What I saw in Washington, D.C.

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I will be writing about my perspective on the political implications of the November, 2016 election in other outlets, but the shift in the country is having many personal impacts that I will be writing about in the coming months.  I have been dismayed by the racism, xenophobia, misogyny and anti-lgbtq sentiment on display in the last few months, the blatant use of power by ICE and CBP agents, stopping individuals from places like Australia and even the former Prime Minister of Denmark at airports (not that these types of stops are new). The weekend that the first executive order on immigration was released I barely slept – but quickly realized that I couldn’t keep up that kind of pace. We are in a marathon not a sprint. I’ll have to pick my battles carefully and not get caught up in every issue where I have some expertise.

My last trip to D.C. was in 2013 for Barack Obama’s second inauguration. Since then, the country has, of course, gone through some major changes that I could not have foreseen at that time. I expected a very different place when I took a quick trip to Washington D.C. in late February. This trip was for a meeting at the American Political Science Association, and I was curious to see what the atmosphere would be like under the new administration.

I arrived early evening to my hotel and immediately headed to one of my favorite restaurants near Dupont Circle for some dinner. I rarely watch TV news, I tend to listen to NPR, but CNN seemed much more relevant as I sat at the restaurant bar in our nation’s capital. CNN was reporting on the breaking news that Reince Priebus had asked the FBI to discount the reports that Trump’s campaign had contacts with Russian officials. As I sat enjoying my meal, I couldn’t help but overhear a group of twenty-somethings discussing the political situation.  I chatted with them for a bit, sharing our interest in politics, and the need to understand populism and racism in the current climate.

The next day I made my way to the White House and was surprised to find it surrounded by fencing and no trespassing signs.

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The obstructions are there ostensibly because of the inauguration, but this is the longest it has ever taken to tear down the stands and construction after the inauguration. It also conveniently keeps protestors away from the White House. I did find the peace protestors who have had a long-standing presence near the White House and they explained the situation – the Park Service has been accommodating, but they are subject to the dictates of the White House. It does not feel like the people’s house anymore. I’m glad I was able to visit with my boys while Obama was still President.

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Later I met with friends who talked about how the helicopters used by Trump and Pence would “buzz” the bike paths and I even noticed how the helicopters would fly low over residential areas – under Obama the helicopters would do their best to fly over the Potomac and avoid residential areas and the park. Friends who work in government agencies are concerned that they still don’t have agency heads, don’t know what will happen to their funding, and are concerned that programs that provide a lot of bang for the buck will no longer be funded, hurting the U.S,’s standing in the world.

These are the small changes that don’t get into the news – but they have great impact on those who work and live in DC, and ultimately, the way our government functions. We need to pay attention to all of these changes.

2013 gets off to a fast start – some thoughts on our democracy.

I can’t believe January is almost over — it has been a crazy, hectic month.  We are getting ready for the kick-off of our partnership between my fitness program Take Back the Trail and Southwest Key; our new women’s group, Austin Women for Political Action had its first meeting; one of my main areas of research, immigration, has become a very hot topic (see my other blog immigrationtexas.org); and on the academic front I have a bunch of writing projects to get done in the next few weeks.  Whew — it seems like every major project I have been working on for the last two years has come to a head this month!  It’s all good, just a reminder that I’m always juggling too many things at the same time.

In any case, I was able to attend the presidential inauguration in Washington this month as well, which was a reminder of the vibrancy of our democracy.  It was really nice being in the crowd, and the weather was much warmer than 4 years ago, when we were able to watch the parade from the comfort of a local law firm’s building. I spent the week in DC, attending various events and I gave a talk at GWU on my latest book project on antidiscrimination policy in Europe.  Being in DC for the inauguration was like being in a bubble — so much was going on, but it was only in DC — the rest of the U.S. and the world was going along normally. The gun control issue was at the top of the agenda while we were in DC, and as someone who believes in common-sense gun control laws (i.e., the public doesn’t really need access to military hardware) I was a bit surprised that it didn’t make it into the President’s inaugural speech, but he touched on many issues which are important to me such as gay rights,  immigration, climate change, and supporting the middle class.  One of my favorite lines was “The most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is still the star that guides us.

As the debates on gun control, immigration and other issues unfold over the next year, it will be important to respect the opinions of all sides, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak out on issues that are important to us. As a political scientist, I understand the complexities of policy making, but as a mother, I have to speak up for myself, my children and those I hold dear. Our democracy functions when, “WE THE PEOPLE” are engaged, involved and pay attention to what our representatives are doing. As President Obama so eloquently said, “We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.”  The stakes are high — this is an important time for our country and we all need to be informed, as much as possible.  I began this post with how busy I am, and I will generally focus my time on the issues that are in my area of expertise, like immigration, but that doesn’t have to be to the exclusion of all other issues.  It doesn’t take that much time to write a letter to your congressperson (glad to know there are more women in congress!).  Not everyone has time to be involved, of course, but every little bit helps…IMG_0926IMG_0929IMG_0922