The Capitol Fence Comes Down

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Fencing is removed from the First Street side of the US Capitol Grounds, July 10, 2021. E.O'Gorek/CCB

Wokers began to dismantle the fence around Capitol Square starting around 8 a.m. Saturday, July 10.

The grounds were immediately reclaimed By the People.

They streamed past workers still wielding power tools and carrying fencing panels to enter the grounds, walking, cycling, scootering, pushing strollers and carrying cameras and selfie sticks. US Capitol Police erected a line near active work site, to ensure no-one would be hurt as they streamed towards the building, which has been surrounded by fencing for 184 days.

Workers were pulling down the last of the perimeter established around the Capitol Grounds the day after insurrections attacked the Capitol Building. The January 6 attack left 5 people dead.

A father and his 6-year-old daughter walked on to the grounds at First Street NE, searching for the US Capitol Police Officer, Office Yang, whom she had befriended before the fence was erected and had seen only rarely since. They stopped to enjoy a donut with members of Don’t Fence the Capitol, the group of neighbors who organized an effort to prevent the fence from becoming permanent.

“I feels so good to be back,” said Allison Cunningham. The Capitol Hill resident started a petition on Jan. 28, the same evening as United States Capitol Police (USCP) Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman said that in light of the events of Jan. 6, the fencing should be permanent.

The petition grew into Don’t Fence the Capitol, an organization advocacating against the installation of permanent fencing and for greater connectivitity between those working in the Capitol Complex and those living on Capitol Hill.

“A lot of things are still going to take a lot of time behind the scenes,” said Cunningham. “But being back and being able to have a celebratory moment after everything that’s happened since January, it’s really exciting.”

The group were not the only neighbors to oppose the idea: on Feb. 23, all 13 members of the DC Council signed a letter addressed to Congress. The letter stated Council’s opposition to any permanent expansion of the security permiter surrounding the Capitol Complex, or to the loss of public access to the Capitol Grounds or adjacent space.

In a joint effort Mar. 13 between neighborhood blog The Hill is Home and popular Twitter account Eat DC hosted a protest along the Second Street fence that was attended by Norton and Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen (D). Residents were invited to participate in the kinds of activities they’d “rather be doing on the other side of the fence,” such as picnicking.

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-D) Norton introduced a bill in February to ban permanent fencing at the Capitol complex. In a statement July 7, the day that fence dismantling was annouced, Norton called the announcement “a victory for DC residents, local businesses and the American people.”

When first erected, the fence drew a wide line around Capitol Square coming near to Union Station in the North, as far as G Street SW to the South and East from Fourth Street to terminate first at Sixth Street, then later in January at Second Street.

Kevin and his son Benjamin came from Savannah, Georgia the morning of January 7. They were some of the earliest tourists to visit the Capitol Grounds, but Kevin did not know that until their arrival, the Capitol Square had been blocked, access forbidden to tourists and residents alike. He said he tries not to follow politics, in part because he lives in what he calls “a divided house, politically.”

Being on the Capitol Grounds brought up feelings about the events of Jan. 6, he said. “I’m really, really sad about what happened,” he said, “and really pissed off that one side is trying to down play it.”

The footprint of the fencing was reduced to the Capitol Square itself the weekend of Mar. 13 and 14th. Matthew visited the Capitol Grounds Friday with his 22-month son. The family lives nearby, and said that the Capitol Grounds are part of the neighborhood. “I felt a little bit of emotion,” he confessed of the moment he saw the fence dismantled. He said he felt lucky to witness such historic moments, but views the future with a touch of cynacism.

“I appreciate the eventual response to the insurrection, but also feel like I see alot of security theatre in this town. So I wonder what’s next? When you put up walls and you shut things down, and you do it for what I think is way longer than necessary, you set a precedent. And I’m not sure we’ve rolled anything back –we’ve just paused,” he said.