Without a doubt there is a thrill about it being only 10:20 in the morning and already being finished with work for the day. Three hours of toil with the car and the camera, and $105 and a stiff neck later. Not so bad for a day\’s work. If it were every day, however, my opinion would likely be different. Lordy, $500 a week without anything involving sex, drugs, or rock\’n\’roll — I\’ve never made that much money. Some days I doubt I ever will. And yet, in this area, the cost of living dictates that one must earn at least $1080 per week at a forty hours a week job with benefits in order to stay above the poverty level in this area. That\’s a salary of $56,000 a year.
My SO and I (plus his child support and the two months out of the year we see his daughter) get by on about $66,000 a year before taxes, and we eat ramen in huge quantities because we can\’t financially afford not to. There\’s no savings in this neck of the woods, but there\’s plenty of debt (student loans). The man has a Ph.D., for chrissakes, and still gets paid for shit. Technically, I, as someone with only her GED to her name, get paid more per hour. I have a friend with an MA who can\’t even find anything other than $10 an hour temp work. But none of us are complaining, not really. On the other side of town things are worse. Much worse.
Since this summer, the city has finished boarding up one of my favorite DC neighborhoods. It\’s a little development called East Capitol Dwellings, near Capitol Heights, which I have written about many times. Since the above was written, the housing development has been vacated of legal residents, every window and door have been boarded up with red tackboard, and the entire community has been fenced in with six foot high wire fencing. Of course, those precautions do little to keep people out, and every other building has a broken in door or window as a result. People are still living there, despite the fact that the government wants them gone. Maybe some of the neighbors do, too. Maybe they agree that knocking down the buildings and turning those acres into \”District-Maryland Gateway Housing\” condos for middle income residents is the solution. How is that the solution when many of the turned out residents are low income and now homeless as a result?
This is just a corner of the total neighborhood, one which covers several blocks, as one can see from the pink shaded areas on that map. The location of the neighborhood is strategic to DC\’s plan to revitalize itself. It strategically sits on the eastern-most Maryland border, and unlike the private homes on the surrounding DC streets, the land and buildings on it are DC owned. Formerly low income public housing on what was deemed to be a prime piece of real estate, the buildings are now set to be destroyed and condos built in their place. DC\’s mayor and the city council hope to use the property to lure suburbanites back to the city — \”Look, it looks like the suburbs, but it\’s in the city! Lower your commuting times! Be closer to downtown! And most of all, bring your tax dollars back to us and out of Prince Georges County!\”
Perhaps one of the most disgusting points about this plan is that the city government is pointing their campaign for this land not toward people who have never lived in the city, but instead to former District residents who left for PG County over the past two decades. People left seeking a better education system, lower crime, safer neighborhoods, lower property taxes, and modernization of public amenities. Much of PG County isn\’t much better than DC in any of these areas, but hey — the grass is always greener on the other side of the city line. Keeping that principle in mind, the Mayor and co. are attempting to lure current Maryland residents right back into the hell hole — except now with updated public amenities and homes and higher home owning costs! Nevermind that something like 40% of all of DC\’s homocides occur within two miles of this neighborhood: DC wants you back, baby!
You know, if people forced me out of my home in order to provide housing for people who have more money than I do, I\’d be pretty damn mad, too. I\’d be even more rascist and classist than I am now and I\’d definitely desire all the material perks that seem to make the richer people have both all the power and all the luck. I\’d blow my credit on nice clothes, feed my family on cheap fast food, lease an expensive new model car, have satellite tv, a cell phone with all the perks, and live in public housing. I probably would have dropped out of school even earlier than I did. For sure I\’d have at least one child from my womb pulling on my sleeve and demanding a new Lance Armstrong bracelet. I\’d resent the new neighbors with their money and their easy living, and I\’d really resent the way they look down on me and visibly fear me. I\’d teach my kid to hate the new neighbors and everything about them — the color of their skin, their education, their jobs, and their seemingly secure futures. I\’d hate myself for not having what my neighbors have, and I\’d hate the people and situations that made it possible for my neighbors to have it. I\’d fearfully guard what little I would be able to call my own, and if the government or the creditors say I can\’t have it anymore, then damn straight I would trash the place or the stuff that was being threatened: maybe if it\’s fucked up they won\’t want it, \’cause they don\’t want me — they\’re trying to get rid of me — so I must be like that, I must be fucked up. Well, fuck all this. They can\’t take what little I have. I might even feel the need to protect my territory and kill because of it. I don\’t know. It\’s never been that bad for me. I don\’t know what it would be like, truly. I do know, though, that just driving through the streets of this city makes me feel just the tip of the taste of the homocidal rage it would take to run someone over just because of the way they look and act in a neighborhood they are in. Just out of empathy. If it were first hand, I can just imagine — I can just barely get an inkling of what it would feel like.
One night, back in the winter of 2001, I was walking after dark in the vicinity of 10th and U Sts NW. Now a haven of the epitome of gentrification, the area then was still largely burnt out, poor, and black. I had just moved back to the DC area, and was walking around a little bit lost. Out of what seemed like nowhere to my naÃ¯ve self, a man (who in retrospect was either very drunk or very mentally ill) grabbed my arm and said \”You don\’t belong here; go home!\” This shook me to the core. In my mind, I hadn\’t done anything to deserve that. Four chronological years and a century worth of DC history now under my belt, well goddamn, I agree with the old bastard. Whitey, get the fuck home. Except I have nowhere to live except where others who are different from me have lived before me. Oh, the horrible conundrums a little too much understanding will bring…
Over the years I have met this lady a few times; she seemed pretty nice. Very determind in her beliefs, but kind, intelligent, thoughtful, and sensitive. I\’ve not had a deep acquaintance with her, admittedly, but we mixed in the same groups for a while. I left due to having too many unanswered questions and unsettled issues about intent. Anyway, so this lady, she\’s something of a professional protester (except she\’d balk at the word professional), definitely one of the more internationally famous names among the right circles. At the moment she is currently focusing more of her time than usual on the issue of the what is now formerly the Randall Shelter in Southwest DC. She\’s instituted one of her hunger strikes (hunger striking when you\’re a vegan is a whole other thing than David Blaine-style fasting) to show her solidarity with the issue. I am not picking on this woman personally, I just don\’t understand or agree with her convictions. She used to be homeless and now she is an advocate for the homeless (among other things). All good so far. The thing I don\’t gel with is that she fights for and creates commotion for the advocacy of homeless shelters and against neighborhood gentrification — gentrification being something that is largely responsible for the closing of homeless shelters, as well as for displacement and homelessness — but the last I knew, she was living in Mount Pleasant, a neighborhood who\’s white gentrification began as early as the early \’90s. Again, it boils down to race or class, as well as race versus class. In this city, if you\’re white and you don\’t have much money, there is no place you belong. Group homes where the residents are young, mostly working class white people are seen as the very cusp of gentrification\’s start. Unless you have money and can afford to live in a long standing white upper-class neighborhood, you seemingly have no place here. You could feel the white guilt and therefore live in a gentrified or soon to be gentrified area, then spend some of your spare time giving back to the community you helped take over (and I don\’t mean by patronizing the local watering hole, and I don\’t mean by advocating to keep liquor licenses available in the neighborhood, either), or you could just ignore it. Most people do the later. I can\’t even bring myself to do the former; I feel so much guilt (and my family has lived in DC since the 1800s, goddammit!), that I feel like the only way I\’ll feel okay about the color of my skin is by moving to Austria or Scandanavia, but the thing is — they don\’t want me, either. \”Madam, take me in, let me be your friend. Won\’t you take me in? Let me be your friend. I\’m a lonely boy; I ain\’t got a home. Woooo-wooo-wooo-woooo! Wooo-wooo-wooo-wooo!\”
By the way… , I\’m answering your requests: I\’m leaving Livejournal. I\’m going to turn this and the other journals into RSS feeds. Easier to manage. Compose a death knell for me, would ya? I demand obits!