– Lyrics by Woody Guthrie

This land is your land, this land is my land,
From California to the New York island…

In 2001, my parents, younger sister, and I traveled to Washington, D.C. My delicate ten-year-old constitution wilted in the summer heat, and my memories of the trip are largely characterized by Metro rides and a swift retreat into the air-conditioned sanctuary of the National Air and Space Museum just in time to avert a metaphorical (and possibly literal) meltdown.

From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters,
This land was made for you and me.

Two weeks ago, I revisited the City of Magnificent Intentions. I was attending a conference in nearby Annapolis and decided to fly down a few days early to explore D.C. on my own. Shouldering my backpack, I walked two miles from the train station to my Airbnb under bright blue skies. An icy March wind nipped at the tips of my ears, and I tugged my knitted cap as low as it would go.

As I went walking, I saw a sign there,
And on the sign it said, “No Trespassing…”

Between my Airbnb and the Capitol Building, every third townhouse sported a yard sign with a pithy Martin Luther King, Jr., quote or a defiant “We Support Our Muslim Neighbors.” Downtown, a cart on one corner sold “Make America Great Again” hats, while a cart on a different corner hawked “Fuck Trump” shirts. A guard and his machine gun scrutinized passersby from a side entrance to the Treasury Building. Another security guard searched my bag on the way into the Museum of American History. Perhaps my ten-year-old self just hadn’t noticed this thrum of tension running beneath the knots of tourists on the National Mall and the impeccably suited men murmuring into their phones outside Capitol Hill. Or maybe sixteen years, multiple terror attacks, and a contentious political climate had plucked the strings, leaving the city humming.

But on the other side, it didn’t say nothing;
That side was made for you and me.

A young woman from the Human Rights Campaign stood outside the Museum of Natural History. She held out an iPad and asked if I had a moment to talk about LGBT+ rights. As we chatted, a young black man walked up and handed her a dark blue hat knitted with white stars and stripes. She was confused, then flustered, then teary. She explained to me that one of the young man’s hat-selling compatriots had recently exploded at a lesbian Human Rights Campaign volunteer outside the museum. The hat was a peace offering.

This land is your land, this land is my land,
From California to the New York island…

On Saturday evening, my weary feet carried me toward 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I stood behind the barricades along the wrought iron fence, unable to stomach the idea of snapping selfies along with the gaggle of young women beside me. Instead, I crossed the street to join a small knot of people holding “Love Trumps Hate” signs and battery-operated tea lights. A small memorial had been set up to honor the Indian engineer murdered by a white gunman in a Kansas bar a week before. The organizer, a woman with a thick tumble of dark hair, spoke into a megaphone about bravery, solidarity, and kindness. A cluster of turbaned Sikh gentlemen with waxed mustaches listened in stoic stillness. Several kids played with the tea lights. Then we fanned out into a circle, white and brown and white and brown and brown and brown. A bearded young Indian man picked up a guitar, and I held hands with two caramel-skinned preteens as we all sang,

From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters,
This land was made for you and me.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Similar posts

post calvin direct

Get new posts from Geneva Langeland delivered straight to your inbox.

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!