Lafayette Park Belongs to the Dissenters
Letter to Editor, published December 22, 1984, Washington Post "Free For All"
Elizabeth Rowe (Close to Home, Dec. 9) lamented
that "Lafayette Square ... is no longer a place to delight the
eye and invite the passerby" and that the park should be
"restored to its traditional use as a 'public pleasuring place.'"
She suggested establishing "the city's new Hyde Park on the
In a letter Dec. 15, Thomas W. D. Wright praised
Elizabeth Rowe's inspiration and opined that "some
[demonstrators] are aware they are defiling beauty."
It seems grossly unfair to credit Elizabeth Rowe with
this "inspiration." In January 1983, the secretary of the
Interior, James Watt, had the same notion. Fortunately
(or unfortunately, depending upon one's perception of
"beauty"), he ran up against the First Amendment.
As early as July 1981 a tourist suggested that I move
my signs ("trash" he called them) from in front of the
White House to the Ellipse. I replied that if I moved, it
would only be a matter of time before someone else's
aesthetic sensibilities would be offended and would suggest I
move to Greenbelt, Md. or Yosemite National Park, or the top of
Mt. McKinley. And I pointed out that freedom of speech is
something of a moot point if there is no one to hear what you are
Perhaps Elizabeth Rowe has her traditions crossed, or
maybe I just don't understand what she means by "a public
pleasuring place." But one thing is certain--no place
on the planet is a more traditional place for public discourse
than Lafayette Park. And, traditionally, intolerant segments of
the ponderous majority have sought to stifle minority dissent in
front of the presidential palace.
Until recently those who considered the free expression of
ideas less significant to the interests of democracy than the
preservation of the status quo have been thwarted in their
attempts to prohibit criticism in the area where it is most
likely to reflect on the chief administrator. As recently as
1965, a bill was before Congress (it was voted down by the
Senate) which was aimed at banning demonstrations within 1,000
feet of the White House. Now we have entered a new era where
bureaucrats write regulations that restrict freedom of religion,
speech, the press and the right of the people to peaceably
assemble and petition the government for redress of grievance.
In "Birth of a Street Person" (Style, Dec. 14), a story
about my wife, Judith [sic] Thomas, and me, the U.S. attorney,
Royce Lambeth. was quoted as asking, "Why can't (the
demonstrators in front of the White House) conform!" Perhaps the
answer lies in the question: "Why couldn't Shadrach, Meshach and
Abednego kneel down and worship the king's idol!"
I have two additional solutions for folks who don't like
to listen to folks they don't like to look at:
1) Build a chain-link fence around the District, call it
"King's Dominion," and prohibit protesting within the
2) Move to the Soviet Union and leave Lafayette
Park to those who value individual freedom and human
life above "perfect" Polaroid snapshots and the "sanctity" of
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