Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Lafayette Square: The People's Park

Near the end of the 42 bus route, the driver makes a leading left hand turn onto H St NW. Having passed through Mt Pleasant, Adams Morgan, Kalorama, Dupont and Farragut Square, this moribund patch of the city serves as the gateway to another world; Federal City DC. We do a pretty good job of staying out of the fray. There are probably some tourists, lobbyists and serial conventioneers who have a better idea of what Federal City DC looks like than some long time residents. If we don't NEED to go there we DON'T go there. Most of us are smarter than the average American when it comes to understanding current issues and how the machine down there works, and we're arguably the most affected by the decisions of our stewards, Congress, who reside there.

To me Federal City DC is everything around the White House and Elipse down to the Jefferson Memorial and everything from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol Building, including the Mall and the Smithsonian Institution Museums. Right on the edge of "Federal Town," as Thomas Jefferson and many of the early Americans called it, is Lafayette Park. Its namesake was a Frenchman who was aide de camp to General Washington during the Revolution; the Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette. The park was named in honor of Lafayette after his feted return to and grand tour of the United States in 1824 and 1825. The others on the outskirts of the park were all involved in the Revolution as well in some way or another; the Prussian Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, Thaddeus Kosciuszko from Poland and another Frenchman, the comte de Rochambeau. All of their statues were erected in the 1890s and early 1900s. Too bad, because Clark Mill's statue of Andrew Jackson took up residence in the center of the park in 1853.

The park is actually pretty nice compared to some of the others downtown (yeah Franklin and McPherson Squares, I'm talking to you). Its well kept by the National Park Service. The benches are never fully occupied and people watching is as good as it gets in DC. You'll see tourists, local office drones, bike messengers, folks waiting for the 42 and other buses, and protesters. One, a Spanish born woman named Concepcion, has been there since 1981. She's protesting the use of nuclear weapons and the war-related policies of any sitting president in general. There are actually many issues presented by Concepcion, but her stand against nuclear weapons is the most prominent. Except for having to deal with the courts and the justice system, she's been protesting virtually 24/7/365 since sometime in 1981. (There are conflicting sources of when the vigil exactly started). Here's a recent DCist article and interview. She even has a personal website. She's joined by protesters of all kinds on a daily basis. On occasion there are large scale protests held at the park, or which use the park as a start or end point. Generally though, the park is ruled by another stubborn tenant; the squirrel. Here are some other photos of our park, President's Park, Lafayette Square, the People's Park.