(Article changed on October 1, 2013 at 20:11)
(Article changed on October 1, 2013 at 18:40)
8 cups of tea by Marta Steele
On this exquisitely perfect autumn day, first day of the government shutdown, I headed to Capitol Hill for a rally in support of Obamacare. Instead I came upon one against FDA approval of opioids, with various people telling tragic stories about the consequences of addiction to them. "FED UP!" said their purple and white tee shirts. Representative Jean Schakowsky (D-IL) was their high-profile presence--in case I wondered about the political persuasion of the participants.
I left the scene, saddened by one story after the next, and explored the comparatively empty area. There were a few government employees milling around, and the expected reduced accessibility of their workplace buildings, with even important-looking suits walking away from locked doors, wondering how to enter the buildings. One inconspicuous basement entrance was open in the Russell Senate building.
I photographed a homeless person, a tour group, and the deserted area around the capitol building, an armed guard the sole presence on the wide, sprawling stairways. I photographed the SCOTUS building and the Washington Monument imprisoned behind scaffolding similarly--the latter still in progress from the earthquake that hit two years ago. A spire of the National Cathedral is also still scaffolded.
I've saved the worst for last. On the lawn in front of the capitol, press was evident, CNN and the local DC Channel 8, for starters. I went up to a CNN photographer to find out what was going on but he was whisked away in midsentence to film an interview. A glamorous group clustered in front of me: glamorous platinum blond newscaster and a few ogling suits. I was comfortably seated within hearing distance, anxious for content, but they decided to relocate because the sun was too bright, no offense to the straw-hatted, sunglass-wearing cameo attempting to be inconspicuous.
Then I began to hear loud chants from isolated individuals on the periphery: one was a twenty-year-old man complaining that he wanted to go to college but couldn't afford it. Then I realized that the older man I had practically collided with as I approached the scene was Sen. Harry Reid, looking feverishly distraught. I met his eyes with sympathy, wondering if he was Harry Reid, but he seemed to have too much hair on his head, blowing in the wind.
I was assured it was Harry by what followed. A huge clump of suits ascended onto the lawn where a lectern had been positioned. Oh, my God, who were they? Rand Paul? Ted Cruz? I joined a crowd that had swiftly assembled in front of the clump. The Tea Party!
One after another, they complained self-righteously about Obama and Reid's refusal to sit down and talk when they were doing just that with each other and, moreover, continuing to consider other vitally important issues. Without pay, I was later reassured. Reid's name was disparaged again and again for refusing to give way to these enlightened and reasonable icons of democracy.
Why, they had the perfect solution. The twenty year old continued to rotate around the clump of us with his audible chant. Other kindred spirits kept saying, "Wake up! Wake up! Do your job!The people hate you! Do what you were hired to do!" One woman from the sidelines called out that Obama had been reelected after the ACA was passed. They were going against the will of the people.
Oh, but there were answers. They were going to cut up Obamacare and address it item by item. Do allocate to veteran medical care, for instance. The lines are far too long. I muttered something about their popularity level, at 10 percent, being lower than that of cockroaches (which was confirmed by a newscast a few days ago--no joke). The people surrounding me oozed contempt . . . at me.
Oh, how they spun. The audience was largely silent beyond the few vocal objections clearly heard and largely ignored, except for one suit who affirmed that they had the right to express themselves.
But get this, there was no applause and no supportive cheering. Press conferences are press conferences, I guess, but this was a hybrid group.
Then a few members of the press, all standing in the front row, did chime in with questions, few if any challenging and all challenges spun around effortlessly. Soon after, the suits dispersed and I joined one small clump surrounding Louisiana Rep. John Fleming. What were the two tony young reporters asking him? I swear that they were saying nothing. I do believe that at one point he reassured them that he had the support of his constituents. One of the reporters, a platinum blond, gushed how famous they were and how great it was to meet them before she walked off clumsily.
I was poker-faced, eager to hear something, anything that made sense. I to conjure up a question that might have been answered sincerely. "Are you idiots?" No, that wouldn't have done it. I looked around at the suits in despair.
Then I walked off without looking back.