The Candlelight Vigil at the White House

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Dec. 14 2012 5:32 PM

The Candlelight Vigil at the White House

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Shortly after 2 p.m., I got a call from the New Organizing Institute about a coming candlelight vigil outside the White House. Few details about who'd be there, not much promotion -- hence the direct calls to reports instead of tweets.

The strategy worked. At 4:30, the walkway north of the White House was filling up with reporters and (more languidly) advocates. Many of them came in small groups, from progressive organizations that were basically done for the day. They chatted closely, away from the low din of inaugural parade stage construction. Rev. Michael McBride began the vigil with a lament and a call for action, with "our first act being a prayer." When he finished, a participant in the vigil tried to begin a chant -- "Protect children, not guns!" Another vigil-er started singing "We Shall Overcome," and this response won out, with the crowd joining in the song.

On the outskirts of the vigil I met Tom Donlin, who'd made an ad hoc candle holder out of a Starbucks cup. "I just was walking by and saw this," he said. "I'm not actually for gun control, so I probably disagree with these people. There's strict gun control in Norway, and that gunman killed -- what, something like 80 people?" He was still listening. "We might want to look at mental health laws, not gun laws."

At another end of the crowd, a government worker named Jennifer Purl huddled in her green coat and complimented some activists on their signs. "Yes!" she said. "Close the gun show loophole." She rattled off some other ideas for restricting guns, without banning them, and with consideration for the mental state of gun owners. "Nobody's talking about banning guns! Every time there's one of these tragedies, people run out to buy guns. It's crazy, just crazy."

Back at the quiet "rally" portion of the vigil, McBride hinted at what he wanted from the president. "He should propose a plan by the State of the Union!" he said. That was as far, and as specific, as most people wanted to get.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 


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