by Kris Roberts
Just a little over a week ago, Seth Rudetsky contacted me asking if I would like to participate in a protest at the White House. Rosie O’Donnell was chartering a bus full of Broadway folk to go down to DC and sing in Lafayette Park, across from the White House, as part of the nightly protests that started a few weeks ago, tagged #KremlinAnnex, which started right after our president met with Putin in Helsinki, or the “Treason Summit." This ongoing protest sprung up spontaneously, but has gained traction and notoriety, which Rosie wanted to bring attention to.
Seth sent sheet music for us to learn on our own, which included “America the Beautiful," “Brand New Day," “Climb Every Mountain," “Do You Hear the People Sing," and “Let the Sunshine In." We all met the bus in midtown at 1 pm, where Rosie made sure to introduce herself personally and shake hands with everyone. I only knew one or two of the other performers and got to know the rest on the way, including Christopher Sieber and Richard Kind, who were there to lend their voices. We filled the entire 60-seat bus, including three awesome accordionists, a guitarist, bassist, and drummer, as well as two wonderful stage managers to coordinate the whole day. We rehearsed the songs during the four-hour ride, including running through the material at a rest stop in Delaware, and once more in a hotel lobby once we reached DC.
As we were being transferred to Lafayette Park, we were encouraged to walk powerfully and with purpose as we were entering, making sure to stick together and protect each other, including Rosie. At this point, I wasn’t sure what to expect. In the past two years, as we’ve seen terrible headline after terrible headline, I have felt saddened and helpless to make any sort of difference. I have never previously been to a protest, because it seems as though they tend to be angry and tumultuous events, and I am by nature a much more peaceful person - more about togetherness than divisiveness. I have always been far too intimidated to attend rallies, but also frustrated and a little guilty that I haven’t been able to find a way to make myself heard. When I was asked to participate in this protest, I was a bit nervous, but the prospect of singing peaceful, uplifting, and joyous songs seemed like the perfect way to spread a little love among all the hate.
We entered the rally platform, wearing matching T-shirts commissioned by Rosie from artist Scooter LaForge, surrounded on all sides by cheering faces and clever signs, stopping in front of a wall of cameras from ABC, CNN, and many other social media outlets. Rosie made a brief speech and we were graced with short speeches by James Obergefell, whose landmark court case was key in legalizing same-sex marriage in our country three years ago, and Kristin Mink, who virally confronted EPA head Scott Pruitt in a restaurant last month. Perhaps the most poignant moment of the entire rally, for me, was one that might not have been shown on cameras. During Kristin Mink’s speech, a small boy wandered through the crowd crying because he had lost his mother. We stopped the speeches to announce the lost boy, and his mother quickly called out from the other side of the crowd. When all was well, Kristin resumed, saying, “See, after 5 seconds without his mother, this boy was in a panic. How much more for the immigrant children ripped from their parents?” and we began a chant of “Kids Need Parents!” at which point, I started to tear up. The point was starkly and smartly made. I love children and am always an advocate for their care, and the entire immigrant separation has been much of a last straw for me, probably what has most spurred me into action as of late.
After what seemed like less than 20 minutes, we made our way triumphantly back to the bus, rallying around Rosie as she was being bombarded by the media wanting interviews, while singing the refrain of “Let the Sunshine In." We settled in for the immediate four hour return ride, the mood jovial, as people passed around trays of homemade brownies and fudge for the occasion, as well as packs of homemade sandwiches from our fearless and caring leader, Rosie. We arrived back in the city at 1 am, the day well spent.
I’m so proud to have been a part of this protest. I think it was important for the world to see the Broadway community using our prominence to spread love and conscientious dissent, while lifting spirits and preaching inclusivity. Comments I saw afterward said that this performance gave the tireless protesters who have been showing up for days on end “a shot in the arm to keep going." This was the perfect demonstration for those of us who don’t consider ourselves radical disrupters, but want to raise our voices to encourage so many others who are doing such good work. We really can all use our individual gifts to make a difference.