Washington, D.C., is suffering. In sociology we talk a lot about symbols; when the District sent out an upside down flag on the cover of the 2014 D.C. Voters’ Guide, it was a perfect example of a symbol.
What a telling mistake to make; D.C. is, indeed, in distress.
Many people on campus talk about wanting to change the world but ignore changing the capital of the free world — their own backyard. We claim we value diversity — racial, socioeconomic, religious, sexual orientation — yet with each passing day, the people who make this a diverse city are forced to leave.
You can do something about this. You can take ownership of this city, which belongs to all of us. It’s time to wake up.
Income disparity in the District is among the widest in the United States. According to the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, the top 5 percent of households in D.C. have incomes over half a million dollars and the top 20 percent averaged $284,000. Compare that with the average income of the bottom 20 percent at $9,900. Try living on $10,000 and you will wonder, who is D.C. really for?
Family homelessness rose 25 percent last year — a clear indication of distress. Your fellow residents are in cars, couch surfing and in D.C. General shelter, the nightmare of a family shelter out by RFK stadium. The sprawling facility was formerly a public hospital and shares the immediate neighborhood with an STD clinic, the D.C. city jail and a detox center — needless to say, not the greatest place to raise a family.
The only difference between a homeless person and you is a home, which is inherently linked to affordable housing.
The latest numbers out of the D.C. Department of Corrections show 91 percent of those currently incarcerated in D.C. are African-American, 93 percent are men and only a little over 50 percent say they have a high school diploma or GED. But these people face few job prospects when they get out, and none of them are bad people. They were born as cute babies, just like you, but grew up in circumstances where the odds were stacked against them. Nobody wants to live a life of self-destruction.
D.C. residents need a great education (like you had), living wage jobs (like you likely will have) and affordable housing (on that, all bets are off if you stay here).
You are here the better part of four years; D.C. is your college town and as our nation’s capital: It really is your city. We have an obligation to take care of our capital. We have to ask ourselves, “Who is in charge? How did we let this happen?” We must hold our government accountable.
You have power. Back in 2012, the pundits said the millennials would not turn out to vote, and yet you did — you swayed the election. If it hadn’t been for the young adult vote in the battleground states, the election would have come out differently.
I urge you to look at the D.C. Voter’s Guide and vote on Tuesday, Nov. 4, at the Duke Ellington School at 3500 R St., NW. As a resident of the District, all you need for same-day registration is a Georgetown University document verifying you live in a residence hall, a bank statement, utility bill or lease with your D.C. address.
Your fellow students are working to get that easily available to you by Tuesday. Two of your classmates, Kendyl Clausen (SFS ’16) and Reed Howard (SFS ’17), are sticking their necks out and putting themselves forward as candidates representing our Advisory Neighborhood Commission. There are over 7,500 undergrads on this campus. You have a voice and a moral imperative to use it. By voting in this election you will be counted among those who care about this city, and that will give you credibility and legitimacy when you demand change.
Before you stay home next Tuesday, think about that great Alice Walker quote, “Activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet.”
Sarah C. Stiles is a professor in the department of sociology.