11/29/2011 06:09 pm ET | Updated Jan 29, 2012

The Day America Died

I took a break from OccupyDC yesterday. A friend of mine, Mark Haller, came into town for a visit. Mark is active in his union back home in Erie, PA and is a big supporter of the Occupy movement. Mark comes to D.C. about once a month to check in on the occupation in McPherson Square and to see if there's anything he can do to help.

Seeing the exhaustion written in the lines on my face, Mark suggested we do the touristy thing. So we loaded up the camera gear and turned right on Constitution Avenue headed first towards the Pentagon and then onto Arlington National Cemetery. Both places I've been many, many times but Mark had never seen either spot.

Despite having been to John F. Kennedy's grave numerous times -- starting in December of '63 -- just a month after he was buried with the eyes of the world literally watching -- I was able to see it from a new perspective. The perspective of visiting it from the epicenter of the Occupy Movement in the country.

Standing on that hillside beside Kennedy's grave and having a remarkable view of Washington D.C. something struck me.

The day that the bullets ripped into him in Dallas not only saw the end of Camelot, but also the end of America as we knew it.

Watching the people come and visit the grave one day after the 48th anniversary of Kennedy's funeral, I mentally went down the list of president's that have occupied 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. What rolled through my mind startled me at first. I had lived to see the degradation of the American presidency and with it the decline of America.

Eisenhower, the president immediately before Kennedy, had famously warned Americans about the "military industrial complex". I think Eisenhower was the last president to have the cajones to speak out against the corruption that was then knocking on the door of the Executive and Legislative Branches of the Government.

After Kennedy came Johnson and the escalation of the war in Vietnam. Following Johnson was Nixon -- the personification of corruption in The White House. Then Ford, whose term was weak, bland and ineffective -- a pattern continued by Jimmy Carter.

The Reagan administration came to epitomize greed and corruption and was left unchanged during the dry spell under the first George Bush. Bill Clinton came along and helped continue the downward slide of America with the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act which effectively removed conflict of interest provisions put in place when the act was formed in 1933.

Corruption, inefficiency and greed all found a home in the Administration of George Bush the 2nd with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the bursting of the housing bubble which exponentially pushed the country on the downside of the roller coaster.

Obama? The jury is still out, but it's not looking good. The hope and change that so many citizens placed in him that cold November day back in 2008 seems to have been dashed on the rocky shores of government.

Taking one last look at the eternal flame marking Kennedy's grave, I wondered how our country would be different today if he had've lived. Walking down the path I stopped beside his brothers' graves. First Bobby's -- another life that might've made a difference if he hadn't also been cut down by an assassin's bullet; and then Teddy's grave -- a career stopped short of the White House by an incident called Chappaquiddick.

Then I wondered how could my life -- and yours -- make a difference.

Jerry Nelson is a nationally recognized photojournalist. His work has appeared in many national, regional and local publications including CNN, USAToday, Upsurge, Earthwalkers and Associated Content and he is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post as well as OpEdNews. Nelson travels the country seeking out the people, places and things that make America unique and great. Nelson currently is in Washington D.C. pointing his camera at OccupyDC and freelancing for The Washington Times, the second largest paper in the nation's capital.

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