By ELAINE CASSELOn July 4, 2003, I took my customary bike trip into DC from my home in Virginia. Along the Potomac River, across the bridge, onto the "National Mall," as it is called. The strip of land that runs from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument. South of the mall is a beautiful area known as The Tidal Basin, a lake of water surrounded by walkways and cherry trees given to the American people by the Japanese government. Oh, and at one end of the Tidal Basin, the Jefferson Memorial and the smaller memorial to George Mason, father of the Bill of Rights.
July 4, 2002, the first since 9/11, the nation was on "orange alert." I knew security would be "tight," because the news was full of it. But I did not realize what that meant until I arrived at the mall only to be turned away. The mall was "closed" for a bomb search. Now, I don't know how they were searching for bombs or what kind of bombs, but I guess the cops were in the trees and in the tunnels. Who knows? I hear it opened hours later.
There was nothing for me to do then but reverse directions, come back over the 14th Street Bridge, and return to the relative calm of Alexandria, Virginia (that was before "terrorist" trials took over the town, and barricades erected here to keep God only who or what knows out). Before I crossed the bridge, I called my daughter. Her childhood was filled with July 4's on the mall-from the time she was a infant, up to the prior year when we all (grandkids, husband, friends) watched the fireworks from the federal courthouse where she was working at the time. Little did I know that that may be the last fireworks any of us saw on the mall.
I called her and told her how a chill had come over me. Helicopters and fighter jets were omnipresent. What a different 4th. So upset was I, that I paid no attention to what I was doing and ended up sprawled across the 14th St. Bridge with a broken arm. So much for July 4, 2002.
So, at 8 am on July 4, 2003, the nation no longer on "orange alert" and George Bush spending the day in Ohio raising money, I set out to see what was happening in DC.
Beginning at National Airport all the way to the bridges, double wooden fence had been erected between the George Washington Memorial Parkway and the river. People would have to enter through "checkpoints."
There were cops at the marina, cops at the airport. On the bike path itself, which runs between the Potomac River and the Parkway, there were cops on foot ("passing on the left," I yelled, for which I got a threatening look), cops on bikes. To my left, on the grass, cops on horses. To my right, in the river, cops in boats. On the riverbank, cops in tents, cops in trucks. Overhead, cops in helicopters.
To my surprise, Memorial Bridge, which lies at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, was closed to cars. Bikes could get in. But not before passing through "security." As I stood deciding what to do, cops approached me. Step forward, ma'm, he said. I looked at him. Did you hear me? I heard you, I said. What's this all about? I don't answer questions, I just do my job. Step forward. By then, several cops, menacing looking, too, surrounded me. Not your typical nice park police. Get off the bike, one said, and I did. He unzipped the carrier, took out the wallet and cell phone, and told me to step aside and come through the metal detector. Then I got the "wand treatment." You can leave now.
I circled the entire mall and saw more cops than people. While there were no passenger cars, there were plenty of police cars and trucks. Truck with satellite dishes. Trucks with more fencing to fence out the people.
I made my way along the Tidal Basin to the Jefferson Memorial. Cars were trying to park and were being turned away, but not before they were searched. They would have to drive to other side of the US Capitol, or along Maine Avenue, park, and walk the dozens of blocks back to the Memorial if they wanted to visit it.
Oh, yes, you could visit the Memorial. A large tent staffed with dozens of cops, a walkway with a metal detector, a place to have your backpack searched-that's all that stood in your way. A large sign said, "Memorial open. Pass through security." I don't believe in an afterlife, but if there is one, I hope Jefferson is watching and shedding a tear.
I passed on the opportunity to commune with him. Not before thinking how life had changed forever in the nation's capital. Not because of 9/11, not because of Osama bin Laden, not because of Saddam Hussein. But because George Bush, the bully, the tyrant, the cowboy who highjacked the election, George Bush had hijacked the 4th of July.
Now, two years later, I still haven't been back
to the Mall--not for the 4th, not for any reason. And I am not going
today. The fences were in place more than a month ago, lining the
George Washington Memorial Parkway. Security cameras are mounted on
trees, stoplights, and rooftops. There weill be hundreds and hundreds
of cops lining the streets, infiltrating the crowd. They will be
looking for "terroroists," and they know one when they see one. So they
Tonight, after fireworks, people
leaving the mall in their cars will be directed along "evacuation"
routes--to test the city's emergency evacuation plan (I wonder where
they are going to have the people run to? The suburbs? That will save
them from a terrorist attack?).
Brave souls trying to get on the mall will pass
through numerous security "checkpoints," with all bags and backpacks
thoroughly searched. I don't know what it takes to get singled out for
special "security measures," but I am betting it could be certain types
of food or, heaven forbid, reading material to while away the waiting
for the fireworks.
This July 4th I am biking, but not to the mall.
I will bike to George Washington's home a few miles from mine, Mount
Vernon. I will stand at the gates and wonder what George would make of
the tyranny that another George has created not just in Washington, DC,
but around the world.
July 4th now for me is a day of mourning, not celebration.