I've gone to more than a dozen or so events in Washington DC that have involved large crowds. We had only been in DC a few weeks in 1989, when I took the kids down to the Smithsonian's annual Folk Arts Festival on the Mall. Stretching a little more than the length of the museums of American and Natural History, the festival drew a healthy crowd that filled this area, but allowed for safe and free flow of traffic, blocked occasionally by a blanket of picnickers. Our next big event was Earth Day 1990, and I realized the first event had been a warmup. The kids and I joined the throngs that lined the streets for the Victory Celebration that Washington threw at the end of Desert Storm in 1991, and the mobs on the Mall for Bill Clinton's American party following his inauguration. The last crowd I joined in DC was the first anti-Iraq War march in September 2003. Up to this point, I think this was the largest group I had ever seen or been in, but it was a moving crowd (the word march being operative).
I have also been in Dam Square in Amsterdam on New Year's Eve (2005). I say this not to brag, but as a way of indicating that I am not unfamiliar with crowds. All of those crowds pale in comparison to what we were a part of today!
Emily, Sean, and I knew this was different almost from the start. The Red Line Metro train that originates only one stop from the Wheaton stop, where we boarded, was full when it pulled into the station. When I say full, I mean that the seats were nearly all taken and people were standing in the aisles. By the time we got two more stops in toward the city, I was crammed into a corner and could not have fallen down unless everyone else did.
We took the Metro to Metro Center and then walked down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Mall. The crowd got thicker and thicker the closer we got. By the time we got on Mall side of the Museums, we were carefully working our way into the crowd just north of 7th Street, and just east of the line of Portapotties set up in a line across from the Natural History Museum. We had to inch our way in, and could not get past the tree line (trees line the Mall on either side). From where we were, we could see the Jumbotrons at the front, as well as the bank of speakers. Well, I couldn't actually see the Jumbotrons; I caught an occasional glimpse of one corner of one. I am 5'6", which was considered above average height for women not that long ago and is now evidently only above average height for pygmies. I did see and come in physical contact with lots and lots and lots of people!
As we stood there, the crowd became more and more compacted, until scratching your nose became a necessarily coordinated effort. Some of the younger, hardier souls risked the hefty National Park Service fines and climbed into the trees for a better view (to the cheers and applause of the immediate crowd). It was a very diverse crowd, in all sizes, colors, ages, and abilities; and a pleasant crowd. Tolerance and general good humor were the common traits of this gargantuan group. After a little more than an hour of this imposed close personal contact with humanity, I suggested that we adjourn to a Pub for food and drink.
We once again inched and edged our way through the crowd. After about fifteen minutes, we got back to the street and worked our way back to 7th Street. As far as I could see up 7th, there were people, a good six or seven city blocks! We walked up 7th toward China Town and one of my favorite watering holes in DC: Fados. We had to wait to get in (at 2:00 on a Saturday afternoon) shared a table with a couple of guys who had come to the Rally from Atlanta, Georgia. The place was filled with rally participants (as was every restaurant, cafe, and coffee shop on 7th and all the streets leading to it) eating, drinking, watching the rally on the TV, and continuing their friendly participation through cheers and applause.
The Metro ride back to Wheaton was just as crowded as the ride in, and people were now more than a little tired; but the tolerant mood prevailed and there was no ugliness. Although I was pretty exhausted from the crowd (I crashed on the couch for over an hour after we got back), I am glad I came. I am glad I was part of something big, something that maybe got someone's attention and gave them a different perspective. I am even happier that I was able to do this with my daughter at my side. I am probably the luckiest woman in the world.