By Vince Bushell
As in D.C. Where the car license plates say, “Taxation Without Representation”. Where the population is 633,000, larger than the States of Wyoming and Vermont. These residents of our Capitol have no representation in our Nations Senate and House of Representatives. Not fair!
We, Vince, Paula, Glenda and Tim took the train: Amtrak from Chicago to D.C. We saw the country go by. We had tickets to sleeper cars, so we rocked and rolled all night. The train pulled out of Chicago on the 9th of May. The sky was clear, and the sun was setting. Trees were mostly bare as this spring has been cold and wet. Grasses were up and what leaves there were on the trees were bright green. The setting sun bathed the landscape in vibrant warm tones. Passing through the dystopia of the steel mills in Gary Indiana was an amazing scene of blackened buildings hundreds of yards long and heavy electrical wires and pipes crossing the landscape. Open rail cars were filled with carefully arranged rolls of steel along the sidings. A lone waste gas pipe was flaming to the sky. Lake Michigan shown blue in the background. Grasses shown bright green in the foreground. You do not see this on a plane. This is a strange landscape changed by man. I hesitate to say it was beautiful, but it was in its own way. A testament and sentiment that rolled by our eyes as the train carried us east and around the bottom of the Great Lake Michigan. A vision that carried the sentiment of what price industrial progress carries.
We ate dinner in the dining car as the country rolled by. Turning in for the night in the Pullman cars is a comedy of small space. But a delight to be able to lie down for the evening. We passed by Cleveland, and Pittsburg, and Toledo and moved into Pennsylvania at dawn. breakfast brought us into the Appalachian Mountains. The train follows the river valleys. This is an old route. The hills long separated Wisconsin from the east. The rock and tree-lined hills are beautiful from the train.
Pulling into Washington midday it was warm and lush. The cherry trees and Wisteria Vines were past bloom. But the roses bushes were abundant as was the flowering dogwood. It felt like mid-summer. DC is further south and has a warmer clime. An abundance of plants grow here. We stayed in Capitol Heights. This is a neighborhood not too far from the train station and the Capitol Building. It is filled with quaint row houses and broad garden lined streets and sidewalks paved with bricks.
The first day of touring began with a tour of the Capitol Building. A short film and then a walking tour. I suggest the President take this tour. He would learn some things about our government and the sharing of powers between his office and the legislature and Supreme Court. They are co-equal branches of government.
You see the adornment inside and outside of the dome with statuary and paintings. The irony is abundantly present from the headdress on Statue of Freedom on top of the dome outside to the stature of Andrew Jackson, the “Indian Fighter”, to the painting of Danial Boone fighting an Indian, inside the dome. The painting and statue were obvious affronts to the ideal of equality and human rights. The Stature of Freedom that crowns the dome is not so obvious without learning the story.
The Statue of Freedom had three options for the headdress. Good old Jeff Davis rejected one of the original designs that had a “liberty cap”. Davis was the Secretary of War in 1855 and in charge of the construction of the Capitol dome. Davis objected to the liberty cap, the symbol of freed slaves, because “its history renders it inappropriate to a people who were born free and should not be enslaved.” I guess some of us were not born free and were not to be free anytime soon if Davis had his way. Davis was elected the first and only President of the Confederacy in 1861.
I could go on about the museums we visited. Amazing places. I will mention the new to me, NMAAHAC, National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), and the National Museum of the American Indian. Both are a must see in my opinion, from the outside architecture to the inside exhibits.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture is laid out from below ground to the upper floors in historical fashion. From slave ships to slavery in the South and the bitter campaign to gain freed from the Civil War up to today. It is all there and you can easily spend a day here. Do not forget to go to the top floor to celebrate the explosion of talent in the arts and music that Black Americans have given us.
The Museum of the American Indian emphasizes the range of peoples North to South and in between that encompasses the native people that were here before European settlement. It is joyful yet remindful of how the United States did not keep many of its promises to our native people. The range of Native American culture in the Americas is vast.
I have been to the Capitol once before. Around 2001 Paula Gelbke and I went to D.C. It was part business for her and pure pleasure for me. If you can you should make a pilgrimage to the seat of our government and center of so much of our history. I remember visiting the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Memorial. Both places brought a tear to my eyes then. I thought that would not happen this time but I was wrong. For me, Lincoln is our greatest President. His monument is always a busy spot with many stairs to walk up and see Lincoln seated in his chair. The Gettysburg Address embossed on one stone wall, his second inaugural address on the other.
Things do change. And I would normally not consider this a positive change. On my first visit to see Lincoln’s Memorial throngs of people came and quietly looked and read the speeches. This time the crowds were even bigger and almost all had a cell phone pointed at the President. Including me. It is good to remember this man who gave his life for our country.
On to the Vietnam Memorial wall, we walked again. This time I was still surprised at how the low wall grows to a high wall and you see yourself reflected into the stone. Many flags and notes were on the ground to the lost loved ones. I was doing fine till I bent and opened a note tacked to the ground. It was a child’s printing to his great grandfather. He was sorry he never got to meet the young man who gave his life in that war. The war of my time that I did not have to go to but that I protested while in college.
Washington is full of tales of our past and demonstrations about the present. The celebrations and protests for and against the topics of the day are a constant on the mall.
Thomas Jefferson’s words are poignant but need to be amended. The Declaration of Independence contains these words. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” We have worked to change “men” to include women and “all men” to include all races of men and women, without regard to sexual preference or religious belief. We are not finished with the task today.
Beyond the Mall
We did not fare far from where we stayed in Capitol Hill, but we did get to George Town and visited the building and grounds of Dumbarton Oaks. It is a beautiful grand home with an incredible art collection. Our goal was to tour the gardens designed by the famed landscape designer Beatrix Farrand. Exquisite, mysterious, calming, inviting are the gardens set on a natural slope that leads away from the house. A good place to pause and contemplate on beauty, love, and freedom.