AMVETS officials will sponsor a three-day, motorcycle-themed demonstration rally in Washington, D.C. next Memorial Day weekend to replace the annual Rolling Thunder celebration that annually draws tens of thousands to the nation’s capital.
The new event, titled the “Rolling to Remember” Demonstration Run, will run from May 22 to 24 and retain the old event’s focus on public awareness of troops still missing in action from overseas conflict.
But AMVETS officials said the program will also heavily emphasize more public discussion of the national veterans suicide crisis, which claims 20 lives a day.
“(The goal) is to remember those who have yet to come home, to remember those who are in harm’s way, and to remember those who came home but are still struggling, to remember we as a country are still a long way to fulfilling our promises to those who served,” said AMVETS National Commander Jan Brown during a Friday press conference on the plans at Harley-Davidson of Washington D.C.
AMVETS Executive Director Joe Chenelly said the event won’t use the Rolling Thunder name but will work closely with past organizers to coordinate logistics for what they hope is a massive demonstration.
“It’s not a parade. It’s not a party,” he said. “It’s not a free-for-all to block the roads and cruise Constitution Avenue without traffic … It is a demonstration, something of a protest, of our failings (as a country) over the years. We must own those failings.”
For the last 32 years, the annual Rolling Thunder Memorial Day ride has drawn ever-larger crowds to the streets of Washington, D.C., and with it a host of security and planning headaches.
Last year, organizers announced they were ending the event because of the costs, including a bill of more than $200,000 for use of the Pentagon parking lots for pre-staging motorcycles before the ride.
Chenelly said his group has already applied for new permits with military officials to use the lots next year, and with National Parks Service officials to set up a stage at the Lincoln Memorial for three days of speakers and presentations.
He said the group is working with potential sponsors to defray some of the costs, and asking for volunteers both inside and outside the veterans community to help make the event a success.
Just hours before the final Rolling Thunder event last May, President Donald Trump posted praise for the riders on social media and promised “The Great Patriots of Rolling Thunder WILL be coming back to Washington, D.C. next year, & hopefully for many years to come.”
Chenelly said his group is working with White House officials to coordinate the new event’s logistics. The planned route for the ride for now includes motorcycles traveling in front of the White House and Capitol building, passing the National Mall and other landmarks along the way.
More information and event registration is available on the AMVETS web site.
Officials said the event will continue to be free, but advance registration will help them gauge crowd size and staffing requirements.
Friday’s announcement event corresponded with National POW/MIA Recognition Day. About 81,000 service members are still listed as missing in action in wars overseas.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.