D.C. in the Red

Our left-leaning capital is making some right turns

When I moved back East from Portland, Ore., I’d more or less had my fill of ”crunchiness.” The guy I moved out there with had moved on from crew cut to white-boy dreads, from Eagle Scout to drum circle. I’d become numb to women sporting facial hair as a political act. By the time I left, my nightmares were filled with recumbent bicycles and tempeh jerky.

Back in D.C., once I trained myself to stop smiling at strangers on the sidewalk (a bad habit acquired in the wild Northwest), I settled back in nicely. After all, the District is a wonderfully progressive place. Here I could have both smartypants progressives and couture. Not that I can afford fashion, of course, but I take comfort knowing that where Portland has Birkenstock and Columbia Sportswear, D.C. has Thomas Pink and Zara.

And whereas the Portland progressives could sometimes tend toward righteousness, D.C. lefties seem a bit more tempered. I credit the diplomatic vibes emanating from the State Department.

Lately, however, I find my city smelling a little ”red state.”

First, it was the Capitol Hemp busts in October. For two simple tax-paying head shops, seven arrests, confiscations, court dates? Owner Adam Eidinger is an upstanding – if mildly kooky – Washingtonian. Certainly he’s the only D.C. Green Party politician I can name offhand. (And, disclaimer, I’m a registered member of the D.C. Statehood Green Party.)

Then it was the silver Lexus driving into ”Occupy D.C.” protestors who tried to block traffic at the Defending the American Dream right-wing funfest at the Convention Center. I certainly have sympathy for the driver. (Disclaimer No. 2: My husband drives a silver Lexus. But if he allowed that thing to even graze a single hippy, he knows there’d be hell to pay at home.) There is, however, a simple rule when pedestrians and drivers have a difference of opinion: Pedestrians come first. If you have to pull over and wait for police to clear the road, pull over. Unless it’s a horde of zombies who are about to break your windows and eat your brains, just stay put. Inconvenient, yes, but also much safer. In the end, the pedestrians were the ones ticketed by D.C. authorities, and I was the one dumbfounded.

As I begin to sense a pattern, I see that there is legislation being considered by our City Council to enhance the ”prostitution-free zones.” Enhance them with city-funded social workers to make sure that sex workers are safe and have access to health services? Sadly, no. The enhancement is to give the chief of police the authority to decree permanent ”prostitution-free zones.” Considering the tense relationship between MPD and the LGBT community, I would think that the council might want to move very carefully on this oppressive measure. Please consider some of what activist Sadie-Ryanne Baker wrote about a year ago:

”Since sex work is illegal, sex workers are denied protection with basic labor practices and human rights standards. If attacked or assaulted by a client, there is often no legal recourse. Marginalized groups such as trans women are among the most vulnerable. This becomes terrifyingly clear when we gather annually for the Trans Day of Remembrance. The list of murder victims heavily features sex workers, most of whom are trans women of color.”

The District is not a red state. Demographically, you’d be hard pressed to find a ”bluer” corner of America, Portland aside. All D.C. authorities should act accordingly. I, for one, would rather see ”rat-free zones;” a statement from the D.C. Fraternal Order of Police expressing solidarity with Occupy D.C. (rather than a post in praise of tear gas); and less alarm over tax-paying businesses that do no harm. I don’t need Portland, but I certainly don’t want Provo, Utah, either.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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