Beyond the Fringe

“He lost by 500,000 votes, but we lost it five to four,” a friend said while she urged me to get on one of the buses various political groups were renting to ferry demonstrators from New York to Washington on January 20. Five of my friends and I signed up by e-mail for tickets—$35—to ride on one of the buses hired by Voter March, described as a moderate group with a “good-government agenda.”

Around four-thirty in the morning, on 31st Street, behind Penn Station, hundreds of people gathered under the street lights that relieved the dark. A white guy with a megaphone at his hip said that they had fourteen buses, that there would be room for all. As we boarded the tour bus, two volunteers from among the passengers checked our receipts and distributed the yellow Voter March information sheet, which included explanations about what to do if arrested, and where medical teams would be if needed. There hadn’t been a protest at a presidential inauguration since Nixon took office for the last time in 1973, and no one knew what to expect.

Of the forty-nine passengers, three were black, and none Asian or Hispanic from what I could see, but they ranged in age from student to middle-aged and elderly. The bus started off at five AM and by ten o’clock we were in Maryland. Two young women across the aisle from me were helping those who hadn’t come with posters. They had extra boards, thick-tipped pens, clear tape to make the signs waterproof, which turned out to be necessary. One friend wrote, “Bush Comes to Shove,” which won approval among us in the back of the bus. At eleven we joined the other buses parked in the lot of RFK Stadium on the edge of Washington. Walking to the Metro, we saw the first of what was to be an extraordinarily heavy police presence drawn from many forces from outside the District. Squad car lights rhythmically flashed against the white blanket of sky.

We were on our way to the Voter March rally at Dupont Circle in the northwest of the city, but when we reached the subway stop for the Supreme Court building, Capitol South, we remembered that Al Sharpton, so we thought, was to take a Citizens’ Oath there to defend voters’ rights at the same time that a Bible was to be held on the Capitol steps. We jumped off the train, hoping that people in the group that had made it so easy for us to be there wouldn’t think we’d ditched them to go to a better party, as a friend, a black woman, put it.

On the escalator up to the street, we were surrounded by people on their way to applaud the inauguration. Ahead of us giant white men in white and zebra-striped stetsons strode through the turnstiles. “Oh no,” my black woman friend said. I had a pretty good idea of what she was feeling, because I was feeling…

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