Microcosmically, the individual right to live in mindless fear is entitled to, if not respect, at least tolerance. At the other extreme, if the seat of a free and democratic nation becomes such a hated symbol that its citizens begin to view it as a target, and fear prompts security measures that extinguish the principles which justify the government's very existence, it becomes a universal problem.

During a brief period last fall a disgruntled American in a drunken stupor tried to fly a small aircraft through the President's bedroom window, a dissatisfied veteran marred the armor on the north side of the White House with an assault rifle, an unknown carefully trained Park Police officer shot a homeless person to death on the White House sidewalk. In response to the killing by Park Police, former head of the Republican National Committee, Frank Farenkopf urged park officials to do whatever is necessary to remove the homeless from Lafayette Park, to spare decent Americans the ordeal of having to "see people lying in their own filth."

In response to the acts of disrespect to the White House, on May 8, 1995 the Secret Service announced a plan to close Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. Directly across the avenue, the Peace Park Vigil, far more vulnerable to danger than the occupants of the presidential palace, suggest that security forces construct a giant plastic bubble, like that on the Pope's famous vehicle. "It would be about the size of the AstroDome, afford great protection for the First Family, while allowing the country to maintain a facade of freedom."


Unfortunately, concerns for the symbolic White House bears directly upon neighboring Lafayette Park, which the Supreme Court has identified as a "quintessential public forum." Historically governments have exhibited an adversarial posture toward the expression of ideas deemed unflattering to official policy. The U.S Supreme Court has noted that, "The right to speak freely and to promote diversity of ideas and programs is ... one of the chief distinctions that sets us apart from totalitarian regimes."

Quite a few years ago Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, "The gravest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-intentioned, but without understanding." Yet, judicial bodies have not always exercised the care necessary to insure authoritarian tendencies do not ride roughshod over individual autonomy. It is often easier to see in foreign countries than at home. For example, during 1933, shortly after Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany, the Reichstag building, seat of German government, was destroyed in a mysterious fire. Hitler blamed terrorists, and passed a national security act. It was that act which provided the legal basis for the Nazis to argue at Nuremberg that they had committed not crimes, but were only enforcing the laws of their country.


Since 1992 the Executive Committee, a consortium of eleven government agencies (including the Secret Service) has been considering a "Comprehensive Design Plan for the White House and President's Park." The Executive Committee's promotional material describes Lafayette Park as "a symbol of our free and democratic nation." The literature sounds very democratic. It claims, "Together we can forge the future management and preservation strategies for the White House and President's Park -- symbols not only of the executive branch of our Republic, but also of public access to the government." but the plan envisions such sweeping changes in traditional access to public parks and First Amendment exercise, that the government is required to conduct an Environmental Impact Study on the societal effects of the proposed "concepts." Cost is not a major concern and tens of millions of dollars are available for the project..

On April 10, 1995, the Executive Committee hosted what it called a "Public Forum," where the Park Service unveiled three pre-formulated "concepts" for the Plan. This was not your typical "public forum." There was a notably small plexiglass suggestion box into which the public could cast its votes for Concept 1, Concept 2 or Concept 3. There was a notice explaining it was likely that the winning Concept would be some combination of the three.

The decision to close Pennsylvania Avenue sharply narrows the field. With Pennsylvania Avenue closed, the streets on either side of the Park will go nowhere, so they too will disappear. Thus "the symbol of our free and democratic nation" will be transformed into an open-air museum with "two clearly articulated entrances."

In this country as recently as 1983, it was still widely understood that without free thought, expression and assembly, "freedom" is just another meaningless word, On January 13, 1983 then-Secretary of Interior James Watt, noted for saying what he thought, often to the chagrin of the Reagan administration, wrote a memo stating his "intention to ban (demonstrations) in Lafayette Park and the sidewalk in front of the White House, and require that they take place on the Ellipse." Then Mr. Watt's suggestion was recognized as totally unacceptable to freedom. However, since 1983, through a patient, incremental, litigious process, the Park Service has crafted an insidious regulatory structure. Step by laborious step transforming some aspect of free thought, expression and/or assembly into a crime.

The concept of "freedom through police force" is apparently gaining popularity. According to a poll broadcast on Good Morning America only 14% polled would NOT be willing to sacrifice more freedom for greater security. What better time for the government, for "national security," to finally realize Mr. Watt's incredible dream of transmutating the foremost public forum on earth into a sterile museum?


Ann Bowman Smith, Team Manager for the Comprehensive Design Plan has said, "When I see the people with signs in Lafayette Park, I say to myself, 'They are holding my place, if there ever comes a day when something becomes so troubling that I have to speak out about it, they will have saved a place for me to do it." Others have said, "People get the government they deserve."

"It was only nine years ago that the law of this country protected our signs from the government over there on the White House sidewalk." Thomas, a longterm vigiler explains, pointing at the small army of police officers across the street. "Inch by inch, under the quise of 'national security,' the government has erased the legal protections for free thought and expression. Now they're ready to go for the whole nine yards. That's why we need a plastic dome to cover the White House. Otherwise the government will continue to 'expand the perimeter' until the government is an all encompassing Beast."

The present situation in Lafayette Park presents American society with a crucial question: will individual liberty be crushed under the carnal fears of Orwellian Newspeak, or will the nation come to its' sences?

Pennsylvania Ave. Closure || Peace Park