Monday, 17 November 2014

The Values of the United States, Carved in Stone

In Washington DC, I stayed at what is so far the very best accommodations of the trip - even better than the stunningly beautiful hotel space in the French Quarter.  It was called very simply "the Downtown DC Hostel" (link) and was cheap, clean, friendly and lovely.  I stashed my bags and set out.

I realized that Washington DC is imposing.  My personal belief is that the architects that design the buildings in DC focus on making them look like imposing extensions of power and dominance.  The buildings in the downtown area rely on width rather than height to create a sense of really heavy presence - it feels like someone has dropped gigantic, artful bricks into the dirt and then hollowed them out to make buildings.  Rather than the artful spire of a high rise, these buildings are relatively low to the ground and just *feel* huge.

I was born an American citizen and spent a good dose of my childhood tearing around a ranch in the desert in the States.  I also have pretty deep Canadian roots, so I was surprised to feel a little bit of strange American national pride creeping in as I walked through the monuments in the USA.

Carved in stone as a good example, in Washington DC

The values of the United States as presented in these two memorials are something I can really get behind.  In the Jefferson memorial - men (people) are created equal.  They have inalienable rights.  Governments are instituted to secure these inalienable rights among men (people).  Or from the FDR memorial, "we must scrupulously guard the civil rights and civil liberties of all citizens, whatever their background.  We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack our civilization."

It's sometimes difficult to find people in Canada who can relate to this... but reflecting on how those two ideas are/were foundational to the creation of the United States of America as it is today made me really proud to be American.  The USA is involved in some international activities that I'm pretty uncomfortable with, and the way that the US exercised its values on Native Americans when the country was being formed should give any informed person pause... and even still I can appreciate the symbolic power of devoting so much space and energy to these values literally in the heart of power, in the centre of this country.  It gives me hope, and it encourages me to exercise the responsibilities of American citizenship in a good way.

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