I went to Washington DC in 2002.
It was a family vacation. We did a bunch of things in northeast America, like Gettysburg and Hershey Park, but for brevity's sake, we called it the Washington DC vacation.
We did the basic touristy stuff on our first day: Strap on a fanny pack, tuck your polo shirt into your khaki shorts, and hit every single monument, memorial and statue on The Mall in one day. It was as fun as a five-mile hike crammed full of education could be.
It's the little things that I took away. For starters, the Lincoln Memorial. There was a twenty-foot tall statue of the Great Emancipator sitting in a chair, but for some reason, the Washington Tourist Board was more concerned with everybody realizing there was a gift shop in the basement. In the gift shop, you could buy souvenirs featuring images the Lincoln Memorial, with the signs advertising the gift shop notably absent.
The Vietnam Memorial was odd. I had always heard of it, but you really have to see it to understand it. It's not so much a wall as it is two black, obsidian slates, meeting at a 120 degree angle. It's not free-standing either. It's stuck into the side of a hill like a retaining wall.
The Korean War Memorial was much more interesting. The monument is a pretty breathtaking piece of sculpture art full of tiny, easy to miss details, none of which can be appreciated when you read about them later that night in the guide book your parents accidentally left behind in the hotel room.
What I remember most, however, is The White House. As I said, this was 2002. Just ten months after the September 11th attacks. I don't remember the date because of that, but because Cardinals starting pitcher Darryl Kile and legendary sportscaster Jack Buck both died while we were on vacation. It was a grim week for St. Louis. Regardless, it was 2002. I remember seeing the White House and the gardens, and all the other stuff from the other side of a ten-foot, iron fence. And I remember seeing that ten-foot, iron fence from the other side of cement barricades. One fence was not enough. There needed to be two fences. That would surely ward off home invaders.
I was fairly certain I saw a secret serviceman with a rifle, but he was pretty far away. Besides, the President wasn't even in Washington while we were visiting; he was in China, or Europe, or somewhere. Which was pretty rude, all things considered. I'm not asking for a lot, but if someone ever visited me from out of town, I'd be courteous enough to rearrange my schedule to accommodate a face-to-face chat, however brief it may be. I wouldn't turn my house into the combination Leavenworth/Fort Knox without even leaving so much as a note on the door explaining that I had gone away on business.
This was the most protected private residence in the country. Probably in the world. Nobody was going to hop that fence, and if somebody did, they wouldn't make it twelve feet without receiving a backside full of buckshot. But no, that second fence wasn't about safety or security. It was about sending a message. Namely, "I'm in here, you're out there. And you'll never be in here, ever, so don't even try." I have reason to believe Dubya also had a hand-lettered sign near the front door reading "No citizins allowed (sic)."
I've been thinking more and more recently about that second fence. Our post-9/11 mindset is suffocating us. We earnestly believe there is no such thing as too much security. I remember Homeland Security once advised, without any basis or reasoning, to duct tape plastic sheeting to every ventilation point in our homes. And some people actually did it, including one family in Virginia (I always pick Virginia when I don't know what state something actually occurs). They sealed up their home so tightly, they were literally suffocated by their post-9/11 mindset.
We're at a point where every single one of us is scared out of our wits. Crazy shit has happened. Crazier shit is currently happening. And the craziest shit of all is going to happen soon, and we'll be powerless to stop it. When it all goes down, I want the most important question on my mind to be 'Where was I when I heard the news?' not 'Do I have enough canned ravioli to last me until the caravans return next spring?'
Earlier this year, authoritarian governments in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia were all toppled, aided by a great communication medium known collectively as, "The thing that's not like a truck, but like a series of tubes." Being able to rally support, organize the masses, and spread their small, oppressed voices to the listening ears across the world were the keys to victory. But those were brown people on a fairly inconsequential continent. It was an underdog story at best, right?
Then the same thing started happening in Spain. And this made powerful people nervous. Because Spain was practically a first-world country. If people on the cusp of being important were willing to fight for their basic human rights... *gulp* Americans might, too! Politicians and businesses and the media did their best to sweep this under the rug. 'What's a Spain?' they would ask. The media blacked out Spain. hotel prices and plane tickets to Spain jumped. Imports from Spain were slowed. American schools stopped teaching about Spain. Of course, this was coincidental. They also stopped teaching most other social studies, the arts, history not pertaining to America or World War II, grammar, spelling, classic literature, and every other subject not found on standardized tests.
Politics, Business and Media formed a pretty tight net. Business got lots of money. Politicians received a percentage of it, and made sure nobody interfered with the Businesses. Media received a percentage of it, and made sure nobody paid any attention to what Politicians or Businesses were doing.
That's why they're trying to shut down the internet. That's why they created SOPA and PIPA. The internet is a feral beast of information and communication. Businesses are losing money because of it. Politicians are losing control because of it. And media is being undercut by it.
They are being attacked.
And they want to build a second fence.