One thousand feet outside the White House lies a woman. Long forgotten about, she sleeps on this park bench with a perfectly central vantage point of the most famous house in American democracy. The president is home. Preparing for a party he’s throwing the next night. A temporary stage has been built on the other side of the building. The stage is accompanied by a fantastic lighting kit with stage lights that will change from red to purple as the famous singer performs.
The president will attend. So will the First Lady. The theme of tomorrow’s party is ‘everyday heroes.’ Actors and other important people will show up.
The woman sleeping in Lafayette Park will not. She’s covered in an old, gray blanket. It’s dirty, stained, probably from sleeping on benches just like this night after night. Maybe she’s making a point. Maybe she’s not. She sleeps with a suitcase of her belongings next to her.
This is Washington, D.C. A dichotomy.
Government buildings reminiscent of Ancient Rome adorned with massive columns dot the streets. So does poverty, homeless, and open drug deals. A sunset walk down H street reveals our Nation’s capital, with all the hope and tragedy of a Shakespeare play. One man is seen counting the coins in his hand hoping he has enough to score his next hit from the nearby drug dealer. Others are asking for money or laying on the sidewalk up against buildings that house high-rent apartments. Easy to walk right past.
Outside the halls of power in the District, 70% of public high school students need food assistance in order to have enough to eat. People in high positions warn against walking the streets. Crime is up. Desperation, too.
At the White House, a building that is more protected than a few years ago with added layers of fencing to keep everyone "else" out), they are planning a lavish party and celebration of their own achievements. The extra fence prevents people from even walking on Pennsylvania Avenue let alone allowing anyone to step up to the eight-foot tall iron fence to take a picture of the building that has been home to the president since 1800. On this night, gatherers curious about one of the world’s most famous buildings, are ushered away by Secret Service if they step onto Pennsylvania Avenue. Tourists are confined behind a temporary barrier that creates even more distance between them and the head of government…one supposedly of, by, and for we the people.
Distance is required for ‘safety.’ To keep them safe. From us. While they throw parties with fancy people and fancy lighting further creating a bubble between them and us. One mile from the White House fencing the framework that established this great nation, the Constitution for these United States lies behind protective glass. So does the Bill Of Rights. The First Amendment, in faded quill ink, serves as a reminder of ‘certain unalienable, God-given rights, allowing the right ‘to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’
The White House used to be open to the public. President Abraham Lincoln was often visited by and held an audience with We The People. Not anymore.
At the party, the president bragged about the amount of taxpayer funds used to research a topic near and dear to the performer’s heart. Spending billions, worthy cause or not, while inflation is high, and 35% of families can’t afford basic necessities - including 50% of Black families. More and more people are sleeping on park and bus stop benches. All now at such a distance that those who reside within the halls of power don’t notice.
The night after the party the president flew to Delaware, maybe flying high above the very bench this woman used as a bed two nights before.
It’s easy to say this "is the way it is". But, it doesn’t have to be. A mile and a half from the White House at the Lincoln Memorial, President Lincoln’s second inaugural address is etched into stone. ‘With malice towards none, with charity for all,’ is how the final paragraph reads. Lincoln is accessible 24 hours per day. No fence. No distance. Anyone within the protective bubble could read it, anytime, if they were bold enough to travel outside the protective bubble and listen. Maybe then they would see this image and decide this is no longer acceptable in these United-ish States of America.