The DC I remember

First of all, please read this article in Slate by Christina Cauterucci, “What DC residents continue to endure“.

This post is not a neatly threaded essay about what happened in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021. For the last ten days, I’ve been glued to Twitter, trying to process everything that has transpired, trying to get through one day of work at a time, and I can’t. My mind is like soup that has spilled all around the kitchen floor.

There is Washington, and there is DC. It’s good to know the difference. Washington is the intrigue of politics, Capitol Hill, talking heads, suit and tie. DC is a real, moving, breathing city, where people of all races and backgrounds live their lives. DC is barber shops and tailors. Community gardens and rowhomes. Restaurants and coffee to go. A place where complaining about the metro and Maryland drivers is a pastime.

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Community movie night in a park near Chinatown.

I left DC in summer 2019, but already I fear I don’t recognize it anymore. Anyone who’s lived in DC knows how intense the level of security is. In 2013, I worked next door to the Capital Hilton, a fancy hotel on the same block as the White House. Our office got a message from the downstairs concierge: to not leave the building from the back for the next two hours. Joe Biden, the then VP, was coming to the Hilton for an event. Everything was locked down. It’s common for streets to be closed down suddenly and abruptly by police cars, police on motorbikes, black vans, until three sleek black limos zip by and you realize you’ve just witnessed the presidential motorcade.

I attended President Obama’s second inauguration in January 2013. It’s funny because I would have been considered a Republican then. I grew up sheltered in the church, in the suburbs of Georgia. But when I won a ticket in the free public lottery draw, I screamed and jumped up and down in the work bathroom. It was so cold, DC in January, and security was so tight. We went through at least two metal detectors and body searches. I brought a bottle of water and a plastic bag of cold, already hardened pancakes to munch on. When I saw Obama for the first time, my legs started shaking, and not because of the cold. “He looks so much taller in person,” I told my coworkers the next day, “and his mouth is huge.”

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Because I was in DC for most of my twenties, so much of my time there was defined by vanity. Chasing after the glamour of Washington. I applied and interviewed for jobs at the State Department. I went to networking events and unironically asked people if they could hook me up with jobs at organizations like Brookings. I left a full-time job with benefits and a 44K salary to work at the World Bank, which provided no benefits and paid 29K, because it would look better on my resume.

But I was also a part of DC, too. There were so many firsts: living in a group house with a rotating cast of roommates, always intelligent, driven young women who were too good for their jobs and too good for their boyfriends. Knowing the local Asian stores and markets inside and out. Translating for elders at events hosted in the city’s deteriorating Chinatown. Going to after-work drinks for the first time and learning how to order at a bar. Living upstairs from a lawyer who worked for the Hillary Clinton campaign and knew how to make aptly worded threats to get our landlord to actually fix stuff. Taking classes at the local improv.

What else was DC? It was security checks on the ground floor of almost every office building, send your bag through the x-ray machine, put your phone in this separate tray. It was a coworker who picked me up in her car after my wisdom teeth surgery. Two guy friends who helped me move from Point A to Point B on the same block and stifled their giggles because they thought my new roommate’s brother was cute. It was arguments erupting amongst three self-important twenty-somethings over who was the point of contact for the Ambassador of Kosovo. It was cyclists who believed the rules of traffic didn’t apply to them. It was tired commuters half-asleep in their seats on the bus, sneakers paired with a nice skirt. It was construction workers, security guards and white collar office workers all waiting for the same sandwich at Wawa. It was a Thai-American therapist, an Indian-American dentist, a Black tailor, a Salvadorean hairdresser. All of us living our own American dream.

DC was built by and runs on the labor of people of color. DC was built by and runs on the labor of Black folks. I don’t need to be there to know that they have been on the front lines of the pandemic. And now they’re on the front lines of an insurrection. Cleaning up after the people who dream of returning us back to the days of slavery and Jim Crow.

Taxation without representation for 700,000 people. This issue could not be more urgent. DC needs statehood. We need representatives in the House and Senate who can actually vote. We need the ability to control and deploy our own National Guard. We need Congress to take its hands off our local budget and off our local laws.

We need for this bullshit to end.

2 comments

  1. Thanks for your post. The day before all hell broke out at the Capitol, one of my daughters accepted an offer to study at GWU next year. We are both excited by this prospect but the BS, as you call it, definitely puts a damper on things. Your insights are appreciated.

    Like

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