I walked to the White House today and when I got there, I wept.
After a hiatus of three years, I returned to DC and one of the first things I wanted to do was take a walk to my old stomping grounds. For 13 years, I worked a block and a half from the White House and often walked over at lunchtime or after work to admire the view of “The People’s House,” the ever-changing scene of school groups, selfie-taking tourists (both foreign and domestic), law enforcement officers mixed in with the “regular” protestors, daily fixtures with their signs and their lawn chairs. My version of Americana at its best.
In the time of Trump, everything has changed.
DC is a post-apocalyptic nightmare right now. As I walked the eight blocks from my apartment on Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, I could hear my own footsteps on streets that were once packed with office workers and tourists. I walked for five minutes across downtown DC without seeing another human being. My heart was heavy as I approached the Executive Office Building and the Renwick Gallery and encountered fence after fence and signs warning me off.
Surely, there was a way to walk through Lafayette Square to the park! No, there was not. I walked up to H Street and had to walk all the way around to 16th Street and even then, behind all the fences and barricades, I could barely make out a portion of the White House. I read about this and saw it on TV, but nothing could prepare me for the emotional impact of seeing one of our nation’s most loved historical treasures being closed off from the American people.
An article in The Atlantic aptly describes the scene I encountered:
“The White House today is hidden behind a welter of barricades, anti-scale fencing, bollards, and Jersey barriers…Lafayette Square, the scene of one of Trump’s most vulgar assaults on core American values, is now impenetrable.”
Enterprising citizens have made their displeasure known posting signs along the fence. I found some comfort in arriving at Black Lives Matter Plaza, which brought me hope that the people will ultimately prevail.
There’s a running joke on the show West Wing about Andrew Jackson and Big Block of Cheese day. In the show, they say that Jackson brought the cheese to the White House and invited people who would not normally get the ear of the president to state their cases. According to historians, the 1,400-pound block of cheese was presented to Jackson by a dairy farmer from New York to promote the Empire State. Apparently, Jackson did not know what to do with such a large block of cheese so at the end of his term, he hosted a reception for 10,000 people and invited them to take the cheese. Following that event, the web site, Thought.com, reports:
“The new occupant of the White House, Martin Van Buren, banned the serving of food at White House receptions. Crumbs from Jackson’s mammoth cheese had fallen into the carpets and been trampled by the crowd. Van Buren’s time in the White House would be plagued by many problems, and it got off to a horrible start as the mansion smelled of cheese for months.”
My hope is that on Jan. 21, President Biden will order the barricades, fencing and bollards torn down and the “People’s House” will once again be restored to us. I only hope the stench left behind by the previous administration does not last for months.