Many people have spent their entire lives attempting to rise above the government. When Max Cawley and I stepped off the Metro at the Mount Vernon station every day last summer, we didn’t have any illusions of a grand rebellion or a gallant and dramatic coup d’etat. We were only going to work. Those who attempt to unseat and fight the “powers that be” generally envision angry protests filled with hundreds of picketers shouting political rhetoric. It could be said that what we did was protest, but it would not appear that way to the people who saw us on the streets, walking in hundred-degree heat from apartment building to apartment building. They would have said, “Look at those two nice boys walking around our beautiful nation’s capital.” That is not what we were doing. Max and I worked for a small social outreach organization called We Are Family DC.
Where rebellion lies in this will become clear, but first you need to know where we worked. In the Shaw neighborhood of Northwest Washington, a paradoxical community exists. It is one that has both been irreparably damaged by the inner-city’s drug culture and infinitely strengthened by its rich cultural history. Shaw has a reputation for being one of the worst parts of Washington. In recent years, however, developers have gentrified the area, erecting scores of upscale apartments and condominiums. The result of this gentrification has been brutal for those in Shaw who live near the poverty line. Low income citizens cannot afford the cost of the new housing. This is half of what our organization does. We help those in less-than-ideal housing situations in an attempt to better their circumstances. The other half entails those living in low income housing that has not been encroached upon by development. Many cannot afford to adequately support themselves from day to day. Of this many, the majority are elderly, and may not have any close family members to support them. In any case, these are the people We Are Family helps. We deliver groceries, visit senior citizens, fix air conditioning, anything the people need, we do.
The work is not the hard part. The simple act of providing these services is usually quite fun and unceasingly rewarding. The hardest part is the Capitol building. Curse that place. As I sit in Mrs. Simmons’ apartment, listening to an account of her work as a secretary for President Kennedy, and her contribution to the Civil Rights legislation, I can see that building. It can see me too. I am white, male, young and middle class. Can it see Belva Simmons? No. She is black, elderly and female. The arrogant white dome stares right through her as she speaks to me. It sees nothing of the revolutionary woman who can’t buy groceries week to week. It sees only the boy who doesn’t need its help, the boy who is supposed to grow up like all the other white suburban males, the boy who is to be federally funded, educated and ultimately integrated into the society created by the suits in that dome.
I rebel because of a dislike for what this government can do. For its blindness, and even for its bigotry. When they presume to tell us that they are for us, but leave so many in the dust, I have trouble respecting their policy.
Here is my rebellion. I will see Belva Simmons, Hilda Reynolds, Margaret Guthrie and Alma Williams. I will even see Mr. Funez and the Essa Family. That is the rebellion. By seeing, and helping, as an organization, we become infinitely more powerful than that white building, if not to the whole world then surely to the people we see everyday. To the people we do not judge, to the people to whom we smile, embrace and assist. This rebellion is not a battle. This rebellion is a grocery delivery.
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