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The Blind Witness History Too
by Seville Allen
From the Editor: Seville Allen is first vice president of the NFB of Virginia and a longtime resident of the greater Washington, D.C., area. The following article appeared in the Summer/Fall issue of the Vigilant, the publication of the NFB of Virginia. This is what she says:
June 9, 2004, was an historic day in Washington, D.C. For the past four days the media had been full of film clips about former president Ronald Reagan, who died on June 5, 2004; and June 9, 10, and 11 were the dates designated for national ceremonies, recognition, and remembrance. On the morning of June 9 I stood on a crowded morning rush hour Washington Metro train, listening to fellow passengers complaining about the snarled traffic, the way they were inconvenienced by the funeral procession, and the hot summer weather. I heard not a word of being privileged to witness an historic event. While I stood reading my Braille magazine, I realized that I too had not participated in any of the history being made in Washington, D.C., since the Presidential inauguration of 1993 when I joined friends to walk across the Memorial Bridge to Arlington Cemetery following President-elect Bill Clinton. Several historic events had occurred in the eleven years since I participated in that inauguration celebration, and I decided that it was time to take advantage of the opportunity to participate in an historic event once again and join the crowd to witness the caisson move down Constitution Avenue on its way to the Capitol building.
The procession was scheduled to begin its journey at 16th and Constitution Avenues about 6:00 p.m. Since I expected to be within two blocks of the procession route about 6:00 p.m. on my way home, I figured I could get off the Metro train and walk the two blocks to the procession route and join the throng at 12th Street and Constitution Avenue.
As I made my plan, I kept hearing a little voice asking, "Can you really do this alone? What about the crowd? Will the police stop you, telling you it is too dangerous to be in such a large crowd alone?" Was I buying into society's idea that a blind person shouldn't be alone in a crowd?
During the day I mentioned to several people that I planned to go watch the caisson pass. Every person had a negative reaction. Several assumed I was going with a sighted friend; one told me in a harsh, blunt tone that I had no business doing such a thing alone. Another urged me to drop such a fanciful plan and go home. I heard all their fears, and my own doubts grew. Then I remembered I still had two loads of laundry to finish before packing a suitcase and catching a Greyhound Bus at 6:10 a.m. the following morning. I decided it would be most efficient to go home and take care of the chores. Then I stopped short, realizing I was falling into the trap of making excuses for skipping the event when the real issue was my lack of personal confidence.
At 5:57 p.m. I left the Metro train and hurried out of the station. When I reached the top of the escalator, I could hear band music. I moved faster. As my cane touched the curb indicating that 12th Street was immediately in front of me, a policeman called to me and said, "You can walk in the street if you want, because it is blocked and there is no traffic." I thanked him, stepped off the curb, turned right toward the sound of the band and the direction I knew was Constitution Avenue.
I heard no footsteps as I hurried south along 12th Street, and I felt strange running down what is usually a very busy city street with multiple traffic lanes. As I ran faster, I suddenly heard sirens behind me and then the motor of a large vehicle coming fast; I realized it was a fire truck moving faster than I, so I turned and ran to my right, looking for the safety of the curb. My cane touched the curbing, and I continued running because I was afraid I would miss the caisson. The fire truck stopped. Hearing no vehicle, I stepped back into the roadway, where I could run faster. As I reached the crowd, I again moved to my right and stepped up onto the sidewalk. Just as I stepped out of the street, the fire truck, siren blaring, returned, moving swiftly into the intersection to my left. Within a few seconds I reached the back of the crowd, which was almost to the curb on Constitution Avenue.
A fellow observer said, "You made it just in time," and told me all I had missed was the Army band. I was close enough to hear the feet of the marching soldiers, the slow movement of the dignitaries' cars, the lumbering sound of the media truck, and the hooves' slow, rhythmic clop as the horses pulled the caisson along the historic avenue. Several people quietly identified the various military bands, dignitary cars (with blacked-out windows concealing riders), the media truck, and Nancy Reagan's car. Their descriptions added to the easily recognized sounds. We all quietly and respectfully applauded each segment of the procession.
Within fifteen minutes the event was history, and as I slowly walked back to the Metro station to continue my trip home to the laundry and packing, I was pleased that I had gone to the event. None of the things I had imagined actually happened. In fact, the police officer had given me permission to run in the street instead of telling me it was too dangerous to be in the crowd.
Yes, I was on the Greyhound Bus at 6:10 a.m. the following morning. As I settled into my seat for the six-hour ride, I thought of my Federation family and how you all made it possible for me to participate in an historic event on my own. We are indeed changing what it means to be blind.
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