If you’re out on the road in the DC region as Memorial Day weekend approaches, you’ll notice an uptick in motorcycles whizzing by. It’s not because there’s a sale at Harley Davidson or the weather is finally nice enough for two wheels. Instead, locals know it’s a sure sign that riders are on their way into town for Rolling Thunder’s Ride for Freedom—an annual gathering meant to call attention to the nation’s prisoners of war and missing in action soldiers.
The event (Sunday, May 26) brings 900,000 people to town for a coordinated motorcycle ride that starts at the Pentagon parking lot before riders head over Memorial Bridge and down Constitution Avenue to the Lincoln Memorial, where a rally is held to call on politicians to do more for America’s veterans.
“We have lots of veterans down there, but the people in the Capitol are at home having a picnic,” says Joe Bean, president of Rolling Thunder. Since political engagement remains at the heart of the rally, Bean says this year—the 32nd—will be the last for the iconic event. Instead, Rolling Thunder’s 90 chapters will hold rallies across the country next year in an effort to get their hometown politicians more involved.
Lobbying at the national level will still happen at Rolling Thunder’s annual DC conference in November. But, if you’ve never been to this uniquely DC event, this is the year to line up along Constitution Avenue and show your support.
“I’ve been doing it for 22 years and every time I ride across Memorial Bridge, there’s no feeling like it,” says Bean. “It’s unbelievable. It brings me to tears and I’m not a veteran … We can’t forget about them.”