First, and foremost, let me urge anyone in D.C. who’s registered to vote here to do so. Even if you don’t care who wins the council seat, there is a referendum question on the ballot that is an important one to address. It concerns the District’s ability to decide how to use the money, such as tax revenue, that it raises.
Currently, we are at Congress’ whims for all our budgetary concerns. Regardless of how you might feel about the Founding Fathers’ opinions about D.C. governance and our representation (or lack thereof) in Congress, it seems only fair that we should have some autonomy in setting our own budget priorities. You know how everyone’s talking about how sequestration will affect various government bodies? D.C.’s one of them. When the government threatens to shut down all non-essential federal agencies? That includes D.C.’s libraries, because Congress gets final sign-off on our entire budget. An argument could be made that it is fair that the national government should oversee the District’s use of federal funds. However, it is harder to see how it’s fair that they dictate how we spend the percentage of our budget (roughly 70%, by the way) that comes into our coffers via our own sources of funding, such as local taxes. Voting yes tomorrow on the referendum will indicate that residents of D.C. would like and expect to receive that same privilege that other local governments take for granted.
Harder for me to offer insight into is the at-large council race seat that’s being contested. This is the seat that opened up when Phil Mendelson won election to council chair, which in turn was vacated by Kwame Brown in a corruption scandal. So at its heart, this election should be about ethics. And, at least on the surface, it is. All the current contenders bandy the term about. If we eliminate the candidate who’s already dropped out (but who still remains on the ballot and, thus, will take at least a certain percentage of the vote), we’re still left with six candidates, four of whom are running in the District’s de facto single party. (more…)
I’d like to offer up this David Wilcox classic in honor of Small Business Saturday:
It’s probably good to remember there’s an East Asheville equivalent in so many of our shopping avenues, so make sure you hit Politics & Prose or Powell’s before you go to Amazon or Barnes and Noble and your IGA store or farmers market before you head to Stop & Shop or Trader Joe’s. Yes, you’ll probably still have to do some shopping from the big box (or big site) stores, but it doesn’t have to be your first choice. And buying local and independent when it’s an option really does matter to a community: studies suggest that money spent at independent businesses gets reinvested in the community 50-100% percent more often than money spent at large, non-local chain stores.
So, a day is a good start. It’s definitely better than not shopping locally at all. But why not make it a predominantly Small Business Season if you’re able?
I admit that I was worried about this election. So many ways for it to go so wrong. So much at stake. So long we’ve been hearing about it. I felt worn down by it all and stressed. And I didn’t really want to be worried in public, even among friends, even after a massive infusion of sugar. Which did not make me good company when I found myself hanging out at a bar watching election returns.
But if I’d stayed home, I would have missed out on being part of this:
The impromptu crowd at Lafayette Park, just north of the White House, on Election Night, shortly after President Obama clinched a second term.
Four years ago, we were in a car, heading home after Barack Obama won the presidency, when we found ourselves caught up among revelers heading toward the White House.
This year we got off the bus by the White House and became revelers ourselves, four (Rudi, John, Nicole, and me) among hundreds of jubilant voters.
Two years ago Rudi and I switched to eco-friendly toilet paper.
Last year we made the move to bring our own bags to the store (and were reinforced in January when D.C. began to charge you an extra fee per disposable bag at the store).
This year I’m going to make the long-overdue effort to stop using disposable cups. I own several travel mugs and a number of places we frequent offer ceramic mugs for sit-down service. I need to make better use of those options and not accept as many throw-away cups as I do.
Did you make any green resolutions today, the 40th celebration of Earth Day?
If you don’t live in the area or follow the news, you might not be aware that there’s currently an international nuclear summit going on in D.C. I admit that the first I’d heard of it last Sunday and I live here, so don’t feel bad if you didn’t know.
Visiting dignitaries are nothing new to our nation’s capital. Important people routinely caravan across town, pausing our lives with their motorcades. However, a simultaneous visit from nearly 40 heads of state and another dozen VIPs from around the world is another magnitude above and beyond what even locals are used to.
Obama is holding the summit at the Washington Convention Center, which is located about half a dozen blocks from my office (which is also four blocks in the other direction from the White House). Last week, word began to leak out about road closures. Then we learned there would be a secure perimeter. Some businesses located within the fencing were opting to close for the duration of the summit in order not to lose business. Residents of the housing project located along one edge of the perimeter would have to turn out their bags and pockets every time they want to return home.
This was not going to be your everyday Washington meeting. [Editor's note: D.C. or the District is what locals call the area where we live. Washington is used to refer to the federal government or by people outside the region. It is frequently said with scorn or disdain.]
By Friday, our building was astir and managers instructed employees to check the hotline before coming into work today. The helicopter presence ramped up on Saturday and at this point their whir is omnipresent. The boosted police force in the metro and on the streets became noticeable with blue or black uniforms, flashing lights, and sirens becoming commonplace.
I thought I was prepared until I stepped outside by my office this morning. There were cars parked at every corner for blocks in order to stop traffic at a moment’s notice. The streets were laden with dark SUVs (which, it turns out, have been rented by the Indian media). National Guard vehicles were posted along the outside of the perimeter along with dump trucks filled with sand. A squadron’s worth of police officers seemed to be on every corner.
So much hoopla was associated with this event that when I left my office at 7 to discover the building swathed in yellow police tape and the road closed just outside that I wasn’t surprised. I saw a protest walking down the street next to ours and assumed the two events were related. Apparently not. The local media is reporting that a cyclist was somehow struck and killed by one of the National Guard vehicles as it was pulling into place to block the road for a motorcade to pass through. The details are few at the moment, but it is a terribly sad thing regardless.
I hope good things come out of Obama’s summit because certainly nuclear weapons are a serious problem requiring intense discussion. And I appreciate that the topic and the quantity of heads of state from around the world dictate that a high measure of safety precautions are imperative and take precedence over our desire to get around unimpeded. But it does make me wonder if maybe a large conference call or online chat might be a better option next time.
ETA Tuesday a.m.: This morning’s sad email informs me that the cyclist was a colleague. I didn’t know her personally, but we often lunched at the same time upstairs. My thoughts go out to her family.
As of this morning, March 3, 2010, any two unmarried, unrelated people, regardless of gender, will be permitted to apply for license to wed in the District of Columbia. Marriage ceremonies will be performed starting next week.
In the fall, D.C. held public hearings on the bill. The room was packed and the speaker list was so full that it was necessary to devote multiple days to the topic so everyone could be heard. Rudi was one of the final speakers on the first night, when he gave an extemporaneous speech about why this issue is so important to us and why we wanted to see the legislation pass. We generally break down the household chores by talent and predilection and, as such, public speaking falls to Rudi.
But in retrospect this was an important enough issue that I wish I’d gotten up to add my “me too!” to those in support of the bill.
I’d like to think I would have said something along these lines:
The world can be a big and scary place. If you’re lucky, you have friends who make it a little smaller and more manageable. And if you’re really blessed, you might meet someone who shrinks it to the size of two hands clasped together and who banishes fears in their embrace.
I am supremely fortunate to have met the person who does that for me. And I’m even luckier that when we had those early, earnest conversations about marriage that he understood when instead of promising to say “I do,” I said “I can’t.”
Don’t get me wrong. Legally there are no impediments to our union — not in any of the 50 states nor in D.C. But for me there was a higher moral question of participating in an institution that discriminates based on the genders of those involved.
Rudi is a romantic, but he’s also a good guy. He understood my reasoning and since has embraced it as his own. We have made the choice to remain unmarried even as friends whose relationships are far newer have legalized their unions.
The landscape of marriage equality has evolved over the last 15 years, though, offering us the hope that this will not always be so. Yes, there are still far too many people who stridently stick to antiquated definitions and who barricade themselves behind Bible verses. But I have now sat through hearings in Connecticut and D.C. and I hear from fewer of those whose rhetoric stinks of hate. Instead they have been replaced by more voices, particularly younger ones, who question why outdated discrimination remains on our books and who actively seek its removal. The definition of marriage has been expanded in several states and looks to become law here now.
Yet, Defense against Marriage Acts exist in far too many states and in federal legislation. My gay best friend and his husband do not get the same federal benefits that my straight best friend and hers do. My brother and his partner can’t wed in their home state, and although I have extended an invitation to come to D.C. for a wedding, my brother correctly points out that there isn’t much point when their union would essentially be dissolved when they return home.
So D.C.’s new law will not change things for me and Rudi. We will continue on as we have, but with more hope in our hearts. For every California and Maine that is foisted on us, there is a D.C. or Iowa or Massachusetts offering a glimpse of what is to come. And someday soon, it will be laughable that such discrimination ever was part of our history.
Government doesn’t often get the opportunity to help make people happy. Sometimes it’s able to alleviate pain and suffering, but joy generally falls outside its purview. But today the D.C. Council has the rare chance to declare loudly and for all to hear, “Love matters to the District of Columbia and its residents. Today we write into law that happiness does not turn back at the city’s boundaries and is a possibility all couples here can embrace equally.”
Opponents of love tried their best to stop D.C.’s bill from becoming law. They appealed unsuccessfully over and over again to the Board of Elections and Ethics and to the courts to try to force a California- and Maine-style ballot initiative. They lobbied Congress to use their power to usurp Home Rule. They padded the public hearings held back in the fall. They used intimidation, threats, and subterfuge, but all for naught. In a little more than four hours, love will be proven the victor.
I’m so proud to be a D.C. resident on the eve of this hard-fought moment. My heartfelt thanks go out to those who fought the day-in/day-out battles to get this legislation (and earlier bills that helped pave the way) passed and to those who testified on its behalf at the Council’s public hearings in the fall. I am especially grateful to Council Member David Catania and his staff, who refused to retreat to the back of the bus on this issue and instead chose to fight ignorance, discrimination, and hatred with facts, information, and love.
Everyone has heard about $1,000-a-plate fundraisers that get held in Washington to raise money for political parties, candidates, or causes. But what makes the District such a great place to live are the smaller, more personal instances of philanthropy.
This shot is from Martin Luther King Day:
These women arranged a bake sale to raise money for Haiti in the wake of the earthquake. They and their young boys (I’d guess five and seven years old) were selling chocolate chip cookies, brownies, and cups of cocoa (complete with your choice of marshmallows or whipped cream) from a card table they set up on their corner. They were doing such brisk business, Rudi and I had to split a cup of hot chocolate because they ran out while pouring our first cup. (The boys were inside refilling the carafe when Rudi went back to take the shot for me.)
The women remarked to us that this was the first time they’d done this kind of thing, but they were spurred to action by hearing about the devastation. They said they were blown away by how responsive the neighborhood had been to their fundraiser.
I’m not surprised at all. That’s the kind of city we live in.
The grammar question I raised last week elicited a lot of comments, so I thought maybe we’d see what you all have to say on another topic:
Many of you have collections of one sort or another — books, yarn, music, movies, games, art, ephemera, memorabilia, etc. How do you keep them from taking over your space? How do you store and/or display them to their best advantage?
Rudi and I have started seriously considering this question and we’d love to hear how others have dealt with it. Share your thoughts in the comments.
On Tuesday morning, unless something crazy happens, the D.C. Council will vote to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. Tomorrow afternoon, the mayor plans to sign the bill into law. Provided Congress doesn’t act in the following 30 days to countermand it, come late-January, D.C. will join Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Iowa in being the most forward-thinking places in the nation when it comes to marriage equality.
It is a long time coming, but the victory is now close enough to savor. My fears of Congressional intervention are not unfounded, but conversations with Council staff members over the weekend suggest that I might be worrying for naught. I hope they’re right.
On the day the D.C. Council introduced the legislation, The New York Times made a compelling case about why this issue is so important, not just here, but across the country and at a federal level. “The High Price of Being a Gay Couple” points out that the extra costs a same-sex couple in a committed couple accrue runs into the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars over the course of a lifelong relationship. This includes everything from health insurance costs to pensions to the legal costs associated with safeguarding children, power of attorney, and inheritance in the event of a health scare or death.
The law won’t even the playing field for all couples. The national DOMA law still forbids same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits, such as Social Security, that opposite-sex spouses take for granted. But it is a step in the right direction. Just as interracial marriage opponents today are considered ridiculous, I expect those people in Maine and California who voted to put hatred into their law books will be pitied for their intolerance 20 years from now.
Change is coming. It is slow, but it is coming. And I’m pleased that the District is on the right side of that movement, helping to turn the tide.
I’d like to thank all the activists who worked tirelessly on this issue in the District; the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, who twice ruled that citizens did not have a right to put hatred into a ballot initiative; Council Member David Catania, who introduced the bill and had research and answers for every argument that some bigoted person or group brought forward; Council Member Phil Mendelson, who chairs the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary that moved the bill forward to a full Council vote; and the other eight Council Members who are expected to vote for the bill. This law means so much to Rudi and me, and we are going to be tremendously proud to be District residents tomorrow.
As of 1 a.m. on the morning after the election, you’re letting this New England girl down. I hope late-reporting districts and absentee ballots will show you to be a more compassionate people than the early returns suggest you to be.