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Vet motorcycle rally granted new staging ground after Pentagon denial

Riders ready their bikes for the annual Memorial Day Rolling Thunder motorcycle ride from the Pentagon to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. (U.S. Air Force photo by Scott Ash)
May 13, 2021

American Veterans (AMVETS), the group behind the annual Rolling to Remember motorcycle rally, announced a new venue on Wednesday to stage their May 30 event this year after the Department of Defense denied them a permit to use the Pentagon parking lot.

Rather than using the Pentagon parking lot, as the group has done for years, the Rolling to Remember will stage at the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium about five miles away. The group sought to stage the rally at RFK Stadium after the Pentagon parking lot fell through. Until the group received approval to stage at RFK Stadium it also planned to stage on the National Mall in the streets of Washington D.C.

“The 2021 Rolling to Remember Demonstration Ride will pre-stage in Parking Lot 8 at RFK Stadium on May 30 before riding to and around the National Mall,” AMVETS said in an emailed statement. “AMVETS, which is organizing the massive pro-veterans Memorial Day Weekend demonstration, had previously announced the expected 50,000 to 100,000 motorcycles would stage in the streets of downtown Washington. That changed today when Mayor Muriel Bowser on May 10 granted RFK Stadium permission to rent the parking lot to AMVETS for this 1st Amendment event.”

Rolling to Remember, which was previously known as Rolling Thunder, has held the motorycle rally for more than 30 years. The event is organized around Memorial Day and aims to raise awareness of the more than 80,000 U.S. service members being held as prisoners of war (POWs) or who remain missing in action (MIA). The event also aims to raise awareness about the mental health crisis that continues to affect veterans and leads to more than 20 veteran suicides a day on average.

Earlier this month, AMVETS expressed disappointment at the Pentagon’s decision to deny the rally permit. The Pentagon cited coronavirus concerns in its decision to deny the permit.

Last year, AMVETS held a scaled-down version of the Rolling to Remember motorcycle rally, in combination with virtual rally events across the country, in consideration of the COVID-19 restrictions at the time.

The veteran group said it had requested the Pentagon parking lot permit for the 2021 ride in May 2020. The group said it had reached out to the Pentagon for months, in an attempt to provide a workable coronavirus safety plan but said it was ignored.

“The biggest disappointment in the Pentagon’s denial was that AMVETS was ignored for months as its professional staff in Washington requested numerous times an opportunity to hear the Defense Department’s concerns and present a COVID-19 safety plan to the Pentagon’s decision-makers before rendering a decision,” AMVETS National Commander Jan Brown said. “In the end, the Pentagon decided to deny the application without any meaningful communication with AMVETS.”

As the veteran group searched for a backup venue, more than 30 Republican lawmakers urged President Joe Biden to override the Pentagon’s decision and grant the permit for the parking lot.

This year’s rally, to be held on May 30, will stage at Parking Lot 8 outside the stadium.

Road closures will include sections of Southeast Blvd., 395-W, Maine Ave. SW, Independence Ave., Constitution Ave., and Pennsylvania Ave. Intersections and side streets around those roads will also need to be closed and the closures are expected to last several hours that day.