D.C. - beside the beltway

unearthing the Nation's capital

Our Awakening

by Benjamin Malcolm






Screw peace!

Give me good old-fashioned H and A. Give me rage.

I mean ... I'm talking MTV Real World. "Stop being polite and start getting real."

Give me that.

Not a Peace Park. I don't want a... a Peace Park...

You see ... I was doing some research on my favorite statue in Washington, DC for DUCTS. I was going to write a lengthy, academic piece extolling the virtues of this statue.

It's called "The Awakening." It's down in East Potomoc Park. I know ... you've never heard of it.

Anyway, I have photos. I was looking for history. I was going to provide stats (like statues per square inch in the District, monuments per capita, etc ... we've got a lot of statues and monuments). The whole nine yards.

Did you know that all the statues of military men point toward the White House? Did you know that people ripped up some of the cherry trees just after Pearl Harbor because they were mad at the Japanese? I've got your DC trivia ... come on, test me on my DC trivia!

Anyway ... I started running into trouble. There aren't a lot of things written about this statue.

Here's what I do know -- "The Awakening" was sculpted by J. Seward Johnson in 1980 and placed at Hains Point in East Potomoc Park. The image -- a giant bearded man, half-buried in the earth -- is writhing and kicking and scrambling in an attempt to wrench himself free from his prison. The right arm sticks up into the sky. His mouth is wide open in some half-formed primal scream. A set of toes point heavenward. It's the barbaric yawp of DC. In the background, across the river, you've got the sight and sound of jets taking off from National Airport. Very cool.

Then I read this little notation (this particular quote is from Fodor's 98 Washington DC) "There are plans to build a peace garden here, with plantings forming a giant olive branch."

Ugghh ...

As far as I'm concerned, it's like ripping out the Vietnam Memorial and putting in a Pokeman Exhibit. Like renaming a National Airport after Ronald Reagan (remember his whole deal with the air traffic controllers?) ... well, OK, someone already DID name a National Airport after old Ronnie, but you get the point.

"The Awakening" doesn't usually make any of the shows like "The District" or "West Wing" or any of that. Hollywood has never filmed a climactic scene there. So I consider it one of the undiscovered trails of DC compared to the tourist-clogged highways of the Mall, the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian. People only go there if they've gotten lost on the way to the Jefferson Memorial. They stumble on "The Awakening."

Now it's not that I don't like some of the more famous landmarks in the District. There's nothing quite like sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial first thing in the morning before the crowds have come, or playing softball on the Mall with the Washington Monument as your left field foul pole, or wandering the FDR Memorial in April during the height of the Cherry Blossoms at dusk. I love my monuments.

But "The Awakening" speaks to me as the others don't. It's the lightning rod of intern dissent, disgruntled Capital Hill employees, and overworked graduate students. It's man's Id battling against his Superego. It's DC.

Sometimes, in my mind's eye, I can almost see the Giant breaking free, grabbing a local yellow line metro train, and popping commuters into his mouth like candy. Then lumbering up to the White House and going to town on Bill and the White House. But I know the Giant will always be raging and roiling in his dirt prison.

Unless, of course, they rip him up and put in a peace garden.

Unless they take the Giant away.

But you know what?

It's time to fight. I'm going to take this to the people. I'm going to form a committee and do this the Washington way. I'm going to lead a march. I'm going to have a Giant sit-in. Only we're not going to sing "Kumbaya." Something by the The Pogues or Tom Waits is more appropriate. Maybe Midnight Oil can come by, or Henry Rollins. Some band that yells as much as it sings.

Hey, other people have their issues with other monuments.

When the Washington Monument was going through its repair stage (with scaffolding surrounding the entire structure), there was much collective hand-wringing over the form it would take. It turned out the scaffolding was cooler looking than the monument, and now people want it back. The FDR Memorial had its own battle when it went up in 1997. The WWII monument is going through the same thing. People don't like the site; they don't like the design. Whatever.

The Giant is the important issue. The Giant represents the soul of the city.

Peace garden? DC? Give me a break.

Keep the Giant alive. Fight for the Giant.

It's time to sound OUR barbaric yawp.


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