Tuesday, April 25, 2006

DC: Loathin' and Lovin'

I'm off the shuttle bus less than ten seconds before I remember how I can loathe and love this city so much in the exact same moment. Washington DC represents, possibly more than any other place on earth, the vast extremes of the human condition. Within its borders reside the most powerful people in the world, and the most powerless. The richest and the poorest. The most hopeful and the most hopeless. The most active, compassionate people in the history of humankind, and the most apathetic. Some of the most racist people on earth share space with a dozen races, a hundred ethnicities, and countless nationalities.

I drop my bag off in my hotel room and come back downstairs. There is a clothing store in the hotel; I walk in to check it out. Mens shirts are $140 each. I walk out disgusted. Onto the street and I'm immediately asked for change by a respectful man, back to the wall, cup in hand, with probably less than $140 to his name.

I walk toward the White House, the most powerful place on the planet, and see hundreds upon hundreds of Chinese protesting the treatment of Falun Gong practitioners being imprisoned and reportedly harvested for their internal organs in their native land. Dozens upon dozens of Chinese, sitting quietly cross legged, with their right arms bent in front of their chests, palms out and fingers facing skyward. Barely moving, they are the personification of peace and calm. Asking the White House to care about the gruesome inhumanities occurring within the borders of our number one trading partner.

A block further, a woman sits by the anti-nuclear signage that, for over twenty years, has passionately made its point and been dispassionately ignored.

I wonder how our government, with its vast resources, can quietly endure such suffering. I wonder how the President can look out his windows at what I am currently seeing, and not be outraged.

This city is a cathedral to freedom, a celebration of democracy. It is marble halls of exquisite beauty, parks of unparalled number, and tourists of unimaginable awe. But it is also walled gates that say, "do not enter." And it is fenced homes and mansion filled suburbs, looking inward at inescapable poverty, crumbling schools, struggling families, and, perhaps worst of all, a black hole sized vacuum of hope.

When hope is lost, freedom is a thing of the past. And as I stare at the White House, with hundreds of beautiful people of all different shapes and colors standing beside me, soccer and softball games going on all around, street vendors selling hot dogs, and protestors calmly beseeching change, I wonder why we are trying to build democracy in some foreign land when we seem so close to losing it at home.

I look at the White House and loathe the injustice it cannot or will not end. I peel my eyes away, and look at everything else, and fall back in love again.

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