Last night, while others were nestled in their homes watching the State of the Union, we were on the lawn of the Washington Monument making graffiti… with lights!
Although we didn't watch the speech, we did learn something about the state of our union: When a big, grey (raper-style) van is the only vehicle parked on Constitution Ave. on the night of the State of the Union, EVERYBODY PANICS!!
We announced 15th and Constitution at 7:30pm as our meet-up place and time- completely ignorant of the fact that Constitution Ave is part of the route for the President's cavalcade. As soon as we arrived and began taking out lights, we had a representative from one of DC's many police departments pull up behind our van- they were of course running our plates. (Something interesting to note is that DC has about 28 different police agencies- we encountered police from at least 4 different agencies last night). We approached the officer and explained that we were only trying to drop some art bombs (okay, we didn't say that exactly- didn't want to go to federal prison, but we did explain our project). After giving the cop a brief explanation, he decided all was clear and left. Then another cop pulled up on a motorcycle. He said, "you can't park here." We explained that another cop had just pulled off and told us we were parked was fine. (Still, at this point, we did not fully realize how scary a solitary grey van parked on Constitution during the State of the Union Address really was to the people of DC).
Although the second cop left us with a seal of approval, he was followed still by a barrage of even more police. One officer, from the parks department, asked, "do you all have a permit to be here?" "No," we said half-heartedly, "do we need to have one?" "I don't know," retorted the cop, "I was just curious." Then, after chatting a bit, giving more explanation about our project, and even letting the cops inspect all of our lights and bags, a secret service cop piped up… "let me make this perfectly clear," he spoke with authority, but was kind, "there is absolutely nothing wrong with you being here. You are not breaking any laws by being here. You can be here with these lights and you can make art here!" "However," he continued, "if you don't move this van to the other side of the monument, we will be out here harassing you all night." Another cop chimed in- "yeah, this is just really bad timing on your part. Do you know what tonight is?" "Of course," we all responded, "we thought this was the perfect place and time for us to get a lot of people involved in our project."
Ultimately, all of the officers were really quite nice to us, despite their initial misgivings. We agreed to move the suspicious van and our lights to the other side of the monument and we even managed to give the secret service cop an extra card to pass along to president Obama. He claimed that he would see him later that evening and would deliver the card at that point. Who knows… maybe the prez checked us out;) Yeah- we know he has a million things on his plate, but maybe he digs art enough to check it out in his leisure time???
Needless to say, the cops were completely correct- once we moved to the side closer to the Jefferson Memorial, absolutely no one bothered us. We were delighted to have true crowd participation for the first time in our project. We took advantage of this by having people hold the lights and dance around the lawn with them- we call it a human light show.
…and we left a little message!
DC, we were here… and don't worry, you are all safe! See you soon Hampton Roads!!