Feeling remarkably fresh for someone working on three hours of sleep (poker is a cruel mistress), I threw my backpack in the trunk and settled in for ride. Behind the wheel was my friend Arun, who generously offered to drive for the trip down to protest the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington D.C. I’d been anticipating this excursion for at least two solid months, so despite my fatigue I was pumped to finally be underway.
Joining us for this excursion were Shayna, my Andover-connected companion from the Portland, Maine protest a few weeks ago, and Ben, a pleasant fellow in his 40’s that Arun found on an internet ride-share board. Together the four of us spent the next ten hours chatting, snacking nonstop, and cheering wildly whenever we crossed over into a new state. Being the only meat-eater in a car full of herbivores, I did have to tune out several conversations about favorite brands of tofu and recipes for wheatgrass-infused healthy planet juice. (Going vegetarian/vegan is something I’m considering for the future…but for right now, Meatless Mondays is the best I can muster). I took advantage of this tune-out time to open my newly-purchased Pokemon deck and teach myself the rules. More on that in a bit.
We rolled in to D.C. pretty late, dropped Ben off at his hotel, and made our way over to my friend Leslie’s house where we’d be staying. Leslie is a great friend who I’ve known since the late 90’s when we worked together at the now defunct online game company Digital Addiction. Back then I was fresh-faced college student working in an unfamiliar environment far from home, and Leslie really took me under her wing. This weekend she expanded that wing space to include Arun and Shayna…for 48 hours she fed us, housed us, and generally gave us the run of the place. For all of this wonderful hospitality, all she asked in return was for me to play some Pokemon with her 7 year old son Maddox.
As a game designer, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to rant about Pokemon, and what an awful game it is. My first experience with it was actually 15 years ago: I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that I watched the television show for a season or two when it was first becoming popular. The Pokemon card game is rather poorly balanced, meaning players often end up in “win more” situations: advantages in deckbuilding (having the best/rarest cards) or during gameplay (being the first to have a strong, fully-powered Pokemon) tend to compound themselves and turn games in to one-sided bloodbaths. In short the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. I’m sure there are some incredibly insightful comparisons I could make here to America’s inequality-fostering brand of capitalism, but but instead I’ll just say: fuck you, Reshiram. If I never get hit with a “Glinting Claw” attack ever again, it will be too soon.
Cut to the following morning, and the moment Maddox spotted me he had is deck ready and was eager to battle. Like many kids his age, Pokemon is an obsession…it’s the last thing he thinks about before bed at night and the first thing he thinks about when he wakes in the morning. We got in maybe three games before breakfast, each one more vicious and lopsided than the last, but I took my beatings like a champ. The best part was Maddox’s nonstop G-rated trashtalk, which often devolved in to maniacal cackling during moments of particular triumph. We stopped playing when breakfast was served…Leslie continued her fabulous hosting by feeding us pancakes, and soon we were out the door and on the way downtown for the protest.
In and out of the Metro stations, Washington felt alive…we took pleasure in picking from the crowd all the other people who were clearly headed in for the protest. One group we chatted with on the way was Vanessa Rule and her family. Vanessa is a leader of 350 Massachusetts, and it was great to talk with her and to bank away another important contact from the local environmental scene, since I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other in the future. At the foot of the Lincoln Memorial we met up with the rest of the sizable Massachusetts contingent, and together we marched to the rally site in the shadow of the Washington Monument. There we listened to several uplifting speeches, surrounded by a huge crowd of 40,000-50,000 people. Similar to Portland, the speeches ran on too long and people got cold and restless, but soon enough we hit the streets and started our march to the White House.
If you’ve never been part of a big protest, it’s a lot like running a marathon or doing a walk for charity. Mingling shoulder-to-shoulder with thousands of people who share your passion and values can’t help but fill you with energy and put a smile on your face. The signs, the creativity, the singing and the scenery all contributed to a really terrific experience. Feeding in to this was my sign, which turned out to be kind of a hit. Real life people love memes just as much as internet people…who knew? Of the roughly 20 people that approached me to talk and take pictures, there was a clear division along age lines. Everyone under the age of 50 thought my sign was hilarious, and anyone over the age of 50 were intrigued and wanted to know what it meant. The only negative of the afternoon was that Shayna again suffered terribly from the cold, most visibly in her miraculous color-changing fingers.
After we made our sweep of the White House and the rally began winding down, we all went back to Leslie’s to have dinner and strategize. Arun and Shayna decided to return downtown for the official post-rally party, but I took the opportunity to visit my old high school friend Eric White, who lives just over the border in Virginia. All in all it was an incredibly fun and fulfilling day, and when I got back after midnight, I was unconscious the moment my head hit the pillow.
The next morning we got up, ate some breakfast, socialized, poked around Leslie’s attic to make sure no homicidal racoons were going to pop out and maul her (she heard noises up there during the night), and then said our goodbyes. I’d like to give a big shout out to my companions, who made the whole trip fun and interesting, and an even bigger shout out to Leslie for being an amazing host. I’m still new to this game of environmental activism, but the feelings of community and connection you get from it are the best part, and something I’m looking forward to more of in the future.