The first spirited Black Lives Matter protest in Washington, D.C. after the police murder of George Floyd occurred on May 29, 2020. Beginning their march near the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center on U Street, several hundred justice-starved Washingtonians descended on the White House, led by local Black organizers.
Upon arrival, one protester decided to hop the temporary barriers erected to block people off from Pennsylvania Avenue, the street directly adjacent to the White House North Lawn (while this street has historically been accessible to pedestrian traffic, such openness has become increasingly rare in recent years). This protester was immediately violently arrested, but not without resistance from those present. You can watch the police repression unfold in the first few minutes of the video below:
Little did we know then, but this person might’ve been the last demonstrator to get that close to the executive mansion. After the first day of struggle, the ensuing weekend saw intense fighting between police and militant protesters, as crowds swelled to the thousands and what I’ve dubbed the ‘People’s Siege’ of the White House continued to escalate. Bricks and fireworks were thrown at cops (injuring some severely), a utility shed/bathroom in Lafayette Square was set aflame, and statues and nearby buildings were graffitied with dead pig heads and radical slogans.
The successful People’s Siege of the Minneapolis 3rd Precinct was the model, and the militant masses of D.C. were up to the challenge despite the tear gas, batons, and rubber bullets of their enemies.
However, unlike in Minneapolis, the police managed to hold the line in D.C., gradually expanding their defensive perimeter to the edge of 16th Street on the north-side of Lafayette Square, now known as Black Lives Matter Plaza. On June 1st, then President Trump ordered the infamous attack on a peaceful daytime contingent of protesters. Later that week, so-called “no-climb” fencing went up all around the White House, blocking the public from entering Lafayette Square, Pennsylvania Avenue, and the Ellipse. This was an expensive measure, costing taxpayers $1.5 million.
To this day, approximately one year later, the fencing remains.
Now, in truth, I’m actually proud that the fine people of D.C. managed to shake the capitalist-imperialist exploiter clowns in the Executive Branch so thoroughly they were forced to fortify what is already perhaps the most secure building in the United States.
At the same time, however, this fascist Trump-era fencing (preserved completely by the Biden administration) displays just how thoroughly distrusting the exploiter class and their government cronies are of the People, just how scared they are of even a modicum of resistance. So frightened, in fact, they were willing to close off one of the most visited tourist attractions in the area. And Lafayette Square is not just a tourist attraction, it’s also one of the favored parks of locals.
On May 10, 2021, Lafayette Square was re-opened to the public for the first time in 11 months. The fencing, however, remains in place. At a moment’s notice, the White House surroundings can once again be shut-off to the public. And no doubt they will be.
This is not simply an isolated case of a temporary security measure left in place too long. For the past two centuries, the White House has become progressively militarized and cut off from the public. In the beginning of the 19th century, it was possible to walk-up and knock on the door. Later throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the White House grounds were increasingly fenced off to the public, and security measures drastically enhanced.
I will spare you the full history of the White House fence, but you can read about it here. What was at first a wooden post and rail fence in the 19th century has now become a massive wall of metal in the 21st.
While I have my personal doubts, the claim by the United States Secret Service is that the current perimeter fencing around Lafayette Square and the Ellipse will eventually come down. But not without even more permanent fencing taking its place, as a recent U.S.S.S. statement reveals.
The question is, when does this all end? Barring our planet’s teleportation to the Bizarro realm, the perimeter will obviously continue to expand outward and the fence continue to grow in height.
In one of my first visits to D.C. before moving there around 10 years ago, I remember my father complaining about just how much the security had changed in his lifetime. I thought little of it then, but after living through it myself, I don’t see an end in sight. Until the People have power, the White House remains a testament to the exploitative divisiveness of the oppressive structures that built it.
And yet, I also remember the battle cry of a young Black man during the People’s Siege: “We built this shit, we can burn it down!” It’s only fitting in a house constructed by slaves, the occupants are still haunted centuries later.