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Outside the White House, amid the glory of the assassinator

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Twelve hours after the announcement of Osama bin Laden’s demise, things were getting back to normal outside the White House. Normal meaning aswirl with tourists and a sprinkling of activists.

Well-dressed government workers (identifiable by official laminates) strolled by during lunch hour to take shots with i-Phones, while tourists both foreign and domestic jockeyed for photos holding the day’s headlines. In comparison to the night before, when throngs gathered to bellow “USA, USA,” things were comparatively subdued. Snippets of conversation were overheard: “He built this huge compound in 2005 and no one noticed?” Or, “there’s going to be another bin Laden, more hardcore than him.” Amid the sightseers were those making political statements. 

One man stood silently with a sign that said “thanks.”

Just to the east of the White House two women from “Jews for Jesus” held a banner saying, “The Only Hope for Peace Was Born in the Middle East.”

A few yards away, directly in front of the White House, a young man sporting a yarmulke told anyone who would listen that while it was certainly nice to have bin Laden gone, there still existed worrisome security conditions on the ground in Afghanistan that required the U.S. military to keep fighting. One of his listeners asked if he were part of “Jews for Jesus.” He said he had nothing to do with the group, though he was sure Jesus “was a nice guy”.

Members of Code Pink argued that bin Laden’s death removed the last pretext for American military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was time to “end the cycle of violence” that begets suicide bombers and terrorists, they said. The U.S. need not boast about being the “greatest assassinator in the world,” but rather should bring the troops home and become “a nation of peace.”

In the middle of the pedestrian zone stood a man with placards decrying the blood on Obama’s hands and blaming 9/11 on Al Sharpton and Marion Barry. And at the edge of the pedestrian way, on the southern ramparts of Lafayette Park, Concepcion Cippiotto maintained her vigil against militarism, now into its third decade. She has become a fixture in the area since setting up camp in 1981. The 66-year-old native of Spain, essentially homeless, is surrounded by ephemera denouncing nuclear proliferation in general and American support of Israel in particular.

“I am a Jew against what Israel does,” she said, adding. “Eisenhower was right!” She supplied a Xeroxed copy of Ike’s words: “There is no way in which a country can satisfy the craving for absolute security — but it can bankrupt itself, morally and economically, in attempting to reach that illusory goal through arms alone.”

Meanwhile, between the West Wing and the Executive Building, klieg lights blazed in the bright sunlight to illuminate television reporters who explained ad infinitum how the bin Laden killing went down and what it all meant. 

Cippiotto, toothless both literally and figuratively, sat in the shade of her aging signage.

Peter Voskamp

Peter Voskamp is a freelance writer based in Washington, DC.

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