Rick Shaw, director of the Pictures of the Year International competition at MU's Reynolds Journalism Institute, was in Washington this past weekend for a POYI-sponsored event. He witnessed the gathering outside the White House when news broke of Osama bin Laden's death. This is his account.
The incessant drizzle in Washington, D.C., ended at dusk, and by midnight, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. was deluged with waves of red, white and blue emotion.
Only a few hours earlier on Sunday, hockey fans trickled down F Street, disappointed that their Washington Capitals had not triumphed. But President Barack Obama's unexpected announcement to the world that U.S. forces had killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden energized the downtown atmosphere.
It was an irresistible and rejoicing current.
The north side of the White House is an open and inviting place for tourists to get good vacation snapshots for the family blog. The pedestrian-friendly avenue between Lafayette Park and the black-iron fence of the First Lawn provides an as-good-as-it-gets welcome mat to the executive mansion.
Some walked, some sprinted, but most set a quick-step cadence to connect with this defining moment in American history. In five minutes, the White House fence was lined three deep with restored patriots. Another 10 minutes and the width of Pennsylvania Avenue was packed, shoulder to shoulder. And in less than half an hour, the celebration spilled into the park and joined the statue at its center, of Andrew Jackson waving to the crowd atop his steed.
Spontaneous choirs belted out "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "God Bless America." A single "wa-hoo" would build into a mass crescendo. Flags appeared from nowhere, large and tiny. Poster boards were decorated into flags. If no flag, signs with slogans. And for one, a world map was just as satisfying to proudly hold aloft.
The locals arrived and joined with others. Strangers became allies. Politics was pushed aside. Ale was embraced. Tourists stood mesmerized. Law enforcement displayed a quiet mask of intimidation, never admitting to the occasional glint of a smile. Journalists flashed cameras and mics as they skillfully swam the shifting tide. And all whispered unknowingly to themselves: "Amazing."
It was not a callous voice cheering a violent death, but a voice of relief and jubilation as the 10-year cloud of anxiety and frustration cleared above the White House and from the nation. It was a night that the melting-pot cliché rang true.