While studying journalism, I was taught that most reputable programs will advise to stay neutral when it comes to politics and hotbutton issues. Whether you claim neutrality to maintain your credibility with an audience, or just choose to keep a certain level of distance between personal and professional, I have found it to be generally solid advice.
I have shared my thoughts amongst select trusted friends in conversation, or (regretfully) when I have been goaded by family who I think like to see a rise out of me. But my political leanings, outside of trying to call bullshit when and wherever I see it, will continue to remain unannounced publicly. This is a week when it seemingly feels harder to do so, however. When I arrived at the White House in Washington, D.C., I was hesitant to cover it for fear of alienating anyone aligned with former or current administrations.
Specifically, I told myself that airing any sort of greivance one way or another could really become problematic. And I’m not trying to make any imaginary nor real “list”.
I know certain very passionate people across both sides of the aisles who are so convinced that “their way” is the best option to reach, at best, a bipartisan vision for the future. Facebook is full of these posts, some more pointed than others. But, ego aside, none of “my ways” or “their ways” will work until we focus on creating more “our ways”. Even if I think, I’m right. Even if you think I’m wrong. We have to just get through it together.
Carrying around a vintage boombox in any location as a solo traveler, filming it (which requires setting it down and slowly stepping back) gets weird looks at times. If I happen to have a pre-selected record or the Flipbin with me, most times that only increases the quiet judgements strewn across nearby faces, if they even notice me from their electronic devices. Surprisingly, no one asks questions about the boombox directly. Maybe it’s because we are too polite, or more rationally, we have stopped directly talking to eachother in this digital era. Maybe, in all reality, they just don’t care; I’m not. I think that while it’s increasingly important to use discretion in the process, talking to strangers isn’t as scary as it’s made out to be. It can get uncomfortable and socially awkward, but the same could be said for existance. If nothing else, risking a minute or two to share a moment might just change our lives.
Anyway, I had reservations about the level of access I might be granted around my stops in D.C. specifically. I make it a point to be respectful of other’s space and things like traffic laws when I film. You won’t ever see a “man falls into the Grand Canyon with a selfie stick” kind of story about me. But, since I didn’t have contacts formally inviting me into this new city as it related to the locations you find on the blog, I routinely kept an eye open so that I didn’t get tackled by an overzealous security guard.
The White House on the day I arrived had a small crowd near the rear gate. The sidewalk closest to the perimeter of the property was blocked off. Across a small two lane private access road were protesters with all sorts of causes. They were all sidewalk preachers, trying to pass on their version of the gospels they had come to know.
I searched around to see how I might be able to secure a picture that would capture the location and a decent view of the boombox. As I walked around, I stopped at a painted cast iron park bench near the protest displays to take in the moment. The design reminded me of the super uncomfortable outdoor furniture I am pretty sure my grandparents had at their house. I have seen similar in my travels to a historical plantation site in Louisiana. The furniture is decorative and nearly unthinkable to sit on in the Summer, but steady on it’s own, though these were affixed to the ground.
The transit pass I had in my front right jeans pocket was a silhouette on top of my thigh as I sat, calmly breathing in and out. It’s weird to see any different than the usual key ring pressing up. I traveled mainly on public transport this trip, though Uber is a pretty popular option in the area as well.
As I collected my thoughts, I started to move toward a scattered group of other tourists taking photos from the private access road. I really thought that there was no way that I would have the kind of space that I imagined I might to secure a decent natural frame for the image. Before I could really give it a second thought, White House security began to back everyone off the street to the far sidewalk. I was immediately on the lookout for Paul Blart, or more realistically Jack Bauer. No luck. There was also no explanation for the movement of the crowd, though I didn’t honestly expect a drawn out conversation on the matter. So, instead of trying to set down a vintage boombox on the road with a record in hand, I leaned back to secure a wider shot as the crowd started to disperse.
The track this week is “President” by Wyclef Jean. A founding member of The Fugees, who’s “The Score” is a major reason I started collecting records, the Haitian born artist emigrated to the United States at the age of nine building not only an avenue for him to prosper but a platform from which to teach. The song details what Jean would do had he been elected President. Interestingly enough, Wyclef entered a Presidential race in his home of Haiti back in 2010, after an obscure Wolf Blitzer interview. The bid lasted a total of 16 days before Jean was disqualified by an electoral council. To this day I still have questions on whether or not it was all just a publicity stunt, as it seems that Haiti and helping his birthplace seemed to be at the forefront of his message. In 2012 the same efforts that Wyclef raised money for after a natural disaster were probed only to find that much of the revenue was used for travel and administrative costs. While all the details were not released, if giving Wyclef the benefit of the doubt, I would still think that the alleged mismanagement was more a signal of inexperienced nonprofit directorship than a will to shortchange his countrymen and women. I don’t envy some of the really tough decisions that have to be made.
Regardless of who is in the oval office, I think we can all agree that it’s a high pressure job. And in the premier city for the U.S. Government, the headquarters for the Executive Branch does land on a bucket list item for me. I didn’t waste my time on a tour, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to clear the boombox (or really the backpack I hold it in on my trips) as I walked around the building. So there I was at a park bench, as are many tourists, thinking about what it is that I would do if I were president. Whether I endorsed “Hope and Change” or “Making America Great Again”; what I concluded was this, and it’s the thought I will leave you with this week.
I understand that while this is a building that hosts the endorsement of law, I personally need not a title to create the type of Country that I am proud to live in. One that can stand as I respectfully state an opinion without fear of persecution. One that sees that not everyone has been granted that privilege and that there is still work to be done. That kind of existence requires no formal title. So, where as I respect the office, regardless of who holds it, I choose to listen and interact with the people with whom I share the country.
Boombox always nearby, readily going back to work each Monday.