Matt Stensland: Exploring the melting pot in Washington, D.C.
December 10, 2017
WASHINGTON, D.C. — During a recent visit to our nation’s capital, I met many friendly, hard-working Americans, walked for miles to take in the history and then a bald eagle made a prickly landing on my arm.
The last time I really got to take in the sites in Washington, D.C. was as a seventh grader.
I remembered some parts of that first trip, like flying into Reagan National Airport and lightning striking the plane's wing.
My primary goal for this trip was to visit the capital during a period of heightened social and political unrest and to see an important institution that might disappear.
The Newseum museum has been open in Washington since 2008, following the completion of a massive, 250,000-foot building dedicated to documenting the history of journalism.
It was a large undertaking by the Freedom Forum, and apparently it might have been too grand. The museum has never been profitable despite an entry fee of $24.95, and they had a $2 million deficit in 2015, according to the New York Times.
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The Newseum might have to find a more modest home, and I wanted to see its current grandeur.
Outside the museum is a display of the front pages of newspapers from across the country.
“Hey, Dave, you seeing a lot fake news?” one man said before I walked inside.
“Ugh” is the feeling I felt as newspapers are seeing drops in revenue and as a result shrinking their staffs, which includes recent layoffs of 12 people at the Denver Post.
A few of the things you will find inside the Newseum include parts of the Berlin Wall and an antenna tower salvaged from the World Trade Center terrorist attack wreckage.
Along with that is an homage to the only journalist that was killed during the carnage on Sept. 11, 2001.
Included with that are his shattered cameras and his burnt rolls of film.
There is also a wall of photos of journalists that have been killed doing their jobs, as well as a display that tries to educate visitors about the era of “fake news” and president Donald Trump’s combative nature with the media.
There were more surprises.
The Newseum has posters where people can place colored stickers to voice how they feel about certain issues.
“Should groups with hateful views be prevented from protesting in public spaces?” was one of the questions.
On that poster, about a third of the people visiting a museum that advocates First Amendment privileges voted hateful speech should be silenced.
The most intense moment of the trip occurred at the Arlington National Cemetery.
I had seen President John F. Kennedy’s grave before as well as the hourly changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where Army soldiers look over the Tomb nonstop.
It was much different visiting this time as a 35-year-old.
The changing of the guard ceremony was the most dignified display I have witnessed in my life and was attended by a diverse group of people, which included veterans, families, as well as a fat man wearing a Coors Light beer T-shirt.
This was the melting pot of America composed of people who made the journey to witness an American tradition where there was no influence from whoever was living in the White House, speaking on the floor at the U.S. Capitol or hearing oral arguments at the Supreme Court.
In the National Archives, I looked over our country’s founding documents, which included the Bill of Rights with the First Amendment in faded ink.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
That “press” word was still there.
Later that day, at a bar seat inside an upscale restaurant along the Potomac River in Alexandria, Virginia, an attractive older woman on a date attending a holiday boat parade started chatting with me.
She eventually asked me what I did for work, and I told her I was a journalist.
“Are you afraid to tell people what you do for work?” was her response.
Telling people that had never been a concern, but now things are apparently different.
I’m still very proud of what I do and of telling people what I do, but that question made me think that maybe I should possibly exercise caution and get to know people a little before I reveal I’m a journo, even though I mainly work in a small ski town.
The morning after meeting the woman at the bar, I saw on Facebook a post that Walmart had decided to stop selling a certain T-shirt.
Printed on the shirt was, “Rope, tree, journalist, some assembly required.”
Amid all this, Congress was trying to push through a controversial tax bill and former Donald Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
I tried to take a tour of the Washington Post, but my connection said the bosses would not allow visitors because of all the turmoil occurring that week.
I then went to Fatty’s Tattoos and Piercings to cap off this trip.
That endeavor involved a needle on the skin for 90 minutes and a First Amendment bald eagle tattoo emblazoned on my shoulder that has since been named Freegle, who has a slight smirk on his face watching my back.
Our country has issues, but I cherish free speech, and regardless of the irritating politics, I still love this country, and I am doing my best to make it better.