Monday, December 3, 2012

Dear Supreme Court...

 Earlier  on   November 12, 2012...

Years ago, the late John  Denver wrote the lyrics:  It's a long way from LA to Denver.  Yup!

It's also a long, long way from the George Washington University/Foggy Bottom station on the Metro all the way to the east end of the National Mall.  It's worth the walk.  The walk on 23rd Street NW first takes one south past the U.S. Department of State, onward to the Lincoln Memorial, then eastward with the White House on the distant left and finally to the famed knoll called Capitol Hill.

The walk is worth it for a variety of reasons.  Not because our nation's capitol is such an architecturally stunning place.  No, with minor detours, the walk takes one past many of our major war memorials. 

Plus a whole lot of government buildings of boringly similar, nondescript architecture. Pseudo-institutional Greek.  Sort of... 

There is also... well, a whole lot of not very well landscaped space.  The green lawns covering much of the National Mall aren't very green.  Yes, I know.  It was a drought year.  Lots of weeds.  Lack of flower gardens.  Lots of empty space.  To be filled with what?  More war memorials in the future?  I figure there is room for at least 30 more on the Mall.  

So much for goodness, truth and beauty.  Seems we'd rather head "from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli."  Except in an election year. 

Perhaps future war memorials won't have the names of war dead.  Perhaps instead the memorials will bear the serial numbers, model numbers and bar codes of drones and other hardware lost in battle.  Perhaps bronze plaques bearing the names of commercial donors and sponsors who paid for the rights to put their brand names on the hardware and ordnance. 
Back to the walk...  The walk is worth it because it takes some time.  Rather than just riding a tour bus or taxi, or staying underground on the Metro, it's worth it to walk the length of the Mall and ask oneself, "What do people from other parts of the world see when they come here?"

When I think of the lush, beautifully landscaped, lovingly cared-for gardens I have seen in Canada and other parts of the world--not even in national capitols, mind you--our capitol city looks mighty drab.  Not aesthetic at all. 

Land of the free, home of the brave.  Land of the aesthetically challenged. 

Land of the ubiquitous heavy concrete "planter" with some weeds growing in it.  Must be 500 thousand of those things in DC. 

And we all know why they are there:  to deter a future Oklahoma City bomber from driving a vehicle into one of the buildings on the Mall.  In a word, fear. 

The "planters" aren't the only deterrent.  Now, all around Capitol Hill, there is a green plastic mesh fence supported by rusty steel posts, the kind you would use to fence in cattle.

The fence was hastily erected, it seems.  Not artfully.  The mesh isn't attached to the posts by durable wires.  No, white plastic zip ties with 12-inch long pigtails.  Cute...  

And every dozen feet or so a laminated plastic sign stating AREA CLOSED By order of the United States Capitol Police Board.  A couple of Capitol Police seals to make it nice 'n official.  Charming...    
I'm hoping this is a temporary fence while the once-every-four-years inaugural platform is built.  

If so, we could say so.  And we could also say something more courteous, such as, "Temporarily Closed for Construction.  Thank you for your patience."  Just a thought...

But the real object of my desire was the building located due east of the Capitol:  the Supreme Court of the United States.

Talk about a Greek temple wannabe...

I had a message to deliver.  I had intended to print it on a sheet of paper and laminate it, then tape it to the front door.  I'd probably have been cited for littering or vandalism, had I done so.

I decided to exercise my Constitutional right of free speech instead.

So I centered myself in the plaza below the great courthouse, set down my backpack and tripod, prayed silently and then raised my arms in sincere entreaty with this plea in a firm, clear voice:

"Dear Supreme Court of the United States of America, 'Citizens United' did not bring us free speech.  It brought us the most expensive speech, and the lowest quality political speech in the history of our republic.  Please revisit your decision.  Thank you!"    

Two women having lunch on the front steps noticed.  A Capitol Police guard left his little guard shack off to the left and started striding toward me.  By the time he had closed the distance by 15 feet, I had already gathered my gear and was walking back west.

I would visit the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial and encounter "Loving" on Pennsylvania Avenue (see previous post).  

I thought about the Supreme Court on my return walk.  I had exercised not only a right but, in my view, a responsibility to uphold the Constitution.  I swore to do that on the day I enlisted in the US Air Force back in August 1969.  

I thought about this venerated building and the weighty decisions made inside.  Then I reflected on the building renovations going on, the front of the building faced with scaffolding.  In order to hide the scaffolding and not deny tourists their photo op, the sheathing covering the scaffold has been embossed with a facade of the Supreme Court. 

It's not a partially obscured view of the columns and architrave one sees from the street. It's a printed copy.  

I'm not sure what to be more concerned about:  a nation's capitol as attractive as tilt-up warehouse buildings with "Keep Out" signs everywhere, or a Supreme Court that has become a facade.

You decide.  It's your country, too. 

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