They invariably shrug. “You do,” I say. “You own that building. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” “See that one there and there” and I point to the Smithsonians and the National Archives. “You own them too.”
And just as invariably you can see them look at the Capitol in a new light.
I remember the first time I made this point to a 7-year-old. We were walking across the Mall. Her brown eyes got big and she asked me which room belonged to her.
“All of them,” I said. “It belongs to you. You own that building as much as anyone in the land. You have to share it with your grandmother and your aunt and me and 295 million other people in this country.”
I asked her if she remembered the White House we had walked by earlier in the day. She nodded. “You own that too. The president lives there, but he just borrows it. You own it. And if the president walks up to you, you can tell him `My name is Ariel and you work for me.'” (This was in 1994. Bill Clinton was president. He met with ordinary Americans without fear of their dissent.)
I told her of the American Revolution and how the colonists bravely overthrew a king and that because of that she never needs to bow down to anyone because of what they did, that she is the equal to any king or queen on the planet.
I pointed to the National Archives and how it stores the Constitution and how the Founding Fathers wrote it to create a new covenant between the people with each other. I told her that the Founding Fathers knew they couldn’t make anything perfect, but they tried anyway with the Constitution. I’m sure a lot of what I said went over her head, but she listened anyway.
This is one of the reasons I am so angry at the administration of George W. Bush.
My family may not own much. Our house may be small and our vehicles have too many miles on them. But we own some pretty property in Washington, D.C., some terrific forests and beaches and wetlands across the country. We own them. We all own them.
And we own that piece of paper in the National Archives. Those words and what they represent belong to all of us.
Yet Bush wants to take it away from us. From his efforts to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to his trampling on the Constitution to create an imperial presidency, he is taking away what is mine.
I take his misdeeds personally because it is. It is time to raise an old flag that belongs to all of us.
We owe it to those who came before us. And we owe it to those that will follow us.