Rebuilding the Capital
Jan. 26, 2006: The tourists were sparse in number as we wove our way around US Capital Building and in and out of the sidewalks along House and Senate office buildings. Many had not yet returned from the New Year break. Our eyes were blinded as the sun blazed a path of light over the Capital.
Inside these Capital buildings money has been approved for a vast expansion of security initiatives for the nation. The militarization of so many government and private agencies, and businesses is an historic blurring, American style, of the separation of the state and private roles. National defense is being privatized. In former days these state supported security businesses might have been called mercenaries.
In this place where reason inspired the institutionalization of modern democracy “with liberty and justice for all” I feel in the wind a global future that is moving beyond this classic dome. The entire east lawn of the Capital where I use to eat my sandwiches when I lived here in the early 1970s is convulsed in what is advertised as a massive tourist/visitor center construction project. I peak over the edge, curious at what is happening here. My mind races with images of kinds of things that may be placed down there. In the tangled earth I see this 200 year old democracy clawing to defend itself in this century when change in power equations are looming. The industry of entertainment democracy is good in this city, a growth industry. But how is the stuff of democracy doing?
Democracy is not just a spectator sport. Democracy is a state of mind, a condition of life. It’s a way to life that needs to be respectful of the whole body. At one time the vote was one of the great nonviolent inventions of human kind. Today in the Middle East we see the designs of this city, this Capital building, which is on a crash course with democracy in Palestine, Iraq, Iran and elsewhere as self determination asserts itself.
Since the city states of Greece through the Roman Senate including the electors in the late Middle Ages and the first expressions of Parliamentary rule democracy has been flawed because we humans are flawed. We will use our power for our own ends. Some of us don’t hesitate to be heavy handed about it. It was supposed to be different here in the United States where the founders studied the experience of native people and wove them together with ideas of the enlightenment. We still live in the myth of our founding, a myth that proclaims a new covenant in fairness for humankind. But, the world sees us for what we are. They see our slow but steady slide into tourist democracy that relies upon raw power, futuristic airplanes, and advanced security units to get our way with oil and resources. They see our manipulation of formulas for people’s participation in grass roots democracy around the world.
As I look at the capital dome I remembered the expressions of the democratic impulse in the villages of Afghanistan, Viet Nam, and the town meetings buried so deep in the American experience. Democracy is alive in this world and has been for several millennium. Sometimes we have the courage to reform and renew and sometimes our silence gives space for it to collapses in the depleted soil systems or financial indebtedness, blood and lust for imperial power.
Today I was asked to photograph our vigil with the capital dome in the background. By the time I got around to taking the photograph I was in a helpless situation. The powerful rays of the Southwest sun pressed its way just over the capital dome creating an overwhelming and blinding light, so bright that our vigilers appeared as muted shadows. There is light here at the capital, light that appears as surprise and overwhelming power. The light here is trying to break through every day in reform. Rainbow warriors for the light are needed here to interpret and present its blinding energy of power. The darkness will not put it out. When our group of vigilers reached the White House the sun had disappeared over the horizon. But there was good energy as we prayed in front of the steel fences of the White House.
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