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Showboating for the Prez

Witness Against TortureThis is where I was week before last:

With a black hood covering my head, all I could see outside was blurry and dark. The outside couldn’t see in. After an hour of standing still, my muscles began to ache terribly. The cardboard sign I carried felt like a slab of concrete. Sounds blended and muffled, and their quiet rebelled against the busyness that the shadows were transacting. Constantly, the shadows took pictures of us, and stared, and reacted. I was one of about a dozen that day dressed in hoods and orange jumpsuits, standing silently in a row before our altar and our stage, the White House.

To find out what on God’s green earth I was doing, take a look at my new essay at The Huffington Post about the little stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, “The Pennsylvania Avenue Circus.” It’s an odd and wonderful place, full of the posturing and tourism and security and passion that makes Washington such a seductively strange city. When I used to work downtown, one of the best parts of my day was the ten seconds it took to cruise through there on my bike, trying not to crash into the tour groups or the Secret Service.

The sign next to the home of Concepcion Picciotto, who has lived in a tent outside the White House since 1981.

The sign next to the home of Concepcion Picciotto, who has lived in a tent outside the White House since 1981.

Growing up in D.C., I was always fascinated how the buildings there claim to be imbued with power. Here’s a passage on the subject from a memoir-in-progress:

On the way to the museum, we would pass the Pentagon and the marble monuments to war. The Capitol stood in the backdrop. If I looked hard enough, could power be seen? Perhaps, in the the city’s wide avenues, which trace out Masonic symbols. Or in the blind eye they cast on the horrific neighborhoods. Unlike Rome, a fortress on hills, we built D.C. in a swamp, as if all its wars would be distant ones. It felt like a privilege to be so close to the center of power, and I couldn’t understand why people chose to live elsewhere in the country.

Hope you like the new essay.

8 comments on “Showboating for the Prez

  1. I have a vague uncomfortable feeling that “power” discounts the circus, the letters to congressmen, and letters to the editor. I might even wonder if power actually resides in Washington DC at all but is rather located in our best writers, academicians who speak out and have a following, and famous people who take a stand, and a few good religious leaders who speak to us every week. When things go badly we look to those people and wonder why they did not wake us up.
    We never seem to look to congressmen, business leaders, or people of the wealthy class. Occasionally there is a rare, rare exception.

  2. On second thought most of the good forces mentioned above did not save us in the Bush years. If you could find what forces brought Obama to power, from what seed bed did they begin, perhaps that is where the power is.
    And perhaps there is no power, we are drifting.

  3. Quentin, I think that two things brought Obama—and, for that matter, Bush—to power: a tremendous amount of interested money and millions of voters who trusted him. Especially as concerns the prospect of the restructuring of the financial system, we’ve got to tell him who is boss.

  4. A very small cavil: The Irish head of state is the Uachtarain or President, now a she, Mary McAleese, not a he as you wrote in your article.in the Huffington Post.
    The head of government, theTaoiseach or Prime Minister, is Brian Cowen; maybe it was he who was whisked by the White House while you were there commendably objecting to the torturing of political prisoners. Keep up the good work.

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