I spent some of my last day in DC with Eric Sheptock. Eric is a homeless activist and has been living in a shelter at 424 2nd Street NW for the last three and a half years. The shelter is really a warehouse of the homeless, providing temporary accommodation for 1,300 people, barely a mile from the White House. (Again, I will add the perhaps unnecessary point that virtually everyone I saw in and around the shelter was black.) I’m going to transcribe the interview I did with Eric and post it soon. He’s a remarkable man.
I’m home now and reflecting on my short American odyssey. I can’t say I achieved any major new insights, but reaffirmed a couple of things I’ve come to see as defining the US, making it infuriating and intriguing in turn. First, America is an exercise in Utopianism. It’s bloody history has always combined idealism with an optimism that can elevate the spirit, unless you’re on the receiving end of the brutality that runs through it. I find this reflected not only in the flag-waving of State, but in the demeanor of the people, even those who have a just cause for eternal pessimism. Some might think this false consciousness on a continental scale, but I always find it refreshing. Second and closely linked to the latter, American politics is weird. Its byzantine complexity of primaries, caucuses and electoral colleges may be a thing of constitutional beauty, I don’t know, but it’s as if the American people are locked in a complex game they can’t win, but enjoy playing. The people at NAHT conference, for instance, are loudly critical of their politicians, but engage with the political process with an enthusiasm that I don’t find with similar campaigns in the UK where there is a much greater mood of resignation.
I think it was W B Yeats who described Ireland as having a ‘terrible beauty’, but he could have been speaking of America too.
I’m going to try to try to upload some photos.