I'm standing in line with fifty students in front of the National Archives building
. There are hundreds of other people waiting--and the line
winds down the stairs of the building, spills outside and continues on down the street. Because I'm a tour director, I've waited in this line many
times before. People from all over the world are lined up all day long to glimpse the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Let's face
it---they're simply pieces of paper encased in glass, but the words they convey have so much meaning to so many. What other documents can you think
of that motivates millions of people to wait hours in line? Last year, I stood in front of one of the Mayan Codexes and I was the only one there.
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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their
just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the
People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as
to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness
What I come away with on my trips to DC is the sheer power of the words of our country's original designers---the beauty and insight of their words
and their ideas. I have a hard time believing it was a coincidence that a group of men with such poetry and intelligence existed at the same
time...and at the right time in our history. Jefferson, Franklin, Washington.
At the Jefferson Memorial, a 19-foot Thomas Jefferson stands in bronze in the center of this Beaux-arts dome, his back to the Potomac, and at least
half of the kids seem taken by the sight. There's something about students visiting Washington, DC that brings some sort of sanctity and
understanding to their views of government. They look around and want to believe in the ceremony of the marble and the bronze. They want to buy
into the idea that America's ideals are sacred and that those ideals deserve to be encased in these hallowed grounds--but even they--at this young
age-- suspect something is amiss. Something has changed since these marble buildings were constructed....something has hijacked our way of life.
At the Lincoln Memorial, a student tells me she wants to climb on Lincoln's lap and ask him in a whisper what he thinks of the world today. And
glancing at this quote by Lincoln etched into his memorial, I think how relevant this is today:
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we
are in; to bind up the nation's wounds ..."
At George Washington's Mount Vernon, I sit on one of the rocking chairs facing the river, and like the student, wonder what he'd think of the world
today. Brave George Washington--who was a farmer and a distiller and a gentleman--might be no match for the battles we are fighting today----battles
in our own country. Our country is as divided as it was when Lincoln was president, as unsettled and shaken as it was during Washington's time in the
Revolutionary War. I want the students in my group to believe in America---to be moved by these men who laid the foundation for freedom, but sadly, I
have almost given up on America myself.
At the Capitol Building, I wonder how our elected officials can live in this district and not be haunted by the quotes and the inscriptions and the
monuments they pass everyday. Are they not charged with a sense of duty when they pass by the Jefferson Monument? How can the President look out on
the National Mall and not remember what this country is supposed to stand for? Why are none of them plagued with guilt?
That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute
new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their
Safety and Happiness.
Our safety and happiness? Ask one of these students how safe they feel in America today....or how happy their parents are. Does anyone have the
strength to alter
our destructive government?
I am an American citizen. An ancestor of mine---Winslow--sailed on the Mayflower to America. My relatives were farmers, and doctors, and ministers
and butchers and lawyers. They all believed in America---an America that no longer exists. It's an America that's been railroaded by greed and
special interests and oil and religious differences and wars and financial woes instigated by our own government. It's an America that is lied to
daily by its elected officials. It's an America of crime and rampant materialism and disintegrating families. I don't believe in the little Main
Streets of America anymore, like where my Grandmother once lived. It was a place where families walked together at night; they put their savings in
little local banks, ate sandwiches at the local diner and felt safe in a America that was sturdy and forthright. That Main Street is boarded up now
and my Grandmother is long since gone. It's so symbolic to me of how America has changed.
I think I can hear the country cry when I'm standing in the World War II memorial at night----where the people who died for our freedom whisper into
the dark. I wonder if our freedom is just as much at stake today as when Hitler asked his General, "Is Paris burning?"
We need to raise a generation of kids that care about the United States beyond measure, but sadly most are ensconced on the back of the bus with their
headphones on. They've been taught to tune out. The world is a noisy place. It's become so complex that the average person cannot understand it's
inner workings. I try to explain to my own children why the economy has collapsed in as simple terms as I can, but not even I can grasp it
completely. I want them to know why their father's company has closed it doors---and why their lives have changed. But Wall Street and China and
mortgages seem so far removed from the difficult realities at home.
And so, standing on the National Mall with the stars shining above, I want to let DC know that they've tarnished the marble of our nation's capitol.
And that tarnish has traveled up the road like a black fog and landed on my front steps. Not only has it robbed my family of many things we used to
take for granted, but it has disillusioned us to the core.
That marbled capitol, with it's monuments and sacred documents, is something of the past. And watching these students on the bus as we drive away, I
am not confident that we the people can save us from our future.... They don't remember that old Main Street.
edit on 6-9-2011 by MRuss
because: (no reason given)
edit on 6-9-2011 by MRuss because: (no reason given)