What We Talk About When We Talk About ‘This Town’

22 July 2011 Ð Washington, D.C. Ð Local residents cool off in a public fountain in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington. The region has been hit by a heat wave with temperatures over 100 degrees fahrenhe... 22 July 2011 Ð Washington, D.C. Ð Local residents cool off in a public fountain in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington. The region has been hit by a heat wave with temperatures over 100 degrees fahrenheit and heat indexes of close to 120 degrees. Photo Credit: Kristoffer Tripplaar/ Sipa Press/weatherfeaturekt.030/1107230033 MORE LESS
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Hey, Sam Youngman.

It’s me, someone living in D.C. who eats, sleeps, and breathes American politics for a living. I’m taking a break from having my own opinions validated on twitter (or whatever it is you think I do all day) to respond to your recent Politico piece about working in Washington.

Let me tell you a little bit about myself.

Unlike a lot of folks you describe in “Take This Town and Shove It,” I actually have roots here in the DMV.

My parents like to tell me that I’ve been riding the Metro since I was in a stroller. In the ’80s, they were black activists who used old school organizing tactics to make their D.C. community safer and more livable. They believed in the power of people and good government, which is probably why I decided to get involved in politics in the first place.

I’ve been in D.C. for a long time, so I get it. I’ve seen the things that have already been called out in your piece, in Mark Leibovich’s This Town and countless others. I’ve seen it all: the insidious cronyism, the smug self-importance, the Beltway bubble. I’m not saying it doesn’t it doesn’t exist. It’s a problem, and you (and others) are right to point it out and call it what it is.

However, did it ever occur to you that there is another side to the story of D.C. politics that isn’t totally steeped in arrogance and “who-do-ya-know?” schmoozing?

Sure, this town has the insufferable political types everyone hates, but it also has an entire rich history of young people, people of color, radicals, and queer folks who have been involved in the political process since the beginning. The D.C. grinders, movers, shakes and doers who make up my political scene are all but absent from your piece. Do we not matter?

You may not see us, but we exist in D.C. too. We’re just as big a part of “this town” as the men and women you attempt to take down a peg in your article. But by ignoring us and assuming that the smug white men in suits typing furiously on Blackberries are the lifeblood of this city, you’re actually just showing that you’re one of them. You’re showing that you’ve already bought into the idea that “they” are the important ones, the ones really worth paying attention to, the ones who really matter in this city.

How familiar are you really with this town you’re trashing? Have you ever been to an organizing meeting at St. Stephen’s Church? Or spoke with anyone from Empower D.C.? Or attended a skill-share at the Washington Peace Center? Did you have a chance to speak with any of the immigration organizers who teamed up with local activists to fast for immigration reform on the National Mall last week? In fact, when was the last time you found yourself East of the river when you weren’t on Capitol Hill?

I can’t help but think that maybe if the people who are so convinced that D.C. politics is one big douche-parade left the Hill every now and again, they might change their tunes. Maybe you’re the one stuck in the Beltway insider bubble, not everyone else in D.C.

When it comes to the writers grinding out hate-piece after hate-piece about the climate of D.C., campaigner and DMV native Joan Sipps puts it best:

Do these people ever leave NW? Or hang out with D.C. natives? Or recognize that D.C. don’t actually have a vote in Congress? Or show up to civic association meetings? Pay attention to our local politicians, who are amazingly progressive and pro-social justice? The D.C. bashing always seems to concentrate on folks from out-of-state here for national political reasons, and ignores the utter disenfranchisement of the native population. Maybe folks who hate D.C. just need better friends.

Before you write another piece trying to call out the D.C. political scene, I’d like to formally invite you to come back to this town you dislike so much to meet some of my friends and colleagues who look nothing like the insufferable politicos you describe. We’re part of this town, too, whether you write about us or not.

This piece was originally published on Medium.

Bridget Todd is a political strategist, educator, writer and community organizer. Her writing on race, politics, and culture has appeared at the Atlantic, the Huffington Post, Jezebel, BuzzFeed, the Aerogram, DCentric, Racialicious and several other outlets.

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