For our 20th anniversary on November 16th, 2016 Rob and I took a trip to Washington, D.C. to celebrate. So, a week after the election, we found ourselves walking the streets and visiting the sites of our beautiful capital city. It’s no secret that I was feeling devastated after the general election. The bogey man had been elected president, and while I was afraid the very city which embodies democracy would be turned on it’s head on January 20th, 2017, I came away hopeful.
There were peaceful protests. I saw for myself how organic they were. Grandmothers sitting in front of the White House. School girls, too young to vote, at the Washington Memorial. People of every race and background marching down Pennsylvania Avenue chanting “The people United will never be Divided” and “Love trumps Hate.” Democracy was in action, and it was tangible.
If you’ve been in any large American city in recent years and taken a taxi or Uber, you know, the majority of the drivers are immigrants. My motto has always been, “Better to know you for five minutes, than never to have known you at all,” because I truly feel everyone has a story, and who knows what you might learn from them? One of our Uber drivers was from Ethiopia and he talked about the political unrest in his country:
“You don’t have the right to speak. If you do, you don’t know who is listening. The police came to my house and killed my brother-in-law for speaking about the government.”
He watched his brother-in-law murdered in his own home, and speculated that he’d been turned in by one of their neighbors. Then we discussed living conditions, government corruption and the inequality of wealth distribution in Ethiopia. He basically told us, no matter how bad the president-elect is, he’s still light years away from the Ethiopian government.
Another driver was from the Philippines. If you’ve only followed American news, you might not have heard about Duterte’s genocide of suspected dealers and drug users in the Philippines, and his chilling call to “slaughter them all.” Over 2000 people have been shot and killed by officers in self-defense during anti-drug operations since the president took office on July 1, 2016. So… the Filipino government is saying here that over 2000 people resisted arrest? That’s hard to believe, but it doesn’t begin to touch the total death toll. Another 3000 deaths have been recorded since the start of Duterte’s drug war. In July. This started in July, and over 5000 people are dead. Think on that. Then think on the people you know who are in recovery because they were able to overcome their addiction. Imagine life without them. Now research the methods used by the police in the Philippines, and consider, while many of these people were users (arguably already victims), and very few were actual “drug lords.” It’s genocide. The president-elect may be a lot of despicable things, and, according to Duterte, approves of his methods, but I don’t really think he’d try to get away with genocide. Even though I might think of Trump as the bogey-man (and I do, I think he’s going to be an unmitigated disaster as president), he’s got nothing on Duterte, and it took a couple of conversations with immigrants from countries experiencing unimaginable atrocities to remind me of that.
Then there were the monuments to great men who lived and led our country, in extremely difficult times. I read their words, sometimes written in despair, and found hope. Hope that things do change. Fear, selfishness, and greed do not ultimately prevail. Change happens. The journey might be painful, but rights are recognized, roads are built, the hungry fed.
These images are from the FDR and MLK memorials. FDR was commenting on the Great Depression and WWII. MLK on the Civil Rights movement. Three incredibly difficult times for American’s, and yet all of these quotes resonate strongly for me today.
And finally, there was Washington, D.C. itself. A city full of diverse culture and people, yet the embodiment of America. We walked this city and stood in awe of it. A collection of heritage, government, remembrance and hope.
Democracies are fragile, but the American people are not. I love my country and believe in it’s resilience. We will find a way forward. I will find a way forward. Most importantly, I will hold on to faith and hope.