It's snowing! School is cancelled, you grab your saucer and go sledding with your friends — just like any other snow day — except for the throngs of reporters and cameras waiting for you at the bottom of the hill.
District of Columbia residents who took a stand against a ban on sledding on Capitol Hill drew dozens of reporters to the West Lawn Thursday afternoon as snow blanketed the Capitol grounds. But for the kids and parents, this wasn't exactly major news. They just wanted to enjoy the rare inches of snow in the nation's capital. "I think it’s crazy, there’s so much going on in the world," Capitol Hill resident Lyndsey Medsker told CQ Roll Call. "But I think sledding is something that people can rally behind and there’s no reason for people to oppose it. ... I think all around the country when kids have snow days, they like to go out in the snow and play and sled. And we live in an urban area where people don’t have backyards and their own spaces to do so, so this is our space.”
Medsker organized the "sled-in" starting at 1 p.m. Thursday after news broke Wednesday night that the Capitol Police Board denied a request from Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., to temporarily waive the ban on sledding ahead of the major winter storm.
"That's when I decided that we were going to come anyway,” Medsker said. She also started a Change.org petition asking that the policy be scrapped, and that has garnered more than 800 signatures so far.
Medsker also tried to sled on the Hill two weeks ago, but was told by Capitol Police that she and her two young boys had to leave. She said they weren't given a reason, but were told those were the rules.
On Thursday afternoon, one Capitol Police lieutenant did try to emphasize why people should not sled on the Capitol grounds.
"Regulations [are] that there’s no sledding or skiing on Capitol grounds for safety and property damages," the officer told Tim Krepp, who was one of the first residents to arrive with his daughters. "The main point being that there are sprinkler heads and stuff buried in the ground and we’re seriously concerned about people coming to an abrupt stop or causing the sleds to flip forward. That’s why we ask people not to sled on the Capitol grounds. OK?”
Krepp told the officer he appreciated his concerns. "But what we’re facing is we’ve been sledding here since 2009, no issues," Krepp replied. "This is kind of a silly problem to have. And we just want to go sledding here.”
After the officer stressed the regulations again, and Krepp said they would still sled, the officer said, "Alright, sir," and walked away.
Krepp, who recently challenged Norton for her congressional seat, told reporters that they weren't taking a major stand for freedom: They just wanted to sled.
“It’s just a bunch of neighbors showing up to go sledding. It’s not — I mean this isn’t like Rosa Parks here," Krepp said. "This isn't the great blow for civil rights. We’re just trying to use our neighborhood asset as a neighborhood asset as well as a federal asset.”
A few minutes after the police officer left, more D.C. residents emerged on the Hill, saucers, sleds, and even some makeshift sleds in the form of laundry baskets, in hand. Roughly 40 kids took part in the fun (and at one point nearly as many as reporters were documenting it), but many of the kids also seemed to understand they weren't sledding on just any hill.
“I’ve learned a lot," Cate McGregor, age 8, told reporters. "Like that the police — well you should really obey them but it’s also — I kind of disagree because it’s really fun to sled here. And it’s also a public space.”
McGregor pointed out that other hills in the area are shorter and steeper, and are dangerously near the street. The 8-year-old also said her parents told her the police might stop them from sledding, which seemed to be a common conversation among many of families who came out to sled.
Medsker said she also talked to kids about the possibility that police could tell them to leave once again. "I told them that no matter what, they could at least do one run," Medsker said. "And that you usually have to follow rules and police are good but sometimes there are rules that are OK to be broken.”
Despite the emphasis Wednesday night that police would enforce the ban, a handful of police officers stood to the far side of the bottom of the hill, allowing the sledding to continue. The Capitol Police did not respond to a request for comment.
John Fleming , 40, who brought his 6-year-old son Colton sledding, said he didn't expect the police would confront the scores of families. “Just because of the sheer number of people and press," Fleming said. "I’m sure they want to watch and manage without any level of incident.”
Norton cheered the lack of enforcement on the ban in a tweet Thursday afternoon, writing, "No enforcement of #sledding ban on Capitol Hill today. Thank you Capitol Police!"
The Capitol Police Board is currently reviewing the ban, per Norton's request last week. Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Frank J. Larkin said in a statement Wednesday that the Capitol Police Board would respond with results of the review as soon as it is completed.
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