In a spate of fury and disgust I drove five hours to Washington recently to register my opinion about the atrocious acts committed by our military prison guards in Iraq.
Upon arriving, I discovered that the road in front of the White House had been torn to shreds. Somehow, this fact had escaped me. My last stroll past the White House had been more than 10 years ago, when I spent a semester at American University. The construction project seemed to be moving in slow motion -- dig a hole here, shovel some cement there, stop, smoke a stogie. So, denied access to the front of our most potent symbol, I walked around to the back.
Past the Treasury Building and the carefully placed trees and shrubs, my righteous indignation began to dissipate. In my hand, along with a book of Mark Twain's writings on the "damned human race," I carried two copies of my small protest poster, printed on inkjet photo paper. The shame of those images of Iraqi prisoners being abused by American guards was too much for me to display. I hid the poster inside another printout.
A crowd of kids on a school trip milled about, taking pictures of the White House before being shuffled along to the next attraction by their chaperones. I couldn't bring myself to pull out my poster and launch into a rant about the sorry state of our civil society in front of these students or warn them about the elaborately constructed illusions they were being taught. So on I walked, past the intricate facade of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, past a sign that said "100 percent ID check" and down the only remaining sidewalk alongside the cracked and fractured remains of Pennsylvania Avenue to the guard post in front of the White House.
Not much was happening. The setting sun gave the black bars a golden hue, soft and gentle. It was a lazy day, well past evening news time, and all of the TV stand-up stations were closed for the night. The easy lethargy of this mild city lying down to sleep, nary a care in the world, was infectious.
Back out on 17th Street, hordes of young people fresh from their kickball games were trying to decide what bar to hit. "Give me your befuddled masses," said the slogan on their red, white and blue team shirts. They looked like congressional staffers. A policeman, radio chattering, walked off. But I still had my piece to say.
My protest at the back of the White House was a silent, mostly private affair -- just me and two officers guarding the empty street. I took out my poster, held it up to the fence and clicked a picture. No yelling, no screaming, no bongos. A small, personal statement by me, for me. I changed no minds other than my own. But that's a start.
-- Justin Adams