The Walk for Democracy

by Jeanette Wallis
June 15th, 2003

The Vigil

I didn't plan on arriving at the White House on Friday the 13th. Lucky coincidence, I guess. The important thing is that I have arrived. The walk is over!

I wish I could say that hundreds of people walked into town with me, but it was only me and Sherpa -- just as it's always been. I wish I could say that I was surrounded by well-wishers and press when I walked up to that White House security guard and announced, "Hi! I just walked here from Seattle to deliver these grievances to Mr. Bush", but it was probably just as well that I wasn't. If others had been there, they might have been disappointed or even angered by the response - a sentiment I wouldn't have shared. But you just want to know what happened, don't you? Well, here goes:

The Park Policeman smiled at my request, and replied that he would see what he could do. He got on his walkie-talkie, and in under a minute I was swarmed by Secret Service... men who take their jobs very seriously, I might add. They all started asking me questions at the same time. I was a bit overwhelmed, and relieved when a plain-clothes agent finally pulled me aside for a little one-on-one interrogation.

"Are you on any medication, ma'am?"

Having worked with mentally ill people for many years, I knew the routine. Exhilarated as I was at having arrived, I was careful not to appear TOO exhilarated. No, I did not write the letters myself. No, I was not recently released from a psychiatric institute. No, my dog didn't talk to me, though I do talk to her quite frequently. How do I feel about the President? Well, I had hoped to meet with him, but that was pretty rapidly fading into the realm of ‘Cold Day in Hell'. Driver's license... social security number... more questions about if I heard the voices of people who weren't there. I answered his questions as best I could, despite the fact that he was giving me no personal boundary space. I told him I understood why he had to ask these things, but I was really just a citizen trying to do my civic duty. He asked about my last place of employment, and I truthfully told him I had worked in a psychiatric ward at the county hospital in Seattle.

"What is that phone number, ma'am?"

Oh, boy. Amazingly, I remembered the number. In my eagerness to comply with the agent's demands, I didn't think about the possibility that he was actually going to call my former coworkers.

"This is the United States Secret Service, are you familiar with a Jeanette Wallis? Yes? Was she a staff or a patient there?"

As I was cringing, wondering which unfortunate nurse was taking THIS call, I noticed a large group of tourists surrounding the equally large group of police flanking me on every side. One tourist actually stepped past the agents to ask if I would take a picture of her and her family.

"Um -- I'm kinda busy at the moment" It was all becoming very surreal, and I began to question the wisdom of just marching up like I did without a soul to support me in the event that I was detained.

Luckily, the agent seemed satisfied with my co-worker's responses, and finally folded his teeny-tiny cell phone. One of the Park Police took my picture, which I smiled for. Some of the other officers were discussing the possibility of my detention, but my agent brushed it off. They're simply not used to sane people walking across America to deliver letters to the President. He confided that the last person who came to see the president in this manner was wearing boxer shorts, a leather jacket, and nothing else. The other officers relaxed, and a few even started asking some of the more usual questions... how long it took, where I slept, etc. My agent finally started to leave, telling me that if I wrote a book about it all, he'd be sure to buy it. He likes to read.

But my letters! "Who can I give these grievances to?"

Surely there would be an aide or something."Oh, you'll have to mail those. You understand... anthrax and all. You can't just walk up and see your politicians like you could in the old days."

The Vigil

The crowd dispersed, and I wandered across the street to Lafayette Park. There I met Connie, one of two lovely souls who have been maintaining a 24-hour vigil for nuclear disarmament for 22 years across the street from the White House.

She and an intriguing fellow named Thomas have a simple message for peace, and even a proposition on how to get it that you simply must read ( ). There are ‘activists', and then there are people like these. I was utterly speechless at their dedication. They have talked to many thousands of tourists over the years, and I know they have given hope to thousands more who believe that no one really cares about this peace thing here in the United States. It was inspiring. I met up with some others who have been coming out every evening until dark for months with signs proclaiming, "You Have Been Lied To". Their literature challenges you to ask the questions, "About what?" and "By whom?" to yourself, - understanding that when people start to question, they are already beginning to change. We all sat together and talked to a few tourists, but the weather was turning stormy
, and I suggested we go get some beers to celebrate the end of my long walk.

Phil, who has been acting as my support driver since West Virginia, finally showed up - having been waiting on the other side of the White House for me for two hours, poor thing. We'd been plagued with miscommunication (and terrible weather) for this entire stretch - but difficult as it was, he stuck with it. It makes all weepy, actually. For all of those hundreds of people and organizations I thought would help me over these two years -- the same ones who ignored my faxes and e-mails and phone calls -- there are still people like Phil, Steven, Lisa, Larry, and Peter. All of them took a chance on helping this idealistic girl and her dog, and my appreciation - though not stated nearly enough to them at the time, is eternal.

I'll need to stay here in D.C. for a few more days, knocking on doors and continuing my hunt for reporters who will cover stories which do not contain blood. I have no money to go home with , so I am truly stuck here till I can raise enough for gas (had to buy a cheap old car to replace my even older Trooper, still broken down in Illinois) Perhaps I'll enlist the aid of a pol in delivering my beloved grievances to a human being from the White House. I hear that all mail in D.C. must undergo microwaving of some sort -- a process which often destroys the paper, unfortunately. I also heard from a woman in Maryland that one of her letters to the President was answered by a grade-schooler - a bizarre new program they must have to "Leave No Child Behind"... make ‘em work for free at the White House! I hope the authors of my letters don't mind if I keep the originals for myself and deliver copies to Mr. Bush or one of his pre-adolescent aides. Whichever their fate, they're not going to be taken as seriously here as I would have them be. They were often the only thing that kept me going... besides this beautiful dog of mine sleeping at my feet.

After my work here is through, I'm taking a much-needed respite from being the walking-across-America girl for a while. I will write about all of this over the winter, which shouldn't be too difficult a task. I've written the book over and over in my head during the course of this walk - it's just a matter of committing it to paper at this point. Beyond that, I have HUGE plans for the future. The walk was only the beginning for me. It was a way of figuring out what the real problems were in America, and I have a good idea of what needs to be done now to address them.

I'm closing my online journal for now, and will compile them with my personal notes for one helluva story. So much of my worldview has changed over the course of my walk, and the hurried musings written under the guns of small-town librarians hardly do this tale justice. Join my listserv if you want to find out what I've got in mind for the future, but please understand that I'll be out of contact for a spell.

My most heartfelt thanks to all of you who prayed for me and worried about me and slipped me a fiver when I had no food to eat. I remember every kindness, and apologize if your name didn't make it to my thank you page. I have been disorganized, underfunded, and quite harried at times trying to pull this thing off, but we did it! I only get credit for my tenacity, faith, and feet... it was all of you who really made this happen.

You have given me great hope for both this country and the world, and I will spend the rest of my life paying you back for giving me such a wonderful experience.

Keep your socks dry, and here's to fair weather on your own journeys.

Much love,
Jeanette Wallis,
June 15, 2003,
Washington, D.C.