As I join the crowd of people approaching the Metro station at 8:30 on a Monday morning, I realize that I’ve become one of the people I used to roll my eyes at; a DC young professional. Growing up in DC, I always saw these types, heading downtown in waves, and wondered what their experience of DC was and how it differed from mine, knowing that many of them weren’t from Washington. Many people come to DC for work, to the point where it’s more unusual to find a native Washingtonian than it is to meet a transplant. I’ve realized that there can be some misunderstandings about what Washington, DC is from people who haven’t lived here. However, my city is not just monuments and tourists. It is not just federal government and Congress. It is a living, breathing place with people trying to go about their lives.
Buildings like the Capitol are symbols of our country and frame the DC skyline. But what truly makes up DC are people like the young girls who beautifully created art on our office chalk wall.DC is also filled with ironies and frustrations coming from the weird balance of power that is a result of our status as a federal district, with congressional oversight of our laws and a lack of representation within Congress. This is compounded by ever-present inequalities such as de-facto segregation, gentrification, and struggling public schools which all negatively impact the diverse cultural and socio-economic population. So, no; being here for a summer, or a year, and visiting trendy neighborhoods for brunch and happy-hour while interning on the Hill are not sufficient for gaining perspective on this enigma of a city.
This lack of understanding has left me feeling protective of my city and more aware of the shortcomings in my own understanding of it due to being raised in a middle class, mostly white, neighborhood in Northwest, Washington. These contemplations have been deepened by my interactions with staff at the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Six members of the Coalition staff are from DC, and those that are not all demonstrate a great understanding and desire to learn more about the city. I have greatly appreciated the thoughtfulness and dedication to thinking specifically about how domestic violence shows up in DC that the Coalition continuously addresses. They constantly strive to fight against the systemic issues of the city to develop projects and resources that are accessible, relevant, and effective for all the diverse communities in this unique place. This commitment to the people of DC pervades all the work the Coalition does and has taught me new things about the place I’ve lived my whole life.
Dedication and passion for serving a specific community is an essential part of advocacy and activism, a point that has been driven home to me this summer. The Training and Outreach Specialist at the Coalition, my supervisor, is especially important in this dedication as she balances various activities from training new survivor advocates, meeting with community partners and organizations, and going into the community through leading workshops and tabling at events, just to name a few. I have observed the differences in how conversations about domestic violence occur in different settings and how engaging meaningfully with different populations on this difficult subject involves being mindful of their lived experiences. The balance of being mindful of those around you and transitioning between settings is valuable to learn for any profession, but especially for advocacy and social work. I am excited to bring some of the passion the Coalition holds back to my endeavors at Brandeis, and I hope this experience acts as a reminder that there is always more to learn to deepen our understanding of the world around us and the places we call home.