“La patria es de todos.” That was a rallying cry among the Cuban people during the 1998 visit to Cuba of Pope John Paul II. “The homeland belongs to all.”
You see, Fidel Castro’s revolution had long before adopted a primary tactic of autocrats everywhere to expropriate the nation’s symbols, heroes, and history as the unique province of the one-party state.
I was reminded of this tactic when I saw uniformed National Park Service rangers reinforcing barricades in front of open-air monuments to prevent citizens from honoring their heroes, remembering national tribulation and sacrifice, or taking inspiration from the history of a great people.
Some might accuse our Federal government of being authoritarian. I spent too much time working in the Congress and Executive branch to abide such a critique.
But there is something breathtaking about bureaucrats in Washington dispatching more armed guards to keep the Lincoln Memorial, World War II Memorial, and other sites closed than would be required to keep them open.
The American people directed that such monuments be built – some literally with the pennies of schoolchildren and others through large contributions solicited and managed by private commissions. The National Parks Service was entrusted with the stewardship of some of these sites to keep them open – not to shutter them in order to punish people for what their Congress does or doesn’t do.
These marble temples, fountains, colonnades, and quiet open spaces are not property of the government. They are the patrimony of the American people.
The reports are pouring in of federal agents blocking access to privately owned parks – such as those closing the parking lots at George Washington’s privately managed estate, Mount Vernon. The notion that the government shut down makes it impossible for citizens to climb up the steps at the Lincoln Memorial on their own to read the Gettysburg Address to themselves is politically manufactured nonsense – particularly when we see the armed guard at the top of the stairs, paid to keep us out.
My father, Richard Noriega, helped occupy Japan before some fool decided to “occupy Wall Street.” You can be damned sure if he were alive today and wanted to visit the World War II Memorial, this conservative Republican would be pushing down the barricades to give him some time to walk among the gold stars.
Occupy our monuments this weekend. Because, “La patria es de todos!”