Grandpa Tom Goes to Washington Part II or The Prisoner of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Our White House in Prison
I guess I should have planned better, but who knew? As I neared Washington D.C. around 1:45pm, I knew it would be nearly impossible to find parking anywhere near the demonstrations. Thus, I chose to find parking in Alexandria, Virginia across the Potomac River. My plan was to take the Metro to the Federal Triangle near the White House. Good plan, except the Metro Station closest to my parking garage was closed. A very nice police officer directed me to the Kings Road Station a mile away, and so I walked through an elegant, nearly deserted Alexandria apartment section to the station. I boarded the correct train, the blue line, and headed into town. I planned to get off at the Federal Triangle Station, but at the station before, they announced it was closed, so I hopped off just in time. Apparently, the government shut that station down to control the protesters. Didn’t work. Joining dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of people walking toward the Washington Monument, we glimpsed a barricaded White House off in the distance through the trees.
Eventually, it was clear there were tens of thousands of people as far as the eye could see. I managed to snag a Hershey’s Chocolate Crunch Ice Cream bar for $5.00, and that would remain my lunch for the day. I did bring a lot of water bottles with me, but there were no restaurants open and no bathrooms to be seen. Welcome to protesting.
The chants went on throughout the day into the evening.
Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter!
I Can’t Breathe! I Can’t Breathe! (That was the heart-breaking one.)
Get your knee off my neck! Get your knee off my neck! For 400 years, get your knee off my neck!
What is his name? George Floyd! George Floyd!
What is her name? Breonna Taylor! Breonna Taylor!
What is his name? Ahmaud Arbery! Ahmaud Arbery!
We want peace. And Justice! What do we want? Justice! What do we want? Peace! How do we achieve it? Love!
Hey hey, ho ho, racist cops must go!
Hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump must go! Trump and Pence must go!
And a particular crowd favorite, “Fuck Trump!”
There were thousands of signs. The signs ranged from the sublime to the crude. Another crowd favorite was “Bunker Bitch” describing Trump hiding in the White House bunker. Many quoted Dr. King or Angela Davis and many were quite profound. “All Lives Can’t Matter Until Black Lives Matter.” “Why do I have to keep explaining why Black Lives Matter?” “The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood.”
There were a number of speakers, often hard to hear, even with the microphones. They ranged from the thoughtful to the radical. What do we want? Justice! How do we get it? By any means necessary! I didn’t like that chant so much. I don’t agree with any means to an end as it might imply violence. There was a drumming circle and some DJ’s putting out liberation rap music. At one point I got caught up in the Electric Slide with a thousand people.
For most of the march I stood at the newly erected wall in front of Lafayette Park with the front entrance to the White House in the background some 200 yards away. Through the fence grill work, I stared at it long and hard. I wondered what he was thinking inside his personal quarters. I’m sure he could hear the chants. For so long it was the People’s House. It represented our potential until this man usurped it. Now it was Trump’s bunker, his hidey hole, his prison. It made me sad and mad. I realized the new fences were not just to keep us out, but they also effectively hemmed him in. Our president, the prisoner of his own people. That is what we have come to.
St. John the Divine Episcopal Church was right there where Trump pulled his photo op stunt with the Bible last week. There was a guy dressed full length as a Bible with a sign, “Use Me Not for Your Bigotry.”
The sheer size and diversity of the crowds was an inspiration unto itself. You had Latinas, El Salvadoreans, Ethiopians, Syrians, and many other groups, all with banners proclaiming their support for Black Lives Matter. My personal favorite was "Witches Against White Supremacy." The crowd seemed to be an even mix of people of color and white people, and men and women. I was saddened to note that there were few in my age group present. I guess we have handed off the baton to the younger generation. Most seemed to be in their twenties and thirties, so the stereotype that Millennials are not politically aware seems to have fallen by the wayside. They were highly engaged and passionate in their protest.
It was very hot. I was drenched in my own sweat. Forget social distancing in such a crowd, but nearly everyone had a mask. I wonder if there will be a terrible spike in Covid-19 in the next two weeks. Most probably felt it was worth the risk, that this issue was too important to ignore. I understood that. Some things are just too important. I’ll get a test in a week, fingers crossed.
Today, June 6th, was the largest march in Washington since the record-breaking Women’s March in January 2017 after Trump’s inauguration. And it was the 12th straight day of marches in Washington. Moreover, historians now note that this is the most broad-based protest in American history as it has spread to over 650 cities and towns across the country.
Today’s protest was also entirely peaceful, as it seemed to be around the country. There was one simple reason for that. This time the police and military stayed entirely in the background, almost unseen. There were no confrontations because there were no confrontational forces. Guess we don’t have to be a “battlespace” as Defense Secretary Esper asserted last week. There is no need for a battle against one’s own peaceful citizens exercising their constitutionally given right to protest. This is something we all knew, why couldn’t they have figured that out? Well, at least they adjusted appropriately. I imagine they had to tell their Commander-in-Chief, “Donald, you just can’t do that!”
I’m glad I went and that Cathy encouraged me to go. She knew that for me it was the culmination of a fifty-year career as an activist and advocate for the rights of children, women, and minorities. I needed to be the there! Fifty-one years ago, I stood at this very spot in front of the White House protesting against the War in Vietnam and for Civil Rights. I have come full circle. But my protest today wasn’t really about me. It was about George, Ahmaud, Breonna, Trayvon, and the thousands of others who have died at the hands of racists. “We Shall Overcome!”