In his documentary titled The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, filmmaker Ken Burns described why parks and wildlife preservers – lands owned by the public – are really an American invention.
“They are more than a collection of rocks and trees and inspirational scenes from nature,” narrator Peter Coyote says in the film.
“They embody something less tangible, yet equally enduring. An idea, born in the United States, nearly a century after its creation, as uniquely American as the Declaration of Independence, and just as radical. What could be more democratic than owning together the most magnificent places on your continent? Think about Europe. In Europe, the most magnificent places, the palaces, the parks, are owned by aristocrats, by the monarchs, by the wealthy.”
Not so in the U.S., where parks have always embodied American ideals, such as freedom of assembly by the rich as well as the poor, the powerful as well as the homeless.
This is especially true for the national park immediately north of the White House: Lafayette Square Park. These seven acres, shaded by trees surrounding a statue of President Andrew Jackson, for decades have served as an open space for the First Amendment for anyone who wants to raise a voice in protest.