In September of 1973, I moved to Washington, DC. It was my freshman year at George Washington University and I was excited to be in the city where so much was happening. In high school I had helped to create a mock political convention where we debated issues that were important to us, like the war in Vietnam, and had our local Congressman as the keynote speaker. I had also campaigned for George McGovern and some local candidates.
I was in the crowd in front of the White House the night of the Saturday Night Massacre, and I attended the Gerald Ford confirmation hearings after Agnew resigned and Ford was chosen to be Nixon’s VP. Even during the height of Watergate, the Presidency was still a respected institution, and while I disagreed with many Republicans, they were mostly decent and patriotic. During his first speech as President, Gerald Ford declared “our long national nightmare is over” and we breathed a sigh of relief and believed him. I worked in the White House for four years, including Ford’s entire time in office. One of my most prized souvenirs of my time in DC is a personalized letter from President Ford, dated before the 1976 election, thanking the staff for working so hard for him and our country. I may not have agreed with him personally, but he was a decent, patriotic man.
In the years that followed, I moved to Southern California, but I continued working to achieve equality for women, including the right to control our own bodies. I volunteered on local and national political campaigns, and I went to Ohio to canvass for Clinton in 2016. The results of the 2016 election were devastating.
Today, for the first time in decades, I walked the streets of Washington, D.C. In many ways the city is the same one I remember, but it is also very different. Streets that used to be filled with tourists are now closed and blocked by the Secret Service. I walked past the back of the White House, where a helicopter had landed, and I knew that another “impromptu” press event, undoubtedly filled with spite and untruths, was being conducted. There don’t seem to be too many decent or patriotic Republicans anymore. But I know that this city is also filled with activists who are working every day to call attention to the crimes committed by the current administration. Many people are fighting the hate and bigotry that Trump and his ilk encourage. Like my good friend “The Accidental Activist” many people have been inspired to turn their shock and anger at the result of the 2016 election into activism, and they are making a real difference.
Hopefully, someday soon, this “long, national nightmare” will end, too. My hope is that all of the people who were moved to action by the injustices of the last few years will remain engaged. There are numerous problems to be solved. Women’s right to choose is slowly being eroded by state legislatures. People of color, and trans people, are still much more likely to be imprisoned or killed than white people. Religious bigotry has always existed in our country, but now it is out in the open. We all sometimes need to take a sanity break, but my hope is that political awareness and civic engagement will become the new normal, and it will be considered an act of patriotism for Americans to work to make the United States what Ronald Reagan (another mostly decent and patriotic Republican) called “a shining city upon a hill”, a beacon of freedom and opportunity for refugees, and a country our allies can once again depend upon.
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