At the Supreme Court, Waiting Through Sleet, Snow, and an Onslaught of Questions From Journalists

Ben Terris
National Journal

The wintry mix of sleet and snow has become something of a constant for those camping outside of the Supreme Court on Monday. But it’s not the only D.C. element descending upon them. There are few events like a long line to draw in reporters.

“I’ve had it to here with interviews,” Donna Clarke tells me, sitting beneath a blue umbrella and donning a bright-yellow poncho. Despite her best efforts, her newspaper has begun the process of being soaked through. “I can’t keep answering the same questions.”

Donna Clarke sits under her umbrella battling the elements while waiting for her chance to hear oral arguments in the Supreme Court over Proposition 8.  (Chet Susslin)

Clarke has been interviewed more than 20 times already today as one of the more than 50 people who have been camped out ahead of the oral arguments for two historic Supreme Court cases involving gay marriage the justices will hear Tuesday and Wednesday. The only way she is willing to speak is if she’s the one doing the interview.

“I happen to be a private person,” she tells me after asking me what brings me here (editors wanted a color story) and whether I had personal opinions on the matter (not as a journalist, I told her). “But here I am sitting out in front of the Supreme Court, freezing and surrounded by journalists. I keep thinking, ‘Why am I here?’ ”

The reason Clarke gives for coming to Washington with her partner all the way from California is one that gets echoed throughout the line: It’s thrilling to witness history in the making. Sure, the kindness of neighbors in this (mostly) progressive Hooverville, the Starbucks donations from passersby, and the pizza being delivered from ThinkProgress all helps, but it’s the history that makes the rain, the journalists, and the endless hours of sitting on a sidewalk bearable.

Just ask Jason Wanacott, who has been in line since 10 a.m. Friday, and says that he personally has done more than 200 interviews.

“That’s not even an exaggeration,” he says. “I was the only person in line here for a while on Friday, and at one point I had 16 people around me all asking me questions at the same time.”

But Wanacott isn’t complaining. He’s psyched to be here. A self-described “huge supporter of gay rights,” Wanacott has been documenting his experience on his blog, Blonde Millennial.

“It was ridiculous, this morning I was blogging under like five inches of snow in my sleeping bag on my cellphone,” he said. “I am not going to forget this experience.”

He’s certainly not the only one for whom this memory won’t soon fade.

For their 25th anniversary, Frank Colasonti Jr. and his partner James Ryder left their home outside of Detroit wearing long johns, hoodies, and jackets ready for a few nights of sleeping on a sidewalk.

“At first we both wanted to go, then my partner got reluctant, and now after actually being here, we’re both onboard wholeheartedly,” Colasonti told me, while Ryder was out buying more camping equipment. Colasonti said he brought three pairs of gloves and two were already completely soaked. “We’re happy to be celebrating [our anniversary] here in the hopes that the two issues will be overturned so we can officially get married and live happily ever after.”

Correction: A previous version of this story mispelled the last name of a woman waiting outside the Supreme Court. The woman's name is Donna Clarke.