Will Voting in D.C. Make Any Difference?


Why No One Wants to Vote in DC: It really doesn’t matter

During the primary, early elections are being held at various locations in District of Columbia, including in the extensively renovated Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.

This voter showed up early and amid all the paperwork for changing party, it still went mostly smoothly. The reason for the snag is that I was told I could not vote in the primary outside my official party declaration. So as an Independent, I cannot vote for any Democrat or Republican candidate. Another snag is the voting bulletin itself. Strangely the voting bulletin provides no information on candidates or candidate statements. Instead the District of Columbia 2022 Voter Guide pages 10-47 contain “sample ballots that will be used in the June 21, 2022 Primary Elections organized by party and ward.”

In other words, it is filled with fluff. To its credit, the Board of Elections did provide ballots in Spanish for residents who cannot read English. The back of the ballot is published also, which hardly means anything to most voters. It lists the candidates running for local party offices of their Democratic/Republican State Committee.

But without any information in the printed Voter Guide about the council candidates running, this voter wasted a lot of time thumbing through her smartphone finding out about them from their webpages! Of course a webpage is not much to go on for finding out about the candidate or how they voted. Better information could be found if one attended an ANC meeting regularly, or attended a DC Council meeting, or reviewed the council notes.

However everyone realizes that the DC Council is in the pocket of developers by now. Even favorite councilman Robert White admitted that the pay-to-play system has worked in DC’s favor as the developers do contribute to gentrified area improvements: utility upgrades, pedestrian walkways, beautification projects, bike paths, open areas, and so on. In fact, the MLK Library renovation is a grand testimony of such improvement.

However it is like Street Sense Media reporter Reginald Black once described, that these community partnerships are a bane in terms of what locals envision as real improvement—housing for the unhoused and jobs for the chronically underemployed. That is to say, private-public partnerships have a parasitical existence heavily reliant upon huge take-offs of the grants doled out in their favor. For instance, an advocacy organization with four staff will require a yearly payload in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, then add in the costs for production, bidding, and execution, and no wonder gentrification projects are often time-consuming.

Just read about the years of haggling that went into the decision-making for the City Center redevelopment project, NoMa (North of Massachusetts Avenue), and a host of other projects listed by JStreetCompanies.com or at DC.Curbed.com. According to WikipediaCityCenterDC,” the project planning began in 1982 connected with the Washington Convention Center site redevelopment. Plans were batted around for decades before the city settled for luxury condominium, hotels, and retail space complex. It gives a glimpse of the backdrop which the public is scarcely aware of, aside from the fancy Tesla car showroom.

Each neighborhood of the Washington, DC metro region, as far away as at Branch Avenue, Suitland, Maryland, developers and planners have backburner plans on how to revitalize the corridor using gentrification models such as improving transportation hubs, taking advantage of area attractions (such as museums, plazas, library) and the “hot housing market” to up the ante. This would include acquisition and redevelopment based upon undervalued buildings, with Council representatives, such as the former Councilman Jack Evans involved with the West End redevelopment scheme (later exposed at City Paper and/or District Dig).

Again, the West End Library has become a mecca for area residents and the homeless population to while away the hours sitting quietly or surfing the internet; nevertheless, with each such development, the pay-to-play lobby ensures that officially very low-income remain excluded from the “affordable housing” units in these luxury apartment buildings. Everyone knows this, and no one better than the City Council, the ANC representatives, the DC Housing Authority spokespeople, and so on—-because it’s the local government’s biggest business!

To their credit, despite the Covid-19 disaster, Mayor Bowser has given generously to the needy in the form of emergency housing, even paying for three area hotels worth of housing for the aging and homeless during the crisis. With these come free meals, cleaning services, and readier access to social workers, medical clinic outreach and placement services. It has helped thousands of people off the homeless lists over the past eight years. The outreach workers are often sincere because many are volunteering for the detail, going out in the field, performing additional work outside their normal hours. In this way, in general, the entire Council is on board with at least trying to appear to support public welfare.

Yet the notion that some are in it to help themselves is why it should matter—-holding officials responsible. A glance at District Dig will reveal that there are plenty of scandals to address—even if maybe they are only the tip of the iceberg! More importantly, is the normalization of the public perception that public welfare recipients are chattel, and that the Mayor can rule with an iron-fist, or adopt authoritarian poses in her last years in office. (It is uncertain whether she will demand a fourth term). Already, the message of the Democrats towards the poor is increasingly a “take it or leave it” attitude, and this would even include those stuck living in a tent on the street—-that they had better vote for the incumbents and not complain!

This sense of virtue-signaling and political entitlement is rife in many ways in DC. Since this weekend is Juneteenth, I realize I even have a small penance. Non-blacks or Asians become frustrated and angry with the “home-grown” attitude of many DC blacks—it’s almost a given sometimes. Yet, looking at the hidden hand behind the City Council, who are these Councilpersons beholden to?  The development and banking interests who are the creme de la creme of “white” local natives—and not infrequently of Jewish persuasion, who wield an inordinate power in the press, even right down to Street Sense Media, which spokes now include partnerships with PatchDC, DCLine, District Dig, City Paper, and grand-daddy Washington Post.

Why? Why is a small community citizen watchdog paper unwilling to allow it’s black vendors a leeway in writing their own articles, or in openly trying to censor them? Why do they consistently privilege a coterie of “competitively-granted interns” who have not even graduated from college? Only a handful of writers are exhibited, and the same cliquishness is evident in many remaining newspapers. They simply cannot admit how free-market democracy is failing the poor; they must contrive to uphold an idealistic architecture of pedigree over the poor, unwashed masses. This kind of bipolar patronizing philosophy is thriving now in almost every nonprofit organization serving the poor in DC.

The philosophy is that once you are on the receiving end, you no longer deserve to be the master of your own person. You have become possibly a useful tool, useful prop, but otherwise, easily thrown aside. There are often employees, who may even be paid foreign operatives, working to ensure that a rigid careerist mindset predominates in the company culture that dwarfs or eclipses the altruism of trying to put the needs of the clients first. The same operatives were or remain in place due to Covid, who encouraged hospital administrators to adopt emergency measures that benefited the hospital’s profit motive, first and foremost, no matter how many patients die.

That is why, even if it seems like an empty gesture, and the pollworkers may be laughing at how long it took me to decide who to vote for, it is still important to try and vote. Of course, now I know I have a lot more to do besides voting. I cannot go back to street vendoring for Street Sense Media—-the black and white dynamics were like a chasm—broad and painful. But I am thinking about that vendor in my dream trying to sell me a subscription, about Mitch Snyder, who gave his life to the CCNV—and may have been the victim of foul play.

About Reeves Center, and the miserable coming teardown it will have to endure, just like Walter Reed Hospital Center did, for the sake of more ticky-tacky luxury playtowers.

Photo by author, Robert White speaking in front of the Coalition for Non-Profit Housing & Economic Development Event in Washington, D.C. (Visit RobertforDC.com)  

Crosspost from YourHomelessBlog.blogspot.com