This article, originally titled "The Space of Resistance," was originally published on Lance Hosey's Huffington Post blog. It is part of a four-part series about the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The city can be a powerful form of political myth, and Washington, DC, is the premier example.
Political myths dramatize historical events for ideological purposes, in order to strengthen the authority of the status quo. For example, America’s Founding Fathers often are portrayed as motivated only by a virtuous desire for universal freedom and equality, a simplistic depiction that ignores the complex socioeconomic forces behind the Revolution. The National Mall, its buildings, and its monuments, are America’s foundation myth writ large in stone and space. Manfredo Tafuri called the image of the District of Columbia “a timeless, indisputable, completely ‘positive’ Olympus” whose creation “presupposed great optimism and was thoroughly opposed to any polemical doubt.”
In this sense, the city as political myth is ripe for protest, and the National Mall has been the site of many of the most important protests in American history. Most often, these events consist only of people gathering for demonstration. Sometimes, however, they involve building.