How many times do you hear Congress, the White House or the Administration referred to as “Washington”, like it’s a catch-all term to associate it with all things that people see wrong with government and politics. I grimace every time I hear this because, for so many of us who live here, Washington, D.C. is more than just the seat of government or where national politics happen. It’s our home. Making the name of a city synonymous with such divisive views overshadows everything that Washington, D.C. has to offer. And, as we saw a year ago today, it can even be harmful.
I moved to D.C. almost six years ago, and I immediately felt at home in this beautiful but intense city. Washington D.C. has nearly 700,000 residents yet it feels like a small city. I manage to run into someone I know every time I leave the house. I love this familiarity: being close to my neighbors; knowing where the best bagel in town is (Call Your Mother); being able to hop on the Metro from Point A to Point B; and reading a book in the park while dogs chase each other and their owners catch up for their daily, post-work meetups.
I had always loved my city but the COVID-19 pandemic deepened this attachment. On March 14, 2020, I started the all too familiar “quarantine walks.” I walked from my house to the Capitol every day for almost a year. During those walks, I’d pass neighbors sitting in their front yards conversing over the fence, friends gathered in socially distanced patterns in the park, people walking their dogs, and even Members of Congress taking their evening strolls. Some nights, bands would play for the neighborhood on the corner, in the park, or in their front yards.
This probably doesn’t sound like the D.C. you’re used to seeing on television – depicted on the Netflix show House of Cards or reflected on the nightly news. And it definitely does not resemble the scene of my neighborhood on the morning of January 6, 2021.
The night before, my sister-in-law texted me that the people who were going to protest the election results by going to the Capitol had picked the park next to my house as their meeting spot. The place where I went to escape from the realities of COVID, clear my head, read my book, and take in my neighborhood would be the launching pad for a violent insurrection. Since I posted about my daily walk every evening, along with a sunset Capitol picture, I was flooded with texts, messages, and calls that said, “Don’t take your daily walk today!”
A year ago today, I came face to face with the rioters while they walked down my street drinking milk out of clear containers, maskless, looking me up and down as I briefly stood on the sidewalk waiting for my brother to pick me up. My body froze up when I realized how quickly they could turn on me, an immigrant woman of color, who represented everything they were seemingly against. They walked around like they didn’t care about the streets they had stormed.
For the next few weeks, the entire neighborhood was understandably on edge. With the upcoming Inauguration, people hunkered down even more than during the early days of the pandemic: the daily walks were paused. Even months later, we continue to have lockdown after lockdown due to threats to the Capitol and our neighborhood, leaving people who live here with a constant sense of uneasiness.
Washington isn’t just a place where laws are made or politicians bicker over legislative agendas. It’s more than the landmarks and lawmakers and drama that it’s known for. D.C. is filled with diverse neighbors and communities helping each other out in good times and bad. It’s the cozy neighborhood bar where everyone knows your name, the beautiful row houses, vibrant shops and restaurants and scenic paths filled with locals’ favorite spots.
Most importantly, to me, it’s my home. And every time we lose sight of the fact that people actually live in D.C., it seems to give people more license to want to attack it. The Capitol may be in my backyard, but the image of what I want people to have of Washington, D.C. is what it really is to 700,000 residents –– a set of neighborhoods where people like me really love where they live.