You can imagine my disappointment and skepticism when I arrived in Washington, DC last week.
Faced with a government shutdown and the subsequent closure of the National Mall, my friend and I were left with no choice but to adapt. And did I mention the forecast of incessant rain or the colds that had both of us coughing and wheezing for three days?
Washington had been on my travel list for some time. Here, the history of the world’s most powerful nation is immortalized in countless monuments and memorials that are deeply symbolic of the political principles and sacrifices of a people. Some of the city’s top museums also drew me here but were closed, thanks to the political wrangling on Capitol Hill.
But, upon my arrival at the airport, I was tipped off by a most unlikely, sympathetic ally. “Well… the National Mall is closed but you can still make your way in,” the customs officer suggested.
“Oh?” I replied, meeting his mischievous half-smile with my own. I was intrigued. “But, uh… I don’t want to get myself arrested for trespassing.”
“There will be no one there to arrest you!” he joked, referring to the lack of National Park Service rangers at the sites. “Besides, you have an honest face. What are they gonna do?”
Later, the front desk agent at our hotel disagreed. He wasn’t convinced it was a good idea – and neither was my friend. I’d have to go alone.
But it couldn’t have been easier. DC by Foot, a group of young tour guides passionate about their nation’s capital, is still leading visitors through the National Mall despite the government shutdown. And it seemed that having our acts of civil disobedience sanctioned by a tour guide finally persuaded my friend to embrace our impending breach of authority.
We were led through the barricade of the WWII Memorial and carried on with the rest of our guided walk through the National Mall. The few park rangers monitoring the sites certainly didn’t seem to mind.
Vietnam War Memorial
Korean War Memorial
The showers didn’t dampen our spirits until we set off on our own. Caught in a downpour upon arrival at our final stop, the MLK Memorial, we called it quits (sorry, Mr. King, but I’ll return one day to pay my respects properly).
White House & National Treasury
Of course, I also had to snap the obligatory photo of the White House and, just because it was on the way, the National Treasury.
I struggled to shoot photos with a DSLR with one hand, hold an umbrella with the other, and intermittently blow my nose and wipe the beads of rain off my camera lens. But my inconveniences were dwarfed by those of the WWII vets, many now in their final years and in wheelchairs, who travelled to Washington only to be barred entry to the WWII Memorial.
On our last day, a protest brewed. Veterans and their supporters descended on the National Mall to rally against the memorial closures. And, as we passed 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on our way to the airport, a crowd had already begun to swell there too.
Later at the WWII Memorial, protesters dismantled pieces of the barricade, carried them to the White House and dumped them in a pile.
I wish I hadn’t left so soon.