An unusual hash tag caught fire on Twitter this week. It followed headlines by some of journalism’s most respected names, but was too offensive for the site to list it among trending topics. I’ll cast aside my opinions on censorship, but I won’t take my pride off the shelf when I say I’m glad Twitter didn’t promote it.
The tag was coined by Jeff Jarvis, a City University of New York journalism professor, as a means of channeling the country’s anger over the debt ceiling negotiations into one big middle finger pointed right back at the Washington monument.
Some tweets that conclude with that tag include: @psychnurseinwi: “for having the compromising skills of a 3 year old.” And @tamadou: "for giving yourselves special benefits and telling the American people they have to suck it up or they're selfish."
I’ll echo one of my colleagues who came by my desk Monday morning, arms actually flailing, and said: “Why Washington? What did we do? Why not just blame Capitol Hill?”
And I’ll take her exclamation point eyebrows a fold higher. Why should we blame Capitol Hill, or any community for that matter, for the stubbornness of our leaders? John Boehner, Harry Reid, and tea party freshmen were not elected by the citizens of this city -- (I mean please, D.C. voting rights? Dream on.) -- but by the “everyday” citizens of the United States.
The ivory tower stigma around Washington is nothing new. I carried a bit of it with me when I first arrived. I grew up in the South (my parents actually met after my mother’s dairy barn burned down and her family was forced to move to the big city of Raleigh), and I cut my teeth for journalism in the Appalachian mountains and on the South Side of Chicago. If you had Googled me this time last year, you would have found a site full of these stories and a sidebar explaining my impetus for exploring the lives of the so-called “real people." I thought the solutions they invented for solving social problems had more relevance than those mandated by politicians who were far removed from the plight of the common man.
Fortunately, Washington is a city, like all cities, where identities and opinions are broken and reformed. I know now that the everyday, grassroots, down-to-earth -- whatever you want to call those people -- they live here, too. This city is combating the country’s highest AIDS rate, the gentrification of its historically minority neighborhoods, failing public schools, and a 9.8 percent unemployment rate. A woman sitting next to me on the Metro on Tuesday told me she had promised herself that one day she would get off at the Smithsonian stop and see the museums she’s been missing during her 40 years of working in this city.
I find the people working on Capitol Hill to be no exception. A young Hill staffer may be Washington’s version of Joe the Plumber. Many staffers I call friends came to this city as college graduates, unemployed and lost. They landed jobs with congressmen, became transformed like me, and would now lick envelopes until they lose the sensation of French kissing if only to make constituents feel they have an opinion that matters.
Maybe our anger shouldn’t be focused on Washington, but on the identity crisis in our electorate, which switches from right to left every two years like a pendulum gaining catastrophic momentum. That is the country where states are so split on the left and right that they are either legalizing gay marriage or signing up for E-verify to target illegal immigrants. It is easy to scapegoat when the crisis is internal, but I would caution those who damn a city in a hash tag without acknowledging that its successes or failures are merely X-rays of the country’s innards.
So beginning later today, readers and tweeters, I will show you what makes this city great. I’ll show you the everyday people on Capitol Hill, who, like you, are working to see a country united and back on track. Follow me at http://www.nationaljournal.com/livefromthehill and @jujedwards. Don’t worry, I won’t stoop to the level of the profane tweeters I met this week. I’ll keep my Washingtonian formality: I respectfully disagree, and I’m here to show you why. If you’re convinced, throw in: #loveyouwashington.