STAY OUT! DO NOT ENTER! This is the feeling I got when I popped into Washington DC for a day while I was in Virginia for two weeks. I hadn’t been there in a while. In the mid 1970’s I had occasion to do research in the Library of Congress and the National Archives while living in a boarding house near the Supreme Court building. I was also present at the Watergate hearings. For a while I lived in Alexandria, VA in the early 1980’s and worked in DC. The city has so much to offer the world, art, architecture, history, philosophy, music, and good restaurants.
I was really taken aback at my last visit. It felt like an armed camp. The only thing missing were soldiers walking around with automated weapons. Every parking or delivery entrance I passed along the Mall had two types of security barriers. I entered the multi-million dollar waiting room in the capital (built so Harry Reid and the other representatives of the “people” wouldn’t smell the perspiration from the visitors) then was herded into cattle like pathways for and after my security check. The tour was over after we saw three rooms. That was an abomination. Without some prior reading or knowledge of the Capital, visitors would have no idea what they missed. After the tour, I asked the guide why we didn’t see the old senate, the former Supreme Court chambers, the House and Senate chambers. The response, “This is the busy season, we don’t have time.” The only way you can see the House and Senate chambers is with a pass from your representatives/senators, even if they are not in session.
My quick visit to the Library of Congress was no less disappointing. After getting through security I stopped to put on my belt back on. The only thing one could see beyond the book store was the lobby and a Plexiglas enclosed balcony around the rotunda overlooking the reading room. I saw the Gutenberg Bible shoved off to one corner of the lobby in front of what would have been the door leading to the reading room. I remember working in there, going with the librarian to the stacks and walking down some beautiful halls and rooms with great art and architecture.
We took a bus around the mall and I noticed that the road around the Lincoln Monument was closed and partially made into a walkway. The parking lot to the Jefferson Memorial was also closed.
I understand the need for security, but I am left wondering how much impact domestic and foreign terrorism have permanently had on our lives and how much security is used as a shield to keep the people from the US capital. I wonder what the impact is on our representatives and civil servants who are more barricaded than ever behind security that also build barriers to its citizens and visitors. It would seem that this behavior would insulate those from inside the beltway from those they represent and work for outside the beltway.
In light of the recent terrorists attacks in Europe and Africa security in and around Washington, DC has tightened. It is an obvious target for people wanting to damage our cultural icons, destroy our history, our people and our way of life. But this is not the first time in our history that we have lived under attack. I hope to see the day when some of these barriers can come down.