Photo from DC Students Speak.
New residents of the District are sometimes discouraged from taking part in local politics. However, it’s in everyone’s interest for more people to get involved, even if they’re only here for a short time.
I’ve had the pleasure of living in DC over the past four years as a student at Georgetown, and I enjoy being involved in the civic life of this great city. Nevertheless, in my work organizing college students through DC Students Speak, I’ve found that new residents are often marginalized as carpetbaggers who do not understand the issues facing the city.
At a DC Council candidate forum hosted by GGW in 2011, many candidates boasted about being “native Washingtonians,” making them more qualified than others for higher office. I can’t tell you how many times local political figures told me that college students don’t have a right to be involved because we are relatively transient and have not lived in the District long enough.
These arguments bolster the credentials of long-term residents and question the legitimacy of newcomers’ opinions. That’s a problem considering how many people move to the District each year.
After decades of population loss, the District is adding new residents again. Today, it has about 630,000 people. It’s foreseeable that it could go back to its 1950’s-era peak of 800,000 residents as more people move here. It’s essential that these new Washingtonians are encouraged to get involved in local politics.
The city benefits when relatively transient residents are involved in local politics. As a student organizer, I found time and time again that politicians ignored students’ concerns. They didn’t know what students wanted because my peers weren’t engaged, so they couldn’t help them. Moreover, residents from other places can make DC even more dynamic by helping to infuse the city with new and cutting-edge ideas.
Some residents don’t have plans to stay here for a long time, like students or young professionals. We shouldn’t hold it against them; rather, we should also encourage them to get involved while they’re in town. I only got to live here for four years, but during that time I took part in my community through everything from DC Students Speak to tutoring in Petworth.
The only way that DC can truly become a great city is through engaging all members of the community, so they’re interested and willing to care about where they live and give back to them in return. In the end, it’s in the best interests of all District of Columbia residents to have a more involved citizenry.
We need to move beyond the tired rhetoric of who is or is not a “real Washingtonian.” The way to build an even more dynamic District of Columbia by embracing everyone and encouraging them to join our community. After all, if they feel welcome, they might stick around.