by Maniza Naqvi
Every morning on my way to work, I walk past dead Washingtonians. High and mighty on their pedestals: My morning route has me heading towards the backs of statues of dead men on dead horses—spurs, and swords and boots and saddles. Cast in iron, the backs of dead Generals and horses asses, as if leading a charge towards the White House. Major General John A. Logan in the middle of Logan Circle which is now mainly a dog park for pampered pets to be brought out to poop here; Major General George Henry Thomas in the middle of Thomas Circle again a location for pooping pooches and then Major General James B. McPherson in the middle of McPherson Square the location of the memory of the evicted Occupy Movement's Washington chapter and a perennial home to mainly homeless veterans.
Further on just before the White House, I pass the Ministry of War—- rather, the Department of War Veterans and I enter into the peaceful tree lined beauty of a garden. This is Lafayette Park just outside the White House. Here too, there are more statues—not of artists or poets or writers or singers, nor of doctors, teachers, lawyers, laborers, railway engineers no—not even of Bankers. No, this variety just passes through here, or comes to click their cameras or hold up protest signs. No, here, the statues are of still more Generals posed with plenty of weapons: Brigadier General (US) Thaddeus Kosciuszko at the northeast corner of Lafayette Park, the inscription on his monument, shriek worthy in itself reads, “Freedom shrieked when he fell.” Major General (US) Marquis de Lafayette's statue sits atop a pedestal on the South east corner, Major General (US) Wilhelm von Steuben's on the Northwest corner and General Comte de Rochambeau's at the Southwest corner.
In Lafayette Park and centered right across from the White House's front entrance door lives the statue of Andrew Jackson. The seventh President of the United States who had also been a General. One morning as I passed by, I came across the typical crowd of high school students with their teacher staring up at the statue of Andrew Jackson depicted seated on a horse whose forelegs are up in the air. From the quick passing glances at the statue each day, I had the impression that Jackson was looking towards the White House tipping his hat, the whole posture that of a rakish blackguard taking leave of his mistress. When I was the age of these school children, I had a crush on Andrew Jackson—a portrait of him, in my history text book, depicted him as having a high forehead, beautiful swept back mane of hair wearing a long leather coat and high riding boots, a scar in battle or a barroom fight and a little story about scandals including a duel over a mistress. Well that did me in. Now these school children gathered at the base of the statue looked up at him as their teacher asked them if they knew whose statue this was. As I continued on my way I heard her say—”That's right, Andrew Jackson.” The kids evidently literate, were able to read the plaque, “He was a war hero—a General before he was President of the United States.” She repeated, it “He was a war hero before he was President.” This was the lesson that she was teaching these young minds. I grimaced and glanced towards the White House as I hurried on towards my office. For me he is Andrew Jackson, the good looking President, the dueling, whoring, swashbuckling, tall, high forehead long haired, long leather coat, boots with spurs President who I had a crush on when I was just a child and reading up on American history.
Another day in the same spot it was a group of older Americans—all of them in red t- shirts grouped around a tour guide carrying a red flag—The church bells at St. Johns Church, at the corner of 16th and H on the North side of the Park, begin to ring—”That street over there” Informed the tour guide, pointing towards 16th Street, “Has over 60 churches! That way folks, is the way to heaven!”
Lafayette Park is filled during the day with posing tourists and protesting “terrorists”—Diasporas and dissidents asking for justice against occupation. Protest marches by people from every country of the world including US citizens protesting the US support of a repressive regime in their homelands—it's a necessary accessory in front of the White House—to give an image of an open society. No one seems to understand that protesting here is not an accusation of who is responsible but rather an acknowledgement of who is King. Such protestors are welcome here. It is good theater. The ones who are not are the ones who were in McPherson Square two years ago—protesting their own Government for its actions in its own country. Now I no longer join protest marches, I think I know better than that. But sometime just out of habit, I guess, I stop to listen, clap and chant along. And now it all seems that all of this and all of us are just essential props— extras and props on a stage—in a not so complex play.
On a recent rainy day, when the news of Edward Snowdon became public through Glenn Greenwald's article in the Guardian about the NSA spying on American citizens I walked by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Here outside its entrance, on the sidewalk the usual straggling protesters of war—war veterans themselves, whom I see every morning had taken cover under their sleeping bags. My shoes soggy from the rain and the puddles I had stepped in dripped and made a leaking squeaking sound. The back of my feet chaffed against the wet synthetic leather of my cheap shoes. I entered the Park, as usual, on the northeast corner and for the first time focused on the side of the statue facing the White House, here, there is a fearsome, terrifying Eagle in full attack—bearing down on a snake trapped in its talons. The Eagle's talons dig into the snake as it bears down on it and the snake its fangs bared reaches up towards the Eagle—in the early morning as I studied it, the posture and expressions of both, created in this silence, as if indeed a blood curdling scream—and I was mesmerized with revulsion—both appeared to me and are depicted as equally enraged, but from a closer perspective looking up—-it is the snake's perspective that a passerby would have—and the Eagle appears from this vantage point as the predator, the aggressor—ugly—mean and cruel—the snake is alive, and looks desperate and terrified with rage and just as the Eagle is bearing down with its beak so too is the snake ready to bite or spit venom and it is in this moment clear that it is a pyrrhic victory about to occur. I shuddered and walked on. It was the greyness of the day and it was my mood.
An article in the New York Times, instead of focusing on, what he had focused on, scrutinized Glenn Greenwald, who was, now himself under threat of investigation, because of his journalism, by the Justice Department. In the NYTimes profile of him Greenwald has described himself as a litigator who assumes that someone is lying and goes after information to prove the lie.
“To lift the veil on this.” That's what the investigative journalism by Greenwald published in the Guardian has managed to do. But perhaps we will all eventually go into veils, go into burqa as an act of resistance against being observed and spied upon.
Drip, drip, squeak, squish, squeak, go my shoes, drip, drip, week by week, drip by drip—leak-leak-leaks. The Marines, we were told, invaded Afghanistan ostensibly to kill or capture the bad guys from caves and liberate the women from the burqa. They were cheered on by the chants of citizens crying out USA, USA, USA!. The same apparatus that gave us this justification of liberating women from burqas, has donned one to be able to strip us and do as it pleases from inside the labyrinths of its caves and as a consequence, compels us to do exactly the same in order to resist. Yet all the while we are all pole dancing, being stripped and groped and searched to the cheers of NSA! NSA! NSA! We are told it's a small price to pay to be protected. We are asked, what are we, willing to give up if we don't pay this price. This is called progress, this is security, this is liberty and this is freedom. This is the price of an endless war. Indeed I can hear freedom shriek.
Now we can all feel like we are the stars in our own Reality TV shows. We are all in any case addicted to the latest and most sophisticated opiate and hallucinogen: that of narcissistically monitoring ourselves through newer and newer gadgets and apps. We can all be assured of an audience at least someone is watching us. Watching over us. And what do we have to lose anyway—that is if we aren't doing anything wrong? Right? So then privacy is a moving target—and so is wrong and right. So are rights. The secret courts that allow for spying ensure that this is so.
The wings of an angel caught my attention at the Southwest corner of the park at the base of the statue there —but as I drew nearer the perspective shifts and unfurled, slowly revealing itself to be an eagle ready to attack its talons drawn-alongside the drawn sword and shield of a female warrior in the same pose. Above them, loomed the statue of the French General Comte de Rochambeau who was the commander of the French army which fought alongside the Americans during the war of Independence against the British.
I stopped and retraced my steps and went back to look at Andrew Jackson's statue presented as a General. I hadn't really taken a good enough look till now. There's a chain at his back hanging from his uniform belt. He isn't looking at the White House—as I had thought earlier, or in a pose of youthful abandon, the reckless indomitable free spirited cowboy—no—not at all—far from it—he looks straight ahead, not towards the White House, as does the horse, and both have terrified looks of horror on their faces—the hair on Jackson's head stands on end and so does the mane of the horse as if petrified. Jackson's face looks as though it were a hollow eyed death mask. As though he was staring at something truly horrible—seeing something awful—total destruction—cautioning against the battle that he was going into—the war—-And so it comes to be, here in the Park, he is if you take a closer look at him—the whistleblower. And finally it is the artist as protestor who has the last word.
Walking Past The White House: