Spring has officially arrived in D.C.—the cherry blossoms are blooming and the tourists are everywhere. As these out of town guests descend on the city to poke around the Tidal Basin and walk slowly down the Mall, tensions among city dwellers are running higher than normal.
Just the other day, during my commute on the metro, I saw a loud squabble break out between a group of large Midwesterners and a shorter, suited gentleman on an escalator. In D.C., escalator etiquette demands that you walk on the left and stand on the right. And if you don’t know these rules, you could get a pretty terse “excuse me” from someone who has somewhere to be. In this instance, politeness was in short supply, and I was taken aback by the level of rudeness displayed by my fellow Washingtonian toward obviously ignorant vacationers. Their response was decidedly not passive aggressive, neither was the suited guy’s, and so a scene erupted.
Terseness on the metro isn’t anything new, but the incident aided a realization that has been slowly gaining clarity in my mind: I immediately pegged the suited dude on the escalator as a Republican.
In my defense, Washington, D.C. is a heavily partisan place. We’ve got Republican and Democrat-heavy neighborhoods (Northern VA versus NW DC). There are partisan bars. Same with gyms and other amenities around town—some are mostly frequented by progressives and some mostly by conservatives. This city is a hard place to live and work and not fall prey to some stereotyping based on party or values affiliation. But it’s one thing to make vague generalizations about popped collars and seersucker suits, and quite another to assume all assholes on the metro are Republicans.
Unfortunately, I’m realizing I make these more dangerous assumptions quite a bit in my day-to-day life here. Progressive folk? Well, we’ve got the right policies—we care about our neighbors, believe in community building, and respect the role of government. That translates into loving kindness and respect for all, right? And conservatives… well, that’s the rude girl on the phone in the checkout line and the idiot who ran a red light and almost hit a pedestrian. I’m not saying I believe all killers and thieves are Republicans, but I’ve constructed a weird worldview where I assume the progressive thief was stealing from the rich to give to the needy. Or maybe had just caught a bad case of the conservative flu.
The most interesting part of this weird stereotyping is that it completely fails to account for my years of experience working in progressive politics. I’ll admit I’ve been watching too much House of Cards lately, but Democrats can be incredibly callous—mean, even. And some progressives aren’t smart. Obviously, just because you believe in a certain role of government in peoples’ lives does not translate into a respect for the people involved in that process.
And this is where my thoughts get a bit green, but bear with me: I think we can do more to focus on political work and policy making as an end in itself. What I mean is, putting energy into the intentionality in the work itself—not just the work as a means to some policy goal. This would likely have more of an impact on interparty collaborations than anything, but I think the strategy would go far to breakdown the prejudice we all carry about the process of actually doing policy and politics. It’s ludicrous to believe Republicans don’t care about the common good. Of course they do. A sustained focus on humanizing the people we don’t agree with might start a process of removing the barriers that lead to notions of behaviors being as partisan as votes.
None of this feels particularly earth shattering, but then again, neither is the transition to spring. One day you’re wearing a scarf and calling an obnoxious shopper in the grocery a conservative creep under your breath… and the next, the daffodils are preening and your focus is on humanity without labels.
The Pleasant Progressive