the purple (ticket) line

Thursday 22 January 2009

If you didn’t know already, I was one of the multiple millions who was in DC for Barack Obama’s inauguration on 20 January 2009.  I hope to share a few stories but lets get started here.  It almost seems a bit redundant after reading and hearing many similar stories already (see links below), but I feel a bit of need to share my experience, too.

I was initially uncommitted to venturing to DC for the festivities, but I had put in a request with my congressman Bob Latta (OH-5), the morning following the election, and when it was confirmed that I would be receiving two “tickets” to the inauguration ceremonies, I committed to go, bringing with me my brother Adam to use the other ticket.  We didn’t know exactly where the tickets would get us until picking them up Monday morning at Latta’s (after a half hour wait outside a congressional office building).  Then we got our programs (great memento, notwithstanding) and learned we’d be in the purple section.  (See this map for ticket holder sections.)

Adam and I debated arrival times based on where in the section we wanted to stand (about 1/2 of it seemed to be obstructed by trees) and gueses on ambitiousness of others with tickets, and we arrived near the purple ticket gate around 7AM, with security scheduled to begin at 8AM and actual section opening at 9AM.  When we took a look at the entrance and found the apparent “line” we were to get into, which extended down the block, turned, and then turned again to enter the tunnel which goes under the mall area between 2nd and 3rd streets.  A police officer asked to see our tickets to get into the tunnel.  (See here an interesting map of the situation.)  After walking for about 15 mintues (to put is now at 7:15), we reached what was then the end of a line (I don’t want to say “the line” because I’m guessing there were more, based on future occurrences), about 80% or 90% of the way down through the tunnel.

And we waited.  Sitting there for an hour without moving was expected, and we slowing moved up in small surges, trying to estimate if we actually were moving fast enough to make the assumed 11:30 cutoff we anticipated for entrance.  We chatted with people around us to pass the time, Adam and I read a bit as well, and we moved ahead.  About 10:30, getting close to the exit of the tunnel but losing hope, the mother of a girl standing near us returned after doing some investigating, with the girl leaving and us learning of the apparent shutting of the gates and no one getting in at this point.  Adam and I decided to stay in line, actually able to move out of the tunnel a bit before 11 as the people were really surging forth to get out of the tunnel and near the entrance.

A bit after 11, Adam and I decided it was most prudent to ditch the line and seek viewing/listening elsewhere — and it seems like that was a good choice based on videos and reports of the non-successes of those who stuck around.  In a bit of luck and irony, after an epic journey walking/jogging for 30 minutes (which I may speak of later), we found what I can only assume to be a breach of security at the 3rd Street entrance to the mall (which means, yes, we did walk all the way around the capital) to allowed us entrance to the mall, with no security to clear, to view the ceremony (post-Biden swearing in) almost directly above the tunnel we had spent about 4 hours in.

In reality, the tunnel experience wasn’t that bad, but the outcome was indeed horrible.  Adam and I were extremely lucky and fortunate to end up with the view we finally held for this historical event, but thousands, likely tens of thousands, who had received tickets they believed (with no reason not to) would grant them access to history.  Instead, many were left to watch it on tape or find a TV to watch it on instead.  I intend to share my disgust with the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies at feedback@jccic.senate.gov and invite all others who had similar experiences to do the same!

Did I mention there were no police or security in the tunnel with us either?  That could have been disastrous.

Here are some of the MANY pieces I’ve found online relating to this fiasco:
An NPR story (similar to on Adam and I heard on our drive out of DC): A Frustrating Inaugural for Many
Two Washington Post articles: fiasco and subsequent apology and statement by Sen. Diane Feinstein (head of inaugural committee)
A bit from the NY Times: Guided Into Tunnel, Ticket Holders Missed Swearing-In
Politico article: Inaugural woes have members ticked
Two other bloggers: the purple tunnel of doom and Cursed Purple Tickets

YouTube has been a great place for some great video evidence (hundreds more than this if you keep looking):
My favorite: The Purple Ticket of DOOM! (An experience very similar to mine, except for the exact time stamps.)
A close second, a funny, amazing song!: Purple Tunnel of Doom — a Song
One man’s rant: Long Live the Purple Ticket Holders
Near the Purple Gate, probably close to 11:30: People With Purple Tickets Chanting and Useless PURPLE Tickets

And of course, the Facebook group for all of us who were left out in the cold (literally!): Survivors of the Purple Tunnel of Doom


‘unconditional support’ for Israel questioned (damn straight!)

Wednesday 14 January 2009

Though it has similar thoughts to my previous post, you can read my letter to the editor for the Crescent-News (Defiance, OH) here or below.  I’m excited that more people will be hearing these truths (especially in such a part of Ohio as this!).

Many one-sided pieces regarding the current Gaza/Israel conflict have graced these editorial pages in the past weeks, and I wanted to interject some thoughts that don’t come out much in the US press which give reason to question the seemingly unconditional support given to Israel by so many.

First, I want to say that I in no way condone violence, no matter who is perpetrating it; I support neither the rockets being launched by Hamas nor Israel’s military violence made in the name of retaliation.

In the US, Israel is portrayed in politics and the press as a peace-seeking democracy, and many cite Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 as a good-faith act toward peace in the region. However, this was done without consultation of Palestinians, and many agree this simply has allowed Israel to focus its efforts on the occupation of the West Bank, where Palestinians continue to suffer daily (something I experienced firsthand this past Spring).

In fact, while Israel has not had anyone stationed in Gaza since the 2005 withdrawal, they have continued to control its borders, sea coast, and air space. In recent years they have created a blockade around Gaza that completely restricts or extremely limits the movement of much needed food, medical supplies, fuel, and electricity. A recent statement from the Vatican went as far as to compare Gaza to a “concentration camp.” Israel continues to ignore international law in the Fourth Geneva Convention, which requires an occupying power to provide for the welfare of the civilians it occupies (which should be applied to Gaza and certainly to the West Bank).

Most Palestinians did not choose to live in Gaza but are refugees, driven from their homes by the Israeli army at the creation of Israel in 1948. These Palestinians have never been compensated for their previous lands and homes, similar to the way Native Americans were treated in respect to the lands of this country.

Also, while Hamas is considered a terrorist entity by the US and others, it is also a political party that won Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January 2006. The legality of this election is not in question. This was in large part a response to the corruption in the Palestinian government previously, not a sign that the people as a whole seek the elimination of Israel, even though this is stated in the Hamas party charters. Israel, the US, and many others continue to ignore Hamas’ right to rule based on these legitimate democratic elections.

Finally, much has been made about Israel’s “right to defend itself,” including recent resolutions passed in Congress stating just that. However, no one cares to describe the oppressive circumstances Israel has continued to place upon Gaza (and the West Bank). So while I do not agree with Hamas’ violent resistance tactics nor Israel’s retaliation, I ask: Should not Hamas have the same “right to defend itself” from an oppressive situation imposed by Israel, a right that so many give to Israel itself?

Also, check out this great piece by Rashid Khalidi last week in the NY Times with some similar sentiments.


breaking the silence

Thursday 8 January 2009

You only need to look at the size of the words “peace” and “Palestine” in the tags section on the right side of my weblog to realize that these two topics are very important to me.  However, you’ll also recognize that since Israeli bombing attacks on Gaza began on the morning of 27 December, and even when the ground attacks of Gaza began on 3 January, I haven’t written about the issue.  It’s not that I don’t care, as I surely do, but when there are no easy answers or quick sound bites to capture my feelings of support or disgust, it’s hard to really know what to write or share, what stories to underline and which to gloss over.

When there is nothing but gray, no good side to get behind, what do you do?  I am always on the side of peace, nonaggression, and nonviolence, and from the looks of it, neither Hamas (currently in charge of the Gazan Palestinians) nor the Israeli government are a good fit for someone like myself to get behind and support.  Even the UN is lacking in this conflict.  So what do you do?  Do you say nothing?  That’s what I’ve resigned to do so far, and it’s allowed me time to think things over a bit and decide what I want and need to say.

When you get down to it, it’s a bit of a “which came first” scenario, in my mind, and a recognition that violence comes in many forms.  However, the “which came first” scenario is a way in which people seek to place blame, and really, there is plenty of blame to go around.  I’ve heard, in various ways, “Can you blame the Israelis for fighting back when a group is launching rockets into its communities?”  I guess I can understand their reasoning, but can’t I still “blame” them?  In either case, it’s not something I believe in.

And, unfortunately, I think that the questions Israel (and it’s supporters) are asking overshadow some of the other questions that need to be thought about, too:
“If your country/area were blockaded, walled and fenced in like a jail, unable to receive necessary supplies of food and medicine, wouldn’t you seek some kind of way to gain attention to change that?” (A question from the Hamas point of view)
“If you saw another country being oppressed in the ways of the previous question, would you look the other way and do nothing, and (in some cases) maybe even continue to support the oppressor(s)?  Or would you take substantial steps to deal with the oppressor, maybe by either setting up sanctions or withdrawing the support that allows for such oppression in the first place?”  (Questions the U.S. and other countries, and their citizens, need to be asking)

It’s hard to be in a position where you can’t really support a tangible entity in a situation, which is kind of what I feel in this current Gaza/Israel conflict.  There are certainly those now calling for a cease fire, which is great in the short term, but we need much more than that.  How does one really support peace and reconciliation when no one involved (at least the large entities that seem to hold the power to truly make a difference) appears to truly want it themselves?  I guess that’s the question I, and many like myself, continue to ask ourselves.