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Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton is Pissed “following the organizational breakdown at yesterday’s 50th anniversary celebration”

by Prince Of Petworth August 29, 2013 at 3:45 pm 33 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user thisisbossi

From a press release:

“Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today wrote to Secret Service Director Julia Pierson requesting an immediate meeting following the organizational breakdown at yesterday’s 50th anniversary celebration of the March on Washington on the National Mall. A security checkpoint backup at the general public entrance resulted in many marchers unable to enter the event and long lines in the heat and rain, with reported hospitalizations. Though the area is generally under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service (NPS), Norton was informed that due to the nature of the event, the Secret Service was tasked with security operations and was therefore responsible for the “the massive failure to organize, prepare and coordinate to receive visitors at yesterday’s 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington,” as she wrote in her letter.

Norton, in her letter, continued, “The congestion at the security check point at the general public entrance to the event caused huge lines and wait times, which left visitors, many of them elderly, frustrated and even ill and overcome by the heat and rain…Because I meet with the Secret Service and other agencies on planning for inaugurations, I am well aware of the standards for effectively controlling large crowds, which your agency is capable of meeting. I am, therefore, very disappointed that you failed to prevent an organizational breakdown that was entirely unnecessary.”

The full text of Norton’s letter follows.

Dear Director Pierson:

Along with thousands of others, I am outraged by the massive failure to organize, prepare and coordinate to receive visitors at yesterday’s 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. The congestion at the security check point at the general public entrance to the event caused huge lines and wait times, which left visitors, many of them elderly, frustrated and even ill and overcome by the heat and rain. It is inexcusable that people had to wait on their feet for long hours in such hot and humid conditions, that a number of people fainted, that the D.C. Fire and EMS Department had to give medical assistance to over 100 people, and that some had to be hospitalized. As a result of your poor planning and execution, many were unable to attend and participate in the event altogether.

The Secret Service was confronted with an unusual challenge in the need for heightened security yesterday because three presidents attended and spoke at the event. However, you are the most experienced in the country in the work of managing presidential inaugurations and other events that draw crowds much larger than yesterday’s March, using advanced planning and coordination. Because I meet with the Secret Service and other agencies on planning for inaugurations, I am well aware of the standards for effectively controlling large crowds, which your agency is capable of meeting. I am, therefore, very disappointed that you failed to prevent an organizational breakdown that was entirely unnecessary. There is no doubt that the many failures could have been prevented. Security personnel belatedly added magnetometers and hand-held metal detector wands to speed up the long delays, showing that with routine, advanced planning, the misery your agency caused could have been avoided.

My office will call to set up a meeting with you for the earliest possible date.


Eleanor Holmes Norton

  • SF

    Now that’s a professional headline.

    • Anonymous

      This isn’t the NY Times

  • tangential question

    Does she actually have a D.C. flag tattoo on her arm, or is that a temporary tattoo? (I’m assuming the latter… but you never know.)

    • Anonymous

      oh, it’s the real deal. she’s had it for a while.

  • Anonymous

    She is so badass

  • Anonymous

    I’m sorry, but this is BS. It’s august. Of course it’s going to be hot. Whether you’re in a line at a checkpoint or in the crowd beyond the checkpoint, you’re still subject to the same heat and rain. Maybe one day folks will think “god, if i can’t be on my feet all day in variable weather, maybe I won’t show up to these kinds of events!”

    • Anonymous

      Clearly you weren’t there…

    • ExKansan

      The size of the expected crowd was known. The persons-per-hour that each body-search station can process was known.

      Somebody in the USSS, knowing these numbers, made the decision that, “hey, a couple hours standing in line to get in isn’t TOO bad”.

      And that’s the guy that ought to be fired.

      It’s bad enough that we are now a country where security theater is a pathetic “new normal”, but it’s not even a competent, efficient security theater. No, it’s more like the Keystone Kops.

  • Anonymous

    Eleanor is on it. She’s been in this town long enough to know what is up. And yes she is a badass, in a good way

  • Anonymous

    Isn’t always being pissed and having a bone-to-pick integral to her self-identity?

    • Anonymous


    • Anonymous

      Yeah that worked real well for full voting representation when we had a Democrats controlling the House, Senate and White House.

    • Anonymous

      Are you upset that she is actually doing her job representing the people of DC? (as inconsequential as she may be)

      • Jimbo

        She isn’t representing the District. She is self promoting.

        • Dcps

          She has to appear to be doing something for the money that she makes.

  • brads

    Yesterday was a total shit show. I got to the checkpoint before 8am and didn’t get through it and seated until after 11am. I was right at the front of the line.

    After the event, thousands of people tried to exit the mall but were corralled like cattle toward the same place they entered. Every single exit was closed off and guarded. We tried about 3 different exits before the massive crowds got fed up and started moving barricades themselves.

    I’m sure heightened security presents a huge challenge, but there wasn’t even a little bit of logic used in the way this was organized. Someone needs to be fired.

  • Anonymous


  • I was in the March that started at 600 New Jersey Avenue and arrived at the security checkpoint at about 10:30 am. I would guess I was in the first half, maybe first third of the March. It took me two hours and 45 minutes to make it through security. Several people around me fainted. In addition to the few number of security staff on duty, there was no electronic equipment there except handhead wands. All bags were checked by hand, and whatever you call those things you walk through were either fake or not working.

    A young woman on the security staff came out several times to apologize for the rain (we didn’t hold her responsible for that) but never for the long wait. Here’s an interesting factoid. Apples were not permitted in (I had one in my lunch as did others). Was that because they could be thrown? What about oranges or pears or mangoes or whatever? For some mysterious reason they were all ok. All metal beverage containers had to be left behind because there was no electronic equipment to see inside. I had a small knife on my key chain (forgot to take it off), the kind that one can now take on an airplane. This was confiscated, but the Security guard put it down and assured me I could pick it up from that exact spot on my way out. So I showed up at that spot. Another guard asked me what I was doing. She told me knives could not be retrieved. When I told her what the other guard said, she replied, “He lied.” (I wish I were making this up, but I’m not). I am a liberal. I worked for the federal government. I believe in the federal government. Sadly, this was the worst fiasco I have ever seen in my life, and my life has gone on for a long time, but probably shortened just a bit by yesterday’s events.

    One more factoid. Throughout all of this the crowd was always well-behaved, in good spirits, and very few nasty words were spoken about those who made at least part of our day less than inspiring. Would that those who created this mess (and I’m not talking about the folks on site who were only trying to do an impossible job as best they could) been half as courteous.

    • Anonymous

      Those “Guards” are Police Officers and why would you think you can bring a weapon into a protected site? For a Federal Governmet employee you seem to not knwo much about the Government.

    • The worst fiasco you’ve seen in your entire life involves standing in line too long? That’s either a very privileged, sheltered, or ignorant life.

  • Jimbo

    She is always screaming and jumping up and down about something and really doesn’t accomplish anything meaningful………………….unless you mean getting her name in the press.

    • d00

      She’s totally worthless

  • Sparta

    When women speak up, they are shrill. When men do, they are strong.

    If this gendered stereotype rears up immediately in liberal DC, imagine what women face in the rest of the country.

    • Anonymous


  • Full Deck

    She gave ’em a piece of her mind ‘eh! That means she is now at least 10 cards short of a full deck. The old biddy better watch out or she is likely find out the fault is not with the Secret Service but rather with incompeyent gaggle of idiots charged with organizing this fiasco. Start with egomaniac Mark Thompson Eleanor!

  • DC

    When I heard Mark Thompson was iinvolved I knew it would be screwed up. My bet is that if the truth becomes known Thompson is the reason we essentially had 2 marches. Saturday ended up 3 times as big and vastly better organized. Thompson totally screwed up the 40th anniversary until he got shoved out of the showing up, as is his way, the day of in his flowing white get-up to suck up the credit. Thompson couldn’t master march organization 101. They failed to tell the city, failed to pull any permits, even failed th invoice the corporate donors for millions that had been pledged. When the catch up frenzy was going on Thomson disapperd a. He did like throse 3 hour conference calls though. Norton sholuls aplogize to theo Secret Service.

    • zfree

      Are you saying Mark Thompson screwed this event up or are you harping back to an event ten years ago? Which organization does Mr. Thompson represent?

  • FulanoDeTal

    The security set-up was ridiculous and very poorly organized, particularly the exit routes as another comment noted. I did get to the Reflecting Pool in time for the President’s speech. It was nice to attend an event at which the focus was on meaningful issues such as equal opportunity and jobs, as opposed to invading other countries.

    My biggest complaint was the media setup in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Unless you were a ticketed “dignitary,” your view was completely blocked by a phalanx of television platforms. Yes, there were the usual Jumbotrons, but anyone who thinks that the Average Joe or Jane had a real view of the speakers’ platform is kidding themselves. It just seemed to me a sad comment on where this country has gone in the last 50 years. The media and political elite remained in their self-congratulatory coccoon, as the rest of us watched on television screens.

  • d00

    And no one cared what she had to say….let’s elect someone else already. She’s had her turn….

  • Anickelsdc

    I’m fully supportive of EHN!

    Good for her. She’s absolutely right. It was a disorganized mess for both entry and exit which clearly is a result of poor planning. Event attendees bear much of the blame too because even though the media made clear that bags, etc. shouldn’t be brought to the event, almost every other person had large bags, and all kinds of stuff that significantly slowed down security. If these attenders were turned away, surely things would have moved faster.

    The poster speaking about the platforms were absolutely correct too. The setup was terrible. Only dignitaries had a view of the Podium and the rest of the peons were left to view the all too few and weirdly-placed screens scattered about. It does indeed speak to the both the lack of proper planning and the state of our society.

  • WasThere

    I went down and hung out on the west slope of the Monument (outside the security zone) and was perplexed why people were standing in long in lines to stand in a crowded, lower space mere feet away from where I was standing. Then I thought, what’s the point of this event anyway? The events of 50 years changes the world but Thursday’s “March” (or whatever it was) was a pointless, unfocused example of yearning to be significant.

  • Kimberly D. Schmidt, Ph.D.

    I brought twenty students to the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. We were unable to attend because of the wait at the security check-point. We started with the March at 600 NJ Ave. NW. After literally waiting in line for hours, we left. My students were tired and discouraged. We went back to their residence and watched the rest of the day’s events and speakers on television. This was an extremely disappointing development for me. Many of my students have never attended a march or rally. The March was the kick-off event for my Multicultural History of Washington, DC class and to have it end in what amounted to a tired defeat was maddening, to say the least. We counted nine people who fainted in the crowd around us.

    • zfree

      I hope you use the opportunity to open a discussion on the new American fascist empire. Make no misstake corporate sponsors and their VIP’s had NO PROBLEM with security. We get to question why such a huge area of the Mall was shut down to commemorate a moment that was about freedom. Also, I hope it is not lost on you or your students that even as platitudes about jobs and justice flowed from the mouths of Presidents, there are inmates on hunger strike in California to bring attention to the inhumane policy of solitary confinement, there are fast food workers striking for a living wage, yet once again America is poised at the gates of war. Sadly, you and the others who stood in line for the spectacle do not matter and this is the hardest thing for nationalists to understand.


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