Concrete blocks, police flashing lights, national guards in fatigues and armed, security is maximum Wednesday morning in downtown Washington, where Congress votes on a second historic “impeachment” of Donald Trump.
Ghost town for several months following the health and economic crises and then anti-racist demonstrations, the federal capital is now the reflection of a country on edge, under tension, still shaken by the events of January 6 at the Capitol.
The National Guard, an internal military force, now protects the premises with armed men, bulletproof vests and combat uniform. The elected representatives of the House of Representatives are locked there to decide on an indictment of the Republican president, the second of his term.
Striking images, dozens of soldiers spent the night inside the Congress building, still sleeping on the floor in the rooms and corridors even as elected officials arrived.
The Capitol is surrounded by a security fence, just like the White House since last spring and the demonstrations that followed the death of George Floyd, a symbol of police brutality against black Americans.
Washington, federal capital which has become a vibrant metropolis in recent years, bears the scars of the successive crises of the past twelve months.
While wandering there these days, it is difficult to distinguish the boards of restaurants closed by the pandemic from those of buildings protecting themselves from violence.
“This is my first time (in downtown Washington) in over a year, and usually there are people everywhere. It’s very, very quiet. I almost think (the city) is just a shadow of itself, ”says Jaime, a mother from Maryland who declined to give her name.
The city of over 700,000 inhabitants is no more than a shadow of itself.
Schoolchildren who came from all over the country to visit American institutions now stay at home, as do foreign tourists. The ball of officials and lobbyists in suits and ties in the streets of downtown is also over.
The platforms of the impressive tubular concrete metro stations are also depopulated.
“The city is essentially deserted,” says Nadine Seiler, 55, who has been demonstrating every day since the end of October near the White House, in favor of anti-racist causes.
According to her, “usually (Washington) is very stressful, but now it’s like everyone’s gone on vacation”.
“It’s all over”
As in the rest of Western countries, the trend in the city is to telework, especially for employees of the IMF, the World Bank and federal administrations.
Museums, free Washington institutions, have also been closed since March.
Mayor Muriel Bowser has also recently widened the restrictions so that restaurants can no longer serve indoor customers.
Rare more or less sophisticated terraces have thus sprung up along the sidewalks to adapt to the new situation.
“The Christmas market (…), the crowded bars, it’s all over,” laments Timothy Bartholomew, a resident of Arlington, a town near the state of Virginia.
According to the specialized site Eater, nearly 70 restaurants have already had to permanently close their doors in Washington since the start of the pandemic, and it is common to see wooden planks stuck to windows.
The increase in economic precariousness is also palpable in the streets with the lengthening of queues at soup kitchens, or the proliferation of tents for the homeless around the main boulevards of the city center.
The spring anti-racist rallies also transformed the center of the capital.
Demonstrators now meet at every event on one of the main thoroughfares leading to the White House, renamed “Black Lives Matter Plaza” by Democratic City Hall, with “Black Lives Matter” written on the same the ground in giant yellow letters.
It has become a place of walking but also of celebrations. This is where Washingtonians, overwhelmingly committed to the Democratic Party, loudly came to celebrate Joe Biden’s victory in the November 3 election.