In all honesty, I don’t even know where to begin. I feel like every time I sit down to write an entry, my brain feels mushier than the last time I tried to engage it. Everything in DC still feels like it is on hyper-drive, and I cannot believe I have been here for three weeks already. I generally work from about 9:30AM until about 6PM, but this week, I have stayed nearly every day until about 7 or later, meaning I normally get back to American at about 8 or 8:30PM. Then I eat some sort of deliriously unhealthy food, hang out with my room-mates/hall-mates for a while, maybe check out some event happening in DC, and then finally make my way to sleep around 1 or 2AM. And yet, there still does not seem like nearly enough time in the day to get at least half of the things done that I want to. I am still about three weeks behind on emails (checking and sending), do not get to attend half of the events or speakers that I want to, and have yet to find considerable time to study for my LSATs or GREs, as any time not spent doing something noted above is likely spent doing extra research after work so I have a clue as to what is going on during the day. If this is the real world, can I please stay in college a bit longer?!
That being said, I would be lying if I did not say that I kind of really love it. There is something charming about the pace of Washington, D.C., and something incredibly satisfying in feeling like you are doing work that will have some sort of meaning in the lives of others. And that is what my internship feels like primarily: meaningful. It is packed primarily with policy and law research (which for a wonk-in-training is pure heaven), but the knowledge that the research will actually go to informing a policy position, maybe sway a Representative to support a bill, or just inform another makes all the work seem incredibly worthwhile. And don’t even get me started on how much the actual full-time GLSEN’ers work! Seriously, I was so certain that I wanted to do policy work once I completed school, but watching them makes me wonder if I could ever work at that level. A large part of me thinks/hopes I could, but a small part of me can admit to being frightened at the level of work and commitment necessary to not only work, but succeed in such a field. The entire GLSEN public policy office is comprised of my new heroes. They are nothing short of amazing.
This week, two major things happened in my office. The first is that the Dignity for All Students Act (or DASA for short), passed the New York Senate, meaning that enumerated non-discrimination laws will enter into law, as long as Governor Patterson signs the bill. This was a huge moment in our office because GLSEN (along with several other organizations) had championed the legislation that had failed to make it through the NY Legislature for nearly a decade. Now students in New York will be protected, by law, from discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression. Hopefully similar federal legislation, like the Student Non-Discrimination Act, will be as successful in the coming months. The other major office event was the White House Pride Event, held this past Tuesday. Though I am sad to report that I myself was not able to attend the shindig, five students and student advocates, along with a guest, attended on behalf of GLSEN. Those who went were some of the most inspiring people I have had the pleasure meeting, though if anyone reading this can do me a favor, please search the name “Sirdeaner Walker” for me. If this woman does not become your new hero after reading her story, you may be a bit crazy.
I had Friday off this week, which I pretty much spent sleeping. I am sure that is how I will be spending the remainder of the weekend. I really want to do more exploring of DC, but frankly, I am absolutely conked out. I hope it did not show too much in this entry, but if you would like me to go in further detail about my week, or if you just have any questions, please feel free to shoot me an email. It may take me a couple of days to locate it (Rollins is switching email servers soon), but I promise to respond as promptly as possible. I cannot wait to see how I can apply what I am learning in Washington at Rollins though, no lie! Hope all is well and until next week!
I should begin by admitting that this blog was typed a bit hastily, after a day that I am certain that I have yet to properly process. It stands in contrast to my originally typed blog, in that it focuses primarily on a single event and may just be even more introspective than I originally intended to share. In some ways that makes me terrified to share it; in other ways, that unease lets me know that I should.
As most of you know, I am in Washington, D.C. in this summer through the generosity of the Johnson Family Foundation and Rollins College. I know those who selected me for this opportunity will say that I earned it, but frankly, this experience, in its two weeks, has already more than exceeded anything I might have earned. Right now, my being here is a blessing, pure and simple. Thus, my summer has become centered on living up to that blessing, and making sure that those who have offered me this opportunity know how grateful I am for it. In that vein, I decided to spend my Saturday volunteering at the local LGBT community center. The DC Center is an LGBT community center that provides services ranging from support groups to youth outreach to social gatherings. It is just shy of a decade old, but in that time, it seems to have had a significant, positive impact on many lives with the D.C. area. During DC Pride, I attended two events there: a screening of a powerful documentary, Translatina, which details the lives of transwomen in Latin America, and a panel entitled “Queers in the Media,” which I spoke of in my previous entry. Both were amazing experiences, and when I heard they were looking for volunteers to help them move to a location, I eagerly signed up without a second thought. Beyond being an opportunity to make some new friends outside of my schoolmates at American University, I thought it be a great way to become more involved in the LGBT community while I was in Washington, outside of my internship at GLSEN.
The area in which the community center is located, both its old and new home, is an area in transition. Some would call this transition urban renewal; others might denote it as gentrification. What is clear walking down the street is that it was an area left to deteriorate for quite some time. Many of the buildings are covered in graffiti, and the McDonald’s a couple blocks down is staffed with a city police officer, an indication that it has seen its fair share of crime. The store fronts are a blend of new chic businesses and old dwellings that would make some unfairly question their safety. But beyond this transition, there is one certain thing to note about the area: it is drenched in history. Once a haven for the Black community in DC, it is the home of the African-American Civil War Memorial and famous eateries like Ben’s Chili Bowl. The revitalization of the community sheds light on the injustices it has previously experienced, at the hands of officials content to let it decline for decades, but it also speaks of the promise it holds moving forward. The area, at large, still seems mostly populated with Black residents, a community at times unfairly deemed as homophobic. Yet during the time I volunteered, I saw no less than twenty queer couples, of every shade and diversity, walking down to streets, with no fear of reprisal from others. Beyond this promise, the question of whether the numerous Black-owned businesses housed in the district will survive the transition is left unanswered however. That being said, while the areas changes are a mixed debate, the greater question often left unspoken is what will be lost? What history will vanish, as old dilapidated buildings will be replaced with lofts and new business buildings? This was a question I found myself grappling with as my day of volunteering with the DC Center moved forward.
The DC Center was established in December of 2002; at the time of writing this, I had not has the time to research where its first offices were located, but I know that it was at its current location for approximately six months, with the building recently sold to make way for condominiums. In the years prior to that, the building served as one of the homes to the Whitman Walker Clinic, one of the first clinics in the nation devoted to serving LGBT individuals living with HIV/AIDS, and remains one of the most noted organizations focused on LGBT health and health advocacy work. The building also served, for the past few months, as the home to the Washington Blade, one of the nation’s oldest LGBT publications after 41-years of circulation. This history was one learned in only a day of volunteering; who knows what other stories I will never know of it. Written on the wall, however, were words that can probably do the space more justice than I ever could in pages of ramblings. A simple message was left by the director of the DC Center, which read:
This is a sacred space, and no bulldozer or condo complex is ever going to change that. I will not forget the people who came here and discovered for the first time that they are not alone. I will not forget those who came to act up and fight AIDS. I will not forget the men who came to this space to face their AIDS diagnosis in the early days, or the volunteers who came and helped clean and bathe them. I will not forget the children who now have a home because they were adopted by gay parents who came here for help. I will remember the Transgender Day of Remembrance and every time we gathered here to mourn our dead. I will remember the hope and courage of every activist who came through doors. I will remember the amazing ability of our community to come together in times of crisis, and I will find a permanent home for our community some day, so that we never have to walk away from our history again.
The DC Center was housed at 1810 14th Street NW, Washington, D.C. for only 6 months, but the history of that space had belonged to the LGBT community for far longer. It was a place of comfort, a safe haven for those living with HIV/AIDS. It was also, by that very same token, a place of loss, a place of sadness, a place of mourning for lives lost too soon. Above all of that, it was a place of perseverance, of strength, of life. At the end of the day, after all of the boxes and furniture had been moved to the Center’s new location on 1318 U Street, a small, informal welcoming ceremony was held. Glitter had been spread around the old location and into a path to the new home of the DC Center. All of the volunteers gathered around in a circle, gathering up a tiny bit of additional glitter, touching it to our hearts and stating our names, so all the souls still left at the location knew that they still had a home, that they were still loved, missed, and thought of. It took my every fiber of my being not to cry in that moment, in part because I just didn’t think I had earned it, only having visited the Center twice before this day. I cannot profess to that same will now, as I type these words, bleary-eyed and shakily, because even if I never knew them, I feel connected to these people now, to that history, in a way I doubt I fully comprehend yet.
Washington, D.C. is a city saturated in history. Every block, every street corner, has a story, one that has likely extended far beyond the city itself. The area where the DC Center was located had a history with multiple narratives. After volunteering there, I know that the history will not go forgotten by those who lived it, who breathed it. However, as the building will soon be knocked down, and replaced with likely over-priced condos, I cannot help but wonder what will be lost with the physical space. Will it be less tangible when the markers of that past are demolished? Part of me is also sad that I could not have shared more in that history, but I am eager to be a part of its future and present. During the move, everyone was the definition of high-spirited, and as 80s synth-pop blurred through an iPod dock, mood was almost celebratory as a legion of volunteers moved boxes an put together Ikea furniture. More than twenty people came out to help throughout the day, with more filtering in and out with well wishes and promises to volunteer in the future. Two friends that I met at American also accompanied me to help out, and getting to know them better made the experience seem like a bright new beginning, rather than a conflicting end.
There are so many stories from this week left untold! And so much I have learned that I wish I could convey, to the point that I am considering starting a bi-weekly blog on Blogspot to detail this experience. If I do so, I will happily forward the link along in an upcoming entry. If not, I may just have to warn you that these entries may continue to be on the longish-side, and thank you profusely for having the patience to read them. One thing I know for sure is that this experience is only just beginning, and despite the fact that it is flying by at the speed of light, I already feel changed. I cannot wait to see what comes next!
The only appropriate way I can think to sum up my first seven days here is, “WOAH!” What a week it has been! Never in my life has there been a period that seems to have gone by so fast, and yet the beginning seems so long ago. It is almost daunting to this that I have only been here a week, given just how much I have had the opportunity to do and all the things I have gotten to see. So for the benefit of organization, I figured it would be best to break down this little entry into three segments: my thoughts on DC, my thoughts on my internship, and my personal thoughts and observations. Excuse me if there happens to be any overlap.
Though my internship program at American University did not start until June 7th, I was fortunate enough to arrive in Washington, D.C., on May 29th because of another amazing opportunity I was able to take advantage of due to Rollins College and the Office of Multicultural Affairs—attending the 2010 National Conference on Race and Ethnicity (NCORE). The first thing I was struck by when I got here was how easy Reagen National Airport was to navigate (yes, I say that with all seriousness). It took me no time to find baggage claim, and within about 15 minutes of landing, bags were circulating around the claim. I quickly found one of my pieces of luggage, then patiently waited for my largest bag to come round. And then I waited. And then I waited some more. In slow, yet certain shock, I realized my suitcase was missing! I immediately went to contact the airline, maybe a little too immediately, because the woman working the desk was pretty quick to tell me to just wait a few more minutes, that it would probably show up. It took me another 20 minutes of waiting before she too realized that it would not. After several minutes of searching, we realized that another person had likely picked up my bag by accident, as it was nearly identical to there’s. We contacted the owner of the lone red suitcase still at the claim and wanted for her to call back and confirm that she had picked up the wrong bag. I learned a valuable lesson that day—always make your luggage look distinct when traveling. Even brightly colored suitcases will not stop you from losing your bags by accident. My uncle’s suggested that no matter how tackily you distinguish it, at least it will not end up missing!
I am fortunate enough to have family in DC, so my excitement at being in the city was somewhat positively tempered by my excitement to see my relatives. Like all good families, they are a touch on the crazy side, which makes them all the more loveable. My uncle showed me around the city a bit, and I was mesmerized by the thousands of motorcyclist who seemed to populate the city in honor of Memorial Day. Though I did not get to spend the full day in the capital for it, it was a bit somber yet beautiful to be in the nation’s capital for Memorial Day, and the weekend proved an appropriate introduction to my summer in the city.
After spending about a week in National Harbor, Maryland, for NCORE, I returned to DC on Saturday, June 5th, and moved into American University. My roommate for the summer, fellow Rollins student Louisa Gibbs, had dropped off her bags before I arrived, but we both noticed the third bed awkardly crammed into the room, which we both wrote off as an extra bed clearly there for the fall. After setting my bags in my room (the airline delivered my lost luggage eventually), I traveled around the city to find linen and a few other necessities for my room. As you will come to find out over the next few paragraphs, I adore DC, but here begins one of my few little issues with the DC. A simple store like Target or Bed, Bath, and Beyond, generally constitutes a trip all the way to another segment of the city, meaning it is less than convenient. Maybe I’m just fortunate enough go to a school where there are several Targets, Wal-Marts, etc. all within a 20 minute drive, but closest store of that kind is about a 50-minute trip on the Metro. Luckily my cousins were able help me navigate around the city and purchase my needed items. I arrived back at school and began making bed up around 10PM. At 10:20PM, I discovered that the third bed in the room was not just a prop until the fall. It was actually where our third roommate would be sleeping. Fiona, a graduate student from the University of the Pacific, rolled through the room like a sudden gust of wind—unexpected yet refreshing. We made quick introductions and she then regaled me with tales of her perilous journey from the airport. It became clear that the summer was going to be just that bit more interesting with three people sharing such a compact space. The next couple of days were spent getting acquainted with the city. DC is nothing short of gorgeous. Sprawling, fittingly regal in stature, and scenic, just walking around the city is a pleasure, which is convenient, given just how much walking one does in Washington. There seem to be an infinite number of parks to mellow out in and an endless number of memorials, big and small, to stop and view. Every inch of DC seems imbued with some sort of history. The best purchases one can make in the city is a pair of comfy shoes and a Metro card. And speaking of the Metro, here lies my only other distinct issue with Washington thus far: the escalators to the Metro train. Seriously, I kid you not people, these things are steeper and longer than most drop-downs on a roller coaster at your local theme park. They are absolutely terrifying to be on, and you can never quite decide if you should just stand on them and patiently wait to get to the bottom, all the while staring down a steep incline, or if you should briskly walk down the escalators, tightly gripping to the side, to try and speed along the process. Why DC? Why?!
I know I am in DC in large part to complete an internship, but I barely know where to even begin in that recapitulation. So much has happened so fast, and I have not even had that much time to process any of it. On Monday, we had our AU orientation, and while I was originally enrolled in the American Politics course, I quickly transferred into the Journalism and New Media program after discovering the amazing slew of speakers we would be seeing and information we would be attaining. Plus, the professor turned out to be a Rollins alum, Gil Klein, who has been in journalism for over 30 years (and was a former editor of the Sandspur). I totally knew it was meant to be as I sat in the National Press Club and watched former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft speak on a slew of topics during our lunch. Next week we are meeting CNN White House Correspondent Ed Henry if you needed any further proof as to why the Journalism and New Media program was clearly the right fit for me.
On Tuesday, I began my internship at the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN), an organization the works to create a safe and inclusive environment for all students, particularly K-12, and foster greater respect for all communities. And here is where I kind of stumble for ways to describe my first week there, because it went by in such a flurry that I am not quite sure yet what to say, other than that it has been AMAZING! It has pretty much eptimized on the job training, as I have already had a chance to sit in on some pretty important meetings, attending a coalition meeting of some of the most noted LGBT advocacy organizations, including Taskforce and HRC, and been assigned several sizable projects. It has been a gulf of information and new knowledge, and I promise to expand on it so much further in the next blog, where hopefully my head has stopped spinning from fantasticness of it all!
I have just realized that I am approaching 1500 words in what was supposed to be about a 700-word post, so I will try to speed through the portion of this entry dedicated to my thoughts and observation. Basic thoughts: woah! Basic observations: holy crap DC is amazing! More complex thoughts are sure to come, particularly since this week was Capital Pride, and I am gearing up to walk in the Pride parade as we speak. And before you even question how, just know, that it is about the most appropriately “Ashley Green” in this whole post: I am walking with someone’s campaign. Yes, you read that right. I have barely been in DC for more than a week, and I am not only already working on someone’s political campaign, but I am also walking in a Pride parade because of it. It is good to know that some things will never change, right? Attached a few photos to hold you over until the next post! Hope you enjoy and thanks for reading!