Dear Mr. Vogel & Ms. Vietzke,
First, we would like to introduce ourselves: Moira and Maggie Abernethy. We are a mother-daughter team that has been running stairs with November Project at the Lincoln Memorial for over two years now. Moira’s first work out was on a bitter, cold, New Year’s Day in 2014 (she went to bed BEFORE midnight on NYE just so she could go to November Project). The week after that, Moira recruited her daughter, Maggie, on an equally bitter cold day. Maybe we thought it would be a one-time experience (how many times can you really convince yourself to wake up at 4:30 AM to drive into the city when the temperature is in the single digits?) but that first workout and that first bear hug we got when we arrived showed us that we would be back time and time again. That first year, we drove through snow and freezing temps to run the steps, do burpees, pushups, give and receive the most amazing hugs, and make friends with people we may have never had the pleasure to meet.
But I am sure you have heard about that already from countless members of the November Project community. What makes our story unique, and what makes the Lincoln Memorial so important to us, is the way it transformed our relationship. As a parent one of the most rewarding feelings is the moment when you go from being a parent to a friend. A moment we believe can be exceptionally rare, but is precisely what we experienced on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. We pushed each other on the stairs, high fiving each other as we ran past each other and shouting words of encouragement as our legs got heavier. We pushed each other to see how many of our friends and family we could recruit, defying all age boundaries and becoming friends with each other’s friends. We pushed each other to get up on rainy days, when it would have been so easy to sleep in. One of our favorite moments was running through a monsoon rainstorm (rain so thick it was as if you were pushing your way through a curtain) and laughing the entire way about how crazy we were, but never for a moment wishing we had done anything differently. That moment and so many others like it are undoubtedly some of our most treasured moments together. The Lincoln Memorial made that possible, November Project made that possible and for that, we are eternally grateful.
Now we get it. You’re just trying to do your job. Everyone has to follow the rules and the rules say that a special use permit is required for sports activities. And you’re worried about what precedent granting us a permit will set. But we do not fit within that category. We are not a “sports activity,” we are a community; we are YOUR community. We do not charge money for someone to join us, we do not tell some people they can come and others that they cannot, we do not have referees with goals and nets like the soccer games on the Mall, we do not prevent other members of the community from occupying a space like a kickball game or yoga session does, we do not require instruments (or anything) in order to participate like the drum circles at Meridian Hill. Rather, we embrace the community around us. We tell everyone to join us; we WANT everyone to join us, we cherish those moments when a stranger walks up and encounters November Project for the first time. We wake up at absurd hours so that we don’t disturb the greater community (we do not go inside the inner sanctum of the Lincoln Memorial). We respect those neighborhoods that prefer quiet. And we always, always leave our city clean.
If we were a group of runners that happened to show up at the Lincoln Memorial and just happened to start running stairs and just happened to start talking to each other while we started running those stairs, there would be no issue. But the thing is, that is EXACTLY what we are. It started more than two years ago when two guys met each other at the stairs and started running and started talking. And then more people started showing up and more people started running and more people started talking. And then they just so happened to become friends. Did the fact that we became friends suddenly make our activities unlawful?
As we conclude this letter, we ask you to consider the great words of John Muir, “Take nothing but photographs, leaving nothing but footprints.” November Project does a lot (A LOT) of things well, but this is one of the things that it does best. We are not here to break your rules, we are here to enjoy the beauty of our national parks.
With gratitude from November Project DC’s Mother-Daughter Duo,
Maggie & Moira Abernethy