by Brian Davis
What have you done to that lovely lady by the Potomac? Henry James identified the District of Columbia as a majestic city which is now pock marked and full of concrete barriers.
My heart was broken by the events of September 11, but the transformation of our nation’s capital is just as sad if not also angering. The barricading of Washington is an assault on our democracy. We never voted if it was wise to close down the White House or the Capitol and increase security forces to unprecedented levels. If our democracy is so fragile that it would falter because of a terrorist act then it is not worth preserving.
Just a quick walk down those nobly named streets of Constitution or Independence Avenues, we see police on every street corner. Standing at the Capital, I was watched, I was repeatedly passed by Capital police, and the security shined their flashlight in my face at night. I was deemed a threat for walking the same paths traveled by the Kennedys, Barbara Jordon, Howard Metzenbaum, and Lowell Weiker as they defended personal liberty.
It seems that the cradle of democracy is operating in a state of fear. We are all terrorist suspects. Anyone could be the next home grown terrorist, the next Ted Kazinski, the next Timothy McVeigh. There are cameras, private security, police, and even federal military now involved in protecting buildings, monuments and our nation’s elite. We have actually created an elite class of elected officials who are the subject of extra-ordinary security measures. A far cry from the members of the first five Congressional delegations who only worked part time as legislator and most were full time farmers.
Our forefathers fought to throw off empirical rule but a quick trip to the White House shows a different story. The building is absolutely secure similar to those of the castles that dot the European landscape. Our empirical president is so distant from the population and no longer "the steward of the people" or "the president of all people" but instead a term limited monarch.
Even that symbol for democracy around the world—the nation’s Capital building is a bunker sealing out its citizens. We cannot walk those wonderful steps up the front of the building to the places where great Americans like Franklin Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Dwight Eisenhower took their oaths of office to lead this country. Even Armed Freedom on the Capital dome seems to be depressed that she looks out over this hypocrisy of a democratic society.
Real security would be the elimination of poverty. If a terrorist wants to strike a blow to democracy or freedom they will do it. No matter how many security guards, how many cameras or military officers, as a society we are vulnerable. The security state of Rome was undermined on a routine basis by rebellion. Totalitarian states have traditionally seen attacks by their own disenfranchised populations. For every stripping of people’s rights breeds contempt, anger, and terrorists, or as we used to call them patriots. It is ironic that the groups planning the American Revolution would be subject to surveillance and increased security with the passage of the 2001 Patriot Act.
The state of New Hampshire pays homage to the terrorists on their license plates with the phrase "Live Free or Die." The Boston Tea party and the rebellions that led up to the Revolution would certainly be considered terrorism in today’s environment. John Brown certainly would be a friend of the nation of Palestine. The point is that terrorism is a part of the American historical landscape. After all, the capturing and enslaving of an entire population with a different color skin seems to be an expression of terrorism. The extermination of a pre-existing group of nations from land that we currently occupy certainly goes way beyond the genocide in Bosnia or Somalia of the last decade.
Security would be enhanced by housing our entire population providing them a living income so that they can maintain decent housing, providing universal health care, and iron clad civil liberties protecting all of our rights and freedoms. In the cradle of democracy in our nation’s capital, it is an embarrassment that we have homeless people sleeping everywhere. President Bush’s closest neighbor is a homeless man who sleeps in Lafayette Park and actually was the neighbor of the last seven presidents.
I saw men first in line sleeping outside the Bank of America waiting for their piece of the pie. I saw men laboring to survive in front of the National Labor Relations Board. I did not understand why the workers at Metropolitan Optical did not see the inhumanity in front of them with guys sleeping on their door. The Federal Trade Commission housed a man waiting to be traded to a country that cares. At least one man was waiting for justice as he slept in front of the Department of Justice.
A walk down Pennsylvania Ave then to the mall and onto the Capital demonstrates how out of touch our elected officials are in this country. There were parties full of lobbyists where our leaders were led to the table and gorged with money, fine food, alcohol, and slaps on the back. While a huge population exists on the streets forever looking in and never having their voices heard when discussions are made about education, healthcare, justice, welfare reform, and housing policy or appropriation decisions are made. How do they not see the inhumanity that they walk over everyday?
Copyright NEOCH published May 2002 Cleveland Ohio for Issue 54