A Walk Past the White House
Unexpected Photo-Ops in DC
WASHINGTON — A small group of kids curiously approach a poster of maimed infants entitled, “Children of the Gulf War.” Donning a large black wig and a "Bush Lies" pin, a small, elderly woman holds the poster while dutifully standing outside the White House in front of her makeshift shelter. The poster-bearer looks at the children and slowly says, “President Bush…bombs the children. He. Bombs. Them.” “President Bush,” they echo, pointing to the White House behind them, either to prove their understanding or to further clarify the location of this man. “He bombs.” The woman's broken English mirrors the young children’s still-developing language skills, and so in the end, both parties think they’ve come to an understanding. “The White House was bombed,” the young boy says knowingly as he turns around to his mother. Noticing my picture taking, and, having just told a man that she is "a citizen of the world," the protesting babushka asks me where I’m from. “Canada,” I say. A smile and no further words. Maybe she assumes I need no convincing of her anti-Bush rhetoric. Moving on, she notices two Asian men. “China or Korea? China or Korea?” she starts saying while pulling out pamphlets in different languages. All the while, one of the young boys is pointing to the picture of George W. and saying “George Washington.” Perhaps it wasn’t completely effective protesting. That’s when I turned to look at her fellow protesters. “George Bush is a killer. George Bush is a killer....Close all USA Torture Camps....Lies + war = treason.” The brightly colored signs flank the White House, framing it for passersby, a folksy song plays across the street, and I am taken back to the 60s—not surprisingly, as looking around I realize that most of the protesters are probably of that generation. Now, into their middle age, they dutifully resume their spot outside the establishment with painted signs that say, “Wage love.” “…Man,” I want to add and suddenly I feel sad that I am not throwing off my shoes, not chaining myself to the fence, not sticking it to The Man. Where is the youth of America? Why aren’t we rallying together? Doesn’t our generation care? Yes, there were children and young families, a young bride down the street yelling about how hard it was to walk in heels, and even a younger group dressed in orange protesting torture across the road. But the majority of the protesters were much older. As for me, the next day I was going to put on my suit and go to my 9-to-6 job. “Get in the picture, brother,” says a middle-aged man sipping on a Starbucks cup and holding a sign: “Arrest Bush for War Crimes.” The boy he addressed jumps in the frame, smiling and pointing at the sign. Look mom. I’m outside the White House. With these guys. The protesters have become a part of the tourist attraction. Yes, day after day these protesters gain some visibility for their cause through pictures taken of them. But outside the white pillars, while feeding the birds and living in plastic tents, they are simply a part of the spectacle. That is not to say that this place has evaded mass social protest for the Iraq War and other causes or that these protesters aren’t doing something completely commendable day-in and day-out. People of all ages and experiences have come together in front of the White House to take a stand, but at this moment, the protesters were just part of the scene. Their shaggy beards and cardboard hats, painted signs and missing teeth, the plastic tarps with over-sized binder clips, the bright sun, the over-the top wig, the almost-circus like quality, perfect for photo-ops with friendly visitors and young families. As I start to leave the show behind, I spot a large group of teenagers across the barricaded street. Finally! Yet they were all dressed in identical uniforms. Criss-crossing my way among them I stop one to ask who they are. They are some young leaders group, having to do with pre-med high school students. They might stop to get their pictures taken with the signs, taking note of what it is to take a stand, before going on their way to learn about making a different kind of difference. Suddenly, all the identically adorned students and my daily corporate attire comforted me. And so I walked on, past the great white pillars and the makeshift shelter, toward the next morning when I would enter the day along with thousands of other interns in DC heading to work. And if the babushka ever wants help with a petition or to organize an event, I’ve got her back. But for now I’ll put on that blazer. I smile at her. Behind her, a bumper sticker: “If you want peace, work for justice.” —Rachel A. Stark '11, a Crimson news editor, is a resident of Currier House.