It’s party time in the DC metro area. We’ve got one civil religion ceremony (Inauguration) behind us, in addition to a major demonstration (Women’s March) and we’re due for another, the Pro Life demonstration. The latter is an annual occurrence, you can set your calendar by it. You know it’s the dead of winter when the Pro Life people all hang out by the Supreme Court, singin’ songs and a’carryin’ signs.
If you detect a note of cynicism, you are correct. This area is demonstration central. There’s always something to demonstrate against. On the other hand, very few demonstrate because they are happy; demonstrations are like visits to the doctor, you don’t drop by the doctor’s office just to let everyone know you’re doing fine, thank you.
When I first came here, straight out of college, I took a clerical job not far from the White House. In those days Pennsylvania Avenue was a through street (they closed it during the Clinton Administration). It was very noisy, full of sirens and speeding traffic. You were taking your life in your hands to cross the street at Lafayette Square, the park directly across from the White House.
Despite the legion of rats that lived (and perhaps still live) in the park, I used to enjoy eating my brown bag lunch there on sunny days, sitting on a bench, watching the world go by. You’d see all sorts; Sam Donaldson and a colleague walked past once, on their way to some posh nosh. Suspicious men in dull trenches and hats would walk in circular patterns, speaking Russian to each other in hushed tones, no doubt plotting their next drop.
The most interesting thing however was the hearse. During the first term of the Reagan Administration, there was a woman who drove an open hearse around the White House for at least eight hours a day on the weekdays. In the back she had a full-fledged effigy of Uncle Sam adorned with the best funeral flower display I have ever seen. On top of the cab, a loudspeaker blared the Battle Hymn of the Republic (“Mine eyes have seen the glory. . .” ). This demonstration, which went on for years, protested the removal of prayer in schools. It was elegant, memorable and, by all appearances, permanent. You had to admire that sort of persistence. The lady was nuts, but she was a good kind of nuts. The protesters nowadays lack her finesse, not to mention her permit.
The Women’s March made its point, I suppose. The poetry was scatological and ugly, the speakers combative and very strict in a Mother Superior sort of way about which ideologies they countenanced. Madonna proved that she needs to ride off into that showbiz sunset. Lots of beautiful celebrities with $500 haircuts showed up to proclaim unity with all the secretaries, interns and janitorial workers in the crowd.
I do hope all these people bothered to vote.
Meanwhile the Donald Administration yelled about the size of the Inaugural crowd (not so big, frankly) and talked about alternative facts while censoring all government twitter accounts that innocently posted pictures of the non-crowds because that was in their respective job descriptions. Alternative facts is a phrase right out of the Trotsky playbook; agitprop here we come.
Meanwhile, the private citizen Obamas got stuck in the West Coast’s drought-ending deluge, ignoring people who waited for hours in the rain as their forbidding SUVs splashed through the magical resort gates of a golf vacation turned board game marathon. One of the crowd was a young woman, soaked to the skin, holding a grocery store bouquet of flowers. Perhaps prompted by the graceful glory of a Battle Hymn of the Republic earworm, she asked the gate guard if he could arrange to deliver the flowers to the Obamas, a token of welcome and good wishes. He declined. Perhaps she left them at the fence, placed carefully on the new grave of the Obama Administration.