Thursday, September 10, 2009

How To Lose Friends And Entrench Enemies

The title of today's post is the entirety of a short comment on Greater Greater Washington by crin. I thought it was particularly fitting because of two things that happened in the last 24 hours. One is the subject of the blog post that inspired that comment, and the other is last night's Presidential address to congress on health care.

First, the local news. Alice Swanson was killed last summer while cycling near Dupont Circle. There was much controversy surrounding this tragic accident, in part because the driver of the truck that hit her was not found to be negligent and not charged. I don't want to debate this here, but rather discuss the events of yesterday related to this.

Picture from Greater Greater Washington post above
Following her death a "ghost bike" was erected at the spot of the accident to memorialize her. The memorial remained in place for more than a year, and was removed recently (probably by the Department of Public Works). Those responsible for the memorial were outraged because they were not notified of its removal. My personal opinion is that while it would have been nice for DC to somehow let them know, this isn't exactly cause for outrage. The memorial was on public space, it was not permitted, and not legal. It was allowed to remain for more than a year, far longer than any other such citizen-installed memorial I've heard of. It served its purpose, and DPW even installed a sign at the intersection warning drivers to watch for cyclists.

Last night, 22 (that's right, twenty-two) ghost bikes were installed around the location in an act of civil disobedience in response to the removal. From Alice Swanson Rides Again:

Twenty-two bicycles have been placed around the intersection of Connecticut Avenue, 20th Street, and R Street (the original site of the ghost bike), one for each year of Alice’s life. Hopefully, this will get Mayor Fenty’s attention...

We hope this forces the city government to see public space as something for public use. But the one thing we’re not hoping for is for the Mayor’s office to put the bike back. We put it back. And if it leaves again, we’ll put it back again. And again. And again. And this time, the ghost bike stays.

So basically, they are retaliating against the city for what amounts to them doing their job. The problem is, this no longer has anything to do with Alice Swanson's memory. It has to do with revenge, and spite, and an eye for an eye. And more likely than not, publicity for the self-described anarchist who did this. This kind of behavior has no place when it comes to the whole point of the original ghost bike: to memorialize a tragic death.

This has gone too far. If all the time and energy being put into this act of civil disobedience went into having a permanent, tasteful, non-sidewalk-obstructing memorial, we'd probably have one by now. But instead, we have what amounts to junk tied to every other light post in Dupont Circle. But worse, it creates a rift between the ones who care most about this memorial, and the very people whom they need on their side to get a legitimate, permanent one: the city government.

What makes this all the more hypocritical is that this is a very heavily traveled area by pedestrians. In the picture above, the very first bike you see is blocking almost half of the entrance to the crosswalk. This is at a minimum a nuisance - I am sure everyone's been waiting to cross a street at busy times and had difficulty not bumping into people under normal circumstances. This makes it that much worse. In the worst case it could even be a safety problem if someone walked into it because they weren't looking down. I'm not trying to say that it's a hazard akin to an open manhole, but considering the other kinds of things that people walk into regularly, it's unquestionably a possible hazard.

Enough is enough. If you want a real memorial, do it legitimately. If the effort that went into this project -- "weeks Dumpster-diving, as well as wailing on Freecycle and Craigslist" -- had been put towards a productive purpose such as working with the government on a permanent memorial, we might very well have had one by now.

This is public space, remember? Like the road - we all must share it. And it is clear that this action will not help your cause. This will certainly serve to annoy DPW who must now deal with all the new ghost bikes, and it has clearly annoyed the majority of people commenting on the story.

... And, the national news. Last night, during President Obama's speech, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) yelled out "You lie!" while the President was speaking, in regard to his statement that illegal aliens would not be covered by his proposal. Let us forget for a moment the incredible hypocrisy in one politician calling another one a liar. The pot and the kettle immediately come to mind. There is not a single politican on earth who can say they've never bent the truth. And while it may be hard to quantify who's worse, anyone who's listened to Bill O'Reilly or Rush Limbaugh for more than 8 seconds should know that Republicans wrote the book on bending the truth. But I'll be the first to admit that every Democrat probably owns a signed copy of the same book.

It's not about lies. There are plenty to go around. It's about respect. To stand up in a congressional address and interrupt the President of The United States in the middle of a speech to the entire free world on the most important issue facing us today and call him a liar?

That is unforgivable. John McCain said it best when asked by Larry King afterwards what he thought:

"Totally disrespectful, no place for it in that setting or any other and he should apologize immediately."

This was the act of a single individual, but what he said reflects upon all Republicans. Sadly, it a bellweather that Obama will have a really hard time getting everyone to move beyond the rhetoric, the name calling, the bickering, and work to create legislation instead of continuing to do nothing. He'd barely been on the stage for 15 minutes, imploring the lawmakers of this country to find a way to stop using this legislation as a political tool while the goal becomes ever more elusive, to work together, and he's called a liar in the rudest possible fashion.

Joe Wilson is symbolic of the problem. He's not the only one, he's just the one who couldn't even keep his composure long enough to listen to the leader of the free world tell him what he was trying to achieve. Unfortunately, he didn't just embarass himself. He embarassed our entire leadership. It's hard to have a lot of faith in a governing body that can't even be nice for a half-hour when the President is speaking.


Anonymous said...

The city doesn't seem to mind all the bikes that are rusted-out and picked apart that appear tied to trees and poles all over DC, so why did they make a point to take down the original memorial, which was embraced by the community?

I also think that Public Works has much bigger fish to fry than the removal of a simple memorial of a tragic event.

While 22 new bikes are a bit outrageous, to call them a "safety hazard" is laughable. If pedestrians can navigate around DC cyclists and drivers, I don't see anyone endangering themselves because of a few bikes on the sidewalk.

And on the presidential address- why not focus on the profoundness of the President's proposal? On the enormous positivity? While Wilson is obviously a douchebag, to expend that much energy on his outburst is just distracting from what everyone should be focused on: health care reform.

Jamie said...

@Anon - I don't think that the city's failing to remove other bikes has any bearing on this. My understanding is that they removed the bike because someone asked them to. The memorial was there for a year. It's not as if they went out of their way to target it, it only happened, apparently, when someone complained. You can hardly fault the government for actually responding to a service request to remove what is, technically, an illegally parked bicycle that's been there a year.

I agree that it would have been a lot better had they been a little less unceremonious about doing so, but since when has DC gov ever got it right? This is an overreaction - if it even has to do with the memorial, versus self-promotion for the guy who put these up.

Agree or disagree on "safety hazard," but the installations are against the law and in the sidewalk. You can't lock a bike to a light pole. You can't lock a bike within 25 feet of an intersection.

And when the sidewalks are really crowded, such as during rush hour, having extra stuff in your way definitely does not help.

As for the Prez, I am with you and I was moved. But it will all be for nothing if we can't get a law passed. Your final note is exactly the point of my comment: we need to be focused on health care reform, not on finger pointing and bickering.

Anonymous said...

who has 2 thumbs and finally commented on your blog?


- "Anonymous"

Anonymous said...

Disregard that last comment, I suck cocks.


Jamie said...

Do you spit out the feathers? I'd be too chicken to swallow a bird.