Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.

White House Rally

What does it all mean?

There is a crowd of thousands standing around outside the White House. They aren’t expectant. They are present. The attentions of the crowd aren’t all directed forward towards the building or the police standing between the masses and the fence. They aren’t directed at any one thing or person. There is no stage in front of which to congregate, no physically present event to encircle. Eyes wander from loudest area to brightest area to the White House to friends to the person who just bumped into you. This is a crowd milling about not expecting anything, but hoping to find it. Why else would thousands take to the street to congregate in front of our nation’s leader’s house at 2 in the morning? Why do people come together if not to either experience something or to be together?

The crowd itself isn’t unified. The general feeling that Bin Laden’s death is a good thing hangs in the air. As does the fact that the majority of people out here are younger than me, most probably safely in the high school and college range. But beyond that, the crowd is of all kinds, and I’m stuck standing front row against the barrier, dead center on the White House, just staring to the glowing masonry to clear my mind and let it all sink in.

There are certainly more American flags than you usually see in one place, but not an overly patriotic amount. I’m pretty sure Al Gore had more behind him during speeches in 2000.

There are people sitting on shoulders to get a better view. One of them is cute and wearing a sports bra. At a rock festival, she would be getting barraged with “Show your tits!” Here, there are only intermittent requests for this, which is both impressively few and depressingly too many.

Teens are snaking through the crowd up to the barrier, taking their picture with the White House in the background and then wandering off again. This simultaneously seems more reasonable than the standard boring tourist photo and like it somehow totally misses the point of this event which still eludes me.

The chants are varied, and I have a varied response to them.

“U-S-A-U-S-A!” seems reasonable.

“F*ck Osama!” taps into an underlying anger at the man now dead. While hatred of him is understandable, the chant seems to somehow off the mark. The guy next to me trying to add “In the ass!” between rounds of the chant manages to miss it so much further.

“USA – 1. Osama – 0!” just seems wildly inaccurate regardless of what angle you’re coming from.

“Let’s go Mets!” and “Let’s go Terps!” are insulting at a time like this.

There are guys holding up signs like “Viva La Stool!” (intentional gibberish) who are too amused with people who are trying to figure out the meaning.

There are the guys next to me who are passing a joint back and forth which seems ballsy and also off the mark.

Then there are people like me and the girl standing next to me – curious and bemused at the general revelry, distanced observers here out of intellectual curiosity and a desire to tap into a communal something if only we could figure out what it was. And so I keep staring back at the crowd, and then back at the White House, silently contemplating.

And perhaps the crowd of people with the lack of unity is exactly what it means. We all knew that something momentous had occurred, but we didn’t know what to do with that. We all felt the desire for camaraderie, but once we were all in the same place, we didn’t know how to express it. The event had been big enough to draw us here, but not big enough to draw us together or make us of one mind. At a time when half the Arab world is in revolution, when gas and food prices are on the rise, when the budget battles and partisan fighting on Capitol Hill are nearing their worst, we’re all aware of the stress and the fragmentation. And so many people want to reconnect and feel like part of a community again that any opportunity to try that is a welcome one. But once together, the fact that is has been so long since we came together, felt connected with humanity, and been optimistic about something hung over us all.

Our tangible, embodied nemesis is dead.

Our fight within ourselves and with our ideologies, much like our fight with terrorism, is a lot harder to pin down.

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This entry was posted on May 3, 2011 by in Not on the trip.

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