Opinion: Sympathy —and a Challenge— to Local Leaders

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DC residents look through the 7-foot fence at National Guards on the US Capitol Grounds, Jan. 17, 2020. Photo: Andrew Lightman

Dear Capital Community News Community:

A few quick thoughts on our local situation, white supremacist insurrection, increased military presence in our town, and the role and burdens of our local leaders.

First, a word of sympathy and support for all those [Advisory Neighborhood Commission] ANC commissioners, especially the new ones, other community leaders heading a variety of non-profit and public organizations, and businesses facing so many complex decisions in 2021. We know that few people on our ANCs, managing local businesses, or working in non-profit or government spheres accepted their positions with a clear vision of what this new year would bring. We appreciate your on-going work as well as your attention to additional burdens of 2021.

In particular, I extend deep appreciation for the efforts of 60+ ANC commissioners, including a number who are brand new to the job, who came together across the city to urge DC government to “take all possible steps to prevent another invasion of armed insurrectionists and protect DC residents, particularly those facing increased risks such as
individuals experiencing homelessness and service workers.” Their joint letter of Jan. 11 was discussed on We Act Radio’s “Community thru Covid” on Jan. 13, and is linked here: “Responding to Insurrection: DC Locals Call for Action.

Thanks also to the new DC Council and all who tried, prior to J6 [Jan. 6], to draw attention to the needs of regular DC people, especially those in vulnerable service professions, to precious and vulnerable locations like BLM Memorial Fence and Black churches, to those experiencing homelessness, and to those most at risk from white supremacist rampage.

With the sympathy and support comes a word of caution and plea to all who wield power, of whatever form. We, all of us who live or work in DC, are counting on you to make life-and-death decisions amid the pandemic and the white supremacist insurrection. This means you will have to be sensitive to a variety of perspectives, especially from those most at risk from COVID-19 and dangerous white supremacists. Leaders must take even more care than usual to consider a range of life experiences, when making any decision.

Young people talk to elders; older folks, speak to younger people. Seek opinions from people differently-abled than you: people who do not hear or do not see or cannot run or find it hard to breathe under normal conditions. Newer residents, speak to those who’ve been here longer, and long-timers check with your new neighbors. Straight and cis people consult with queer and trans folks. White people, especially, make sure you are listening extra hard to Black, Indigenous, and people of color. It may not be what you thought you were signing up to do, but it’s the job now — as it is for all of us. It always was, but the stakes are more immediate today.

Virginia Avniel Spatz

Virginia Avniel Spatz was a regular contributor to Capital Community News [the Hill Rag/East of the River Magazine] for many years and now hosts “Community thru Covid” on We Act Radio, is active in several Jewish congregations and DC’s Cross River (Black-Jewish) Dialogue, and has lived just east of Lincoln Park since 1988.