It’s 2:00AM on Monday, January 20th, 2020. Lobby Day. I’m experiencing a strange surrealism as I walk toward a charter bus that is nearing maximum capacity. There are rows of work trucks on either side of me, which surely belong to my soon-to-be co-passengers to the gun rights rally. Surprise snow showers have blown in, which are exaggerated by the street lights of this Walmart parking lot. I am normally asleep at this hour, but the cold wind blowing in my face gives me a jolt.
I board the bus and scan for an open seat. I can’t help but notice that the vast majority of occupants are older white men (not surprising, knowing the demographic of the region), some with pro-Trump hats. I find an open seat and ask the older gentleman sitting by the window if I can sit with him. I sit down and proceed to make myself comfortable after he says yes. Bob introduces himself and asks where I’m from. We engage in some pleasant small-talk as the bus starts moving. For the next seven or eight hours our small-talk continues, interrupted by short periods of sleep.
At some point along the ride I find myself reflecting on how I came to be on a bus of strangers heading to the capitol of my state. I’ve lived the majority of my life in Virginia and have never been compelled to go to Richmond for any reason. I have many reasons to stay home but I just can’t fight it. I feel that the time has come to do more than rant to friends and on social media about how I feel about our freedoms — or the lack of our freedoms. I know that Governor Ralph Northam will still sign gun control bills into law but the time has come to get off of the sidelines.
After a couple of stops along the way, we arrive at North 7th Street in Richmond. The wind is bitterly cold as I step off the bus. “Partner up with a buddy or form small groups,” we are told. Bob, the retired coal miner, agrees to be my bus buddy. The streets are sparse with people at this point, but everyone I see is obviously here for the same reason I am.
Shortly after beginning our walk, we pass a flatbed truck that housed a giant sign declaring that Epstein didn’t killed himself. More steps following the flow of people. Congestion slowly building. We walk past what I can only assume is a decently armed militia. They’re all business, no smiling or talking. I can’t help but smile myself, not out of humor but at sheer happiness from seeing these folks utilize and demonstrate their right to bear arms.
More walking. The congestion of people is now brutally apparent as I feel more like a drop of water in the sea than a person. Signs and flags galore. Chants of “USA” start from what sounds a mile away. The echo between tall buildings is impressive as the folks around me join in. You can feel it like a soft punch. Bob and I continue to make slow progress towards the single entrance to the capitol grounds.
After making it through the police checkpoint, we take some pictures and make our way to what we feel is a good spot. Shortly afterwards a small group of counter-protesters starts their own chant. They are nearby. I watch the crowd turn to them and resume their “USA” chant. More counter-protester chants followed by chants for “four more years!” I have an urge to approach the small group of what I have assessed to be democratic socialists. A hug, maybe that’s all it will take to convince one of them that we’re not (all) hateful. I decide against it after seeing the anger that is painted on their faces. The counter-protest is short-lived as they march toward the exit.
Songs about freedom blast from the loud speakers. The main event starts. Speaker after speaker take turn shouting about the tyranny that we are facing in the state of Virginia. They’re not wrong. After a while I begin to focus instead on the thousands of people that surround me.
From the time I stepped on the bus hours before, I have heard and seen many statements about freedom and liberty. Yet it is very apparent that the bulk of those around me are enamored with Trump. I wonder how many libertarians stand next to me. I wonder how many are libertarian and don’t even realize it. I wonder how many would argue “I agree with libertarians but a vote for so-and-so might as well be a vote for fill-in-the-blank. Don’t throw your vote away!” I’m sure there would be a great deal in attendance that would make this very argument. Yet the day’s unofficial flag is the Gadsden flag, proclaiming “don’t tread on me.” How could so many that are willing to stand for hours in freezing weather and shout about tyranny, wholeheartedly choose someone who is equally guilty of trampling our freedoms? Different freedoms, same trampling. I would consider this for the remainder of this day and as of the time of this writing I have yet to understand.
The demonstration is over more quickly than I expected. Bob and I make our way towards our ride home, parked a few blocks away. On the way there I glace at my phone to see a text from one of my extremely liberal friends. He is partially shaming today’s gathering, partially warning me about white supremacists. He has officially drank the kool-aid, so to speak. We message back and forth for the rest of the day. I try to convince him there was no disrespect in our demonstration — not that I witnessed, at least — he tries to convince me that gun control laws are valid and needed. We mutually agree to disagree.
On the bus ride home I get to know Bob better. We talk about my kids and his grandchildren. By the end of the ride I ask him if I can send him a friend request on Facebook and he agrees. I shake his hand and tell him it has been nice experiencing this day with him.
I reflect on my new friendship. How is it possible that I can get along with someone who is extremely conservative but also continue to be friends with my ultra-liberal friend who I earlier had a disagreement with? Is it because of my peaceful nature? Is it simply because as a libertarian I can relate to both conservative and liberal viewpoints? I’m not sure, but I find an odd satisfaction in it. This satisfaction is as equally great of that I feel from being part of a historic day at the capitol.
I am not sure if my actions will have any impact on future events. I’m not even sure the collective group’s actions will. However, I am hopeful. And, lastly, I am certain that I will remain a voice for liberty for as long as I am able.