Sitting in the gallery of the House of Representatives the other day, we saw the Speaker accept the report of the resignation of the gentleman from New York, as Boehner called Weiner. Yet another knee-drop to the power of Twitter in a city that produces laws like the Valley does startups. Security forbids cameras and therefore phones, and with them our ability to check in and out the comings and goings of what has been called Hollywood for ugly people.
In a hamburger joint six blocks and 20 Lincolns away, the House proceedings are displayed on one of several flat paneled HDTVs on the wall. The cameras in both the House and the Senate are placed to constrain the image to just enough information but not too much to reveal the yawning empty seats. In the Senate chambers we watched a court reporter with a laptop-like device around her neck stand next to a backbencher as he awaited his turn. On TV she was cut out of the frame.
The two houses of Congress straddle the central rotunda, where JFK lay in state before making the trip across the Potomac to Arlington. From his gravesite and the Eternal Flame, you turn around and notice how the site lines up perfectly with the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. Just as the White House and the Capitol dome are bisected by the Monument. The symmetry defines the power relationships.
At the Lincoln Memorial he sits like some grand couch potato watching Netflix, ringed by his words on flanking walls. The Gettysburg Address feels somehow modern in its 140 character-like brevity. The reflecting pool was empty, as a Martin Luther King memorial rises in the dusk. For the people, by the people, retweeted throughout the land.
Back in the Capitol we climbed the low-ceilinged stairs beneath the Rotunda, pausing as our guides pointed out a round white tile in the center of a room known as the Crypt. The spot represented the location where George Washington was to buried, had he not refused to go along with the plan in his last will. He was said to have been unwilling to lead a war of liberation from a monarchy only to be installed as a new king. He remains buried in Mount Vernon despite a Congressional attempt backed by his wife Martha to move him to the Crypt in 1832.
Upstairs in the Rotunda pools of people clustered around a spot in the left center of the room while a tour guide turned his back and bent down across the way. Eerily, his voice materialized as though amplified by a microphone in the middle of our group. Turns out a legislator would lie with his head down on his desk while eavesdropping on the opposition from the other side of the aisle. An early form of IM and direct messages, the technology came full circle when the gentleman from New York forgot the “d” years later.
Riding back to the Senate office building where our tour began, the underground tram echoed with the ghosts of Senators and spies and lobbyists and generals and staffers. You could hear the humor of the irreverent in the halls as we wound through the various security perimeters, the request to be quiet so as to not discourage the congressmen and women from showing up. A family listening while a father replayed Boehner’s comment that the House now numbered 432. The security guard adding iPads to the pile of devices to be impounded along with phones, earphones, and even car keys with remote controls.
It felt odd to surrender our newfound social freedom at the door to the center of democracy. Even so, the security was comforting in this age of insecurity, but it won’t be long before we’ll be voting for free WiFi in the people’s house. Not long before we confirm the Secretary of Social Media by direct message. Not long before we’ll virtualtour the Capitol and share our experiences in realtime with family, friends, and followers. Foursquare and seven years ago…