. I was stationed on the steps on Lincoln and spent the day telling people to keep moving and not stop in the walkway and trying to keep things under control. It was actually surprisingly tiring! There were people absolutely everywhere down there that day. The event itself started on the lower plaza moving East to the Washington Monument, but there were thousands of people in the area surrounding Lincoln as well. None of these people, myself included, could actually clearly here what was said from the stage though. I could hear them talking and saw both Beck and Palin very clearly, but could not distinctly tell what was said. So I really have very little impression on the message of the day in terms of what was actually proclaimed from the stage. 

It was very interesting to see the event from the perspective of a ranger though. The crowd was a very good crowd. There were no significant behavioral issues, which is rare in a group that large. The number of people is hard to calculate, but it was well over 300,000 by all estimates. That is a lot of people on the mall, though nowhere near the number that were there for Independence Day or other large events. I rode my bike into work because I knew the metro would be crazy, and even on a bike had a hard time making it in. When I went down to Lincoln to officially take my post I was quite disappointed with what some of the attendees were doing though. The whole point of the event was to focus on restoring honor to this nation and specifically honoring our forefathers and honoring veterans. Many of the people who showed up Saturday morning were too concerned with their own needs and desires to bother about honoring the memorials to the very people they were there to honor. There were people seated all along the wall at the Korean War Veterans Memorial, which is clearly a restricted area, disrespecting the veterans by attending a rally to honor them. Other people had gone right past the cones blocking their way to go and hang off the urns of the Lincoln Memorial in another clearly restricted area. So I and the other rangers had to exert a great deal of effort to dislodge people from these and other areas and to try and get people to respect the memorials and what they stand for and not be concerned only about themselves. 

Beck and his team also dramatically failed to prepare for the crowd. They had speakers and jumbotrons up, but very little water. The people in charge of the water that they did have refused to give it out to people who needed it, which was a significant mistake in the heat of that day. They also failed to have nearly any medical aid anywhere, and none at all in the area between Vietnam and Lincoln, which meant that we were completely swamped with medical casualties of the rally. So many people fell victim to heat exhaustion and dehydration that the Vietnam Memorial kiosk was turned into a triage center with at least seven rangers, including all of our EMT's down there trying to give people aid and get them to the ambulances, which were having great difficulty making it through to the area. 

People did do a good job of picking up their trash and taking it to the cans, but there were no provisions made to deal with it, which meant that there were tremendous mountains of trash all along the reflecting pool simply left behind for the Park Service to deal with. Amongst the trash I counted no less than 40 perfectly good chairs that people had simply abandoned and thrown away rather than take them with when they left. 

So yes, it was a significant event, but I couldn't help but see the way that Beck and his people neglected to prepare and how the federal government that he was preaching against had to pick up the slack. And I couldn't help but see the irony in the  people coming to honor the founding fathers and ideals of this nation and the men who have died to uphold them by disrespecting the memorials to those very same people and the demonstration of American materialism demonstrated by the abandoned chairs, which are now residing in our landfills. Still, definitely a powerful experience to bear firsthand witness to the event. 

And then on Monday I gave what turned out to be some of the best programs I have ever given at Lincoln, connecting the memorial to the larger story of the journey to define equality and freedom in this nation, and using the rally to illustrate the story continuing today. It was a busy and exhausting weekend, but one that was filled with great moments in the shadow of Mr. Lincoln. 

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