Finally feeling at home: civic duty and neighborhood pride

The author and her 7-month old at the Wilson Building.

By Adrienne Chu

I lived in DC for almost 10 years — a lifetime in our transient city — before I set foot in the Wilson Building, home of the DC Council. On Tuesday, December 6th, I found myself waiting outside the council chamber with my seven-month-old strapped to my chest so I could look our councilmembers in the eye when they voted on a landmark paid leave bill.

After more than two hours of waiting for the meeting to even begin, I remembered why I had never done this before. Civic engagement is rarely exciting.

But it does have its moments. Because I got involved in the fight for paid leave, I got to spend time with two awesome Petworth moms I met through the Petworth Co-op. Because I went to the council meeting, I sat beside another Petworth mom and discovered we live only a few blocks from each other. And because we — my neighbors and I — advocated for something we believed in, Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd cast an unexpected “yes” vote that day. I felt a surge of neighborhood pride that made all the waiting worth it.

In DC, it is easy to see yourself as a visitor, a short-term resident. I know I thought that way. You stay on the periphery, observing local politics as an amused spectator, if you pay attention at all. Even when my husband and I bought a house in Petworth, we talked about living here for only a few years, just until our kids were school age. But two kids and couple of years of school later, we’re still here, with no plans to leave.

After sitting through that meeting, holding my squirming daughter in my arms, I realized I have to give my time and energy now. I may or may not be here next year or in five years, but the policies I fight for will be, and that will make DC a better place to live for all those who stay and the new people who are always coming in. DC will be my city even after I leave, and I am happy to put all of myself into it while I’m here.

If you want to get involved, start with advocating for paid leave. The council has a final vote on the bill on Tuesday, December 20. The Campaign for DC Paid Family Leave has a great guide for contacting Councilmember Brandon Todd and the other councilmembers by phone, email and Twitter. 

Whether you’ve been here 10 years or 10 days, DC is your city. Fight for it.

Adrienne Chu

Adrienne Chu is a Tennessee native (Go Vols!) who moved to DC in 2007. She has worked as a journalist, editor, and elementary school teacher. She lives in north Petworth with her husband and two children.

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