Gone too far?

One should expect security to be tighter in the nation’s capitol than the average small town (even one like Oak Ridge), but this week has been enlightening — in a bad way, in addition to the good fun that I admit I’ve had taking pictures.

It’s no longer possible to tour the White House, unless you submit all your information three months in advance. Touring the capitol requires at least a week’s notice, although you can get a gallery pass (which wouldn’t be worth much this week, since Congress is in recess so there’s nothing going on to watch) on short notice through your congressional office.

The National Aquarium, in the basement of the Commerce building, hasn’t been publicly funded since 1981. Still though, patrons are expected to go through a metal detector and have all purses, backpacks, etc. searched before entry. I’ve gotten used to metal detectors and having my purse rummaged through this week… to the point that I now don’t carry my purse most places. I just put my drivers license and a debit card in my pocket and go on. Every single public building has metal detectors and guards who rummage through purses all day.

To actually look at any books in the Library of Congress — the nation’s most public of public libraries — one must go to a separate building, wait in line to show a drivers license, wait in another line to fill out a form electronically (asking for all the same information as was on the aforementioned drivers license), then wait in yet a third line to have one’s picture taken. Then, you cross the street again to the building with actual books, wait in line for about 20 minutes to be allowed into the line for the metal detectors and searching again.

Posession of the photo library card does not entitle one to check out books from the Library of Congress, just to look at them under the watchful eyes of guards, librarians, and video surveillance.

For all my complaining, I spent the whole morning and part of the afternoon in the local history & genealogy room at the Library of Congress today, and enjoyed it very much. There were a couple of things I would have liked to make copies of, but to do so, one had to purchase a “copier card” and put money on it. Having left my purse at home, the 75 cents in my pocket wouldn’t work — there’s a paper-money minimum for the card.

Yesterday, I spent a few hours in the DAR library, and found some more interesting things. At least two relatives on my dad’s side served in the Revolutionary War.

I wonder what they’d think about where we are now, when the people’s government is no longer open (at least in a practical sense) to the people. Is this the end for which they left home in England or Northern Ireland, fought in the cold, and staked out claims to government-lottery land for veterans in the wild indian country of what is now the East Coast (from Pennsylvania to Georgia) of America?

It’s easy to see where all the homeland security funding has gone, but not so easy to equate it to our being secure. Planes still fly into buildings, school shootings still occur, and crazy little men are still rattling their sabers.

But the US Government is seemingly safe from tourists for the moment.

2 Responses to “Gone too far?”

  1. on 12 Oct 2006 at 10:34 pm Debbie Halley

    I agree with you. I was just browsing the Library of Congress site yesterday, wondering how I could make a trip their (I live in Illinois) when I found out that they do offer inter-loan library (I work of a community college). So, I will not have to endure the lines and metal detectors. Yes, Benjamin Franklin would probably be a little disturbed at how our largest public library has become a guarded building (well, with the precious books and documents it contains I can see why we need to do it–what a shame).

  2. on 13 Oct 2006 at 8:48 am John Huotari

    I have heard that Washington, D.C., has turned into a fortress since Sept. 11, 2001, but I’ ve never heard what that meant. Your post gives me insight into how things have changed. The last time I was in D.C., in 1993, it was relatively easy to get into various places like the White House, the Capitol and the FBI building. I am for greater public access, not less.

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