Lafayette Park Blues
by Joe Bageant
October 26, 2004

In the late 1960s I used to sit in Lafayette Park across from the White House, have spring picnics on the benches there with hippie girlfriends, reading Rimbaud, while waiting for the Robert Rauschenberg exhibit to open at the Corcoran Museum down the street. Usually there would be protesters across Pennsylvania Avenue, sometimes chained to the White House gate, a Buddhist monk or an anti-war group or mothers against whatever. Those were freer times. I know they were freer because I was there, I felt it and can remember it, as do millions of other Americans my age. So when we now look at the White House with its steel wire, concrete barricades, police dogs and snipers posted on rooftops we cannot help but ask ourselves: What the hell has happened to my country? Who imposed this national lockdown?

Admittedly, we were just dumb artsy kids in those Lafayette Park days, youthful dreamers who couldn’t imagine ever being thirty years old (much less fifty eight!) And in an age when you could smoke a joint in the White House restrooms during a tour, we certainly never imagined a time when special enclosures for public dissenters would be given the authoritarian state term "Free Speech Zones." I never thought I would hear our government brand the liberalism of Jefferson as terrorism, never imagined an election could be successfully rigged in this country and never thought I’d see the Supreme Court back a junta. I never thought I would see three percent of our citizens pulling hard time in a vast complex of prisons. I never thought I would see 911.

But most frightening of all has been watching Americans accept all this in such Orwellian fashion. Which is what one has to call it because our national behavior is way beyond anything that could be called ordinary denial....