Last week, a mob incited by lies, paranoia and their own unhinged President breached security at the Capitol, we-the-people’s house, as our representatives began their task of confirming a new President by electoral tally. If you live outside the Washington, DC metro area, it might be hard to imagine the impact on the collective psyche of those who do.
“Everyone comes from somewhere else,” is a common saying about DC. It’s mostly true. Most residents were born somewhere else, a truly transient city among world cities. Elections bring people here and send them away. People who try to influence those elected come, and go. Those who learn or teach about government, or how to do the influencing, come and go. The world’s embassies bring people from farther away, then replaced by others. Pick a language -- you'll hear it. Few were born here.
And many who were born here, like your muffin none-the-wiser, didn’t stay here. (She circled back as a grownup, largely from inertia. But that’s a story for another paragraph.) At age 6, your muffin’s family drove north to Cambridge, Mass. where she spent 1st grade. Her father earned extra letters after his name, through a fellowship won through his government agency, the Atomic Energy Commission. (I know! So retro. Atomic anything.)
My mother told me years later that, when I was playing with my Boston friends on the front porch, I spoke with their accent (“Ahsk nawt …” like her murdered President had spoken). When I came inside, I'd revert to my DC-generalized-cosmopolitan accent around the dinner table, without awareness of the shift. To anyone who moved around as a kid, that likely makes sense.
We circled back to DC a year later, but moved to Chicagoland in February of my 4th grade. The Midwestern sound involves other vowel shifts by the tongue. (Also, go Cubbies! We circled back to DC a few years later, but not before the Cubs almost won the pennant, damn you, Mets.) I went to college out-of-state … where “y’all” could mean one person and “all y’all” meant more than one. The adjustments were non-stop, if subconscious. One made calibrations, culturally, phonically, scenically. (Wahoo-Wa!)
Still, I carried intermittent Washingtonian experiences within me, wherever my growing feet landed. As kids in a huge extended family, we all knew the grandfather we’d never met (died young of a heart attack) had been “Doc Donovan” of music at a DC Jesuit university – the “Mr. Shue” of TV’s “Glee” of his time. We all loved our Aunt Pat (# 10 of 11 children) who worked her entire adult life for Senator George McGovern. He had also been the Presidential candidate against Nixon during the “Watergate” election madness of ’72; he spoke graciously at both our Aunt Frances’ and Aunt Pat’s funerals – a family friend.
(I’ll go ahead and share that, through Aunt Pat and like many of our cousins, my older sister Lori and I were granted a visit with The Senator at The Capitol when we were … 7 and 8? We dressed up like for church. He took us to his Senate cafeteria, where we were offered a choice of pie. I remember alerting him that “We don’t have any money,” and that he managed to say, “That’s okay. What kind do you want?” I gulped, shook it off, and chose blueberry out of sheer terror. Lori would have to tell you which flavor she chose, my being overwhelmed by the free-pie of it all, and having to dress fancy.)
(Thinking of that Capitol visit, when not one woman had ever been elected to the Senate, I’ll share a comment from a Professor in my M.A. program. He'd assigned an essay on the experience of Aristotle’s citizenship. I had to acknowledge that, as one of his many female students, I would NOT HAVE BEEN A CITIZEN to enjoy the citizenship about which I was writing. He wrote on my paper that he appreciated my pointing that out; he'd never considered that fact in all his years of teaching. (Really? Wow, and of course. That also made sense, from inside my peer group and our thousands of years, apart and beneath his own, normalized rank of citizenship.)
(The mob of Capitol breachers last week carried ‘Betsy Ross’ flags – when neither women nor persons of color were citizens. Others carried flags of the “Confederacy” – when persons of color were considered as ‘property’ and counted as 3/5 of a person. Days ago they made the point for many of us, long after my professor’s lifetime. That females, and male or female humans equipped with more melanin, should have a right to speak, to vote, to count?) Storm the Capitol!
(The same purveyors of conspiracy theories – like those involving the recent election -- incited a lone gunman to drive up from North Carolina back in 2016 to a DC pizzeria I commuted past (pre-pandemic) twice a day called Comet Ping-Pong. The gunman himself believed paranoid sites’ ‘intel’ that this pizzeria housed “a pedophilia ring inspired by Hilary Clinton and John Podesta.” He unloaded his AR-15 inside this pizzeria to “save those children” (not real, to be clear). Can only imagine what Aristotle, or George McGovern, or my deceased M.A. professor, would say about all that.
(When I interviewed for a marketing job at one of two B2B companies in the DC-area zip-code of my condo, circa 1996, and made it to the final stage with the “genius” senior-partner at the more conservative group of the two, he observed that I worked for a trade association involving the EPA. This same ‘genius’ said: “So they dropped a bomb on (the Federal office building in) Oklahoma City, right?”
(I nodded, full of grief and some confusion. He added, “I say they should drop a bomb on the EPA,”
(at which point, in a rare instance of actually saying what I usually only wish I’d said at some point later, maybe driving home: “I think there’s a day-care center at EPA, too” …
(and I knew, as I watched those words come out of my mouth, that I would never work for him, and THANK GOD
(that purveyors of violence against all of us Citizens might do actual harm by which I mean KILLING or ATTEMPTED KILLING of FELLOW (including Representative) CITIZENS in the house where we-the-people work)
(have to say, fellow citizens of whatever gender or melanin … this citizen, induced early into this city in the year before she was ‘due’ (January 7-8-ish) which allowed her parents a tax-break, ready-or-not, at a hospital called “Columbia Hospital for Women” in the West End of DC, closed but transformed into a Trader Joe’s, with condos on top --
But I digress. Sorry, friends and countrypersons. It’s been quite the week.
After quite a 2020, for every one of us. Including those of us still aiming to become citizens of our vast united states.
Let’s celebrate the weekend honoring Dr. King, and the coming Inauguration. We made it!
Happy January 15th, all y’all and Happy MLK Day. And Happy January 20th.