Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I [heart] DC Part II: Beautifully Progressive

In an effort to counter some of the DC self loathing and bashing that we sometimes observe, Mr. 14th & You and I are highlighting the positive. If you're feeling down, check out previous posts here, here, and here.

DC is wonderfully, fabulously, irrepressibly socially progressive. (Mom, you've done nothing wrong; sometimes parents raise hippies without meaning to.) What's even better than our city-wide character is that Logan Circle residents reflect these ideals.

I should be clear that I'm not a complete political party loyalist or as flamingly liberal as even my pinko commie husband (not a slur, but self-proclaimed). I dislike plenty that goes on in DC culture and politics. At the end of the day, though, I feel that this city's progressive tendencies support compassionate and responsible treatment of people and the environment such as . . .

Environmental Protection: The DC government has a number of programs in place to protect the environment. One of the environmentally friendly activities our city is most successful at is recycling. DC recently added extensively to the list of materials it will accept for weekly residential recycling pick-up. You can now dispose of almost all plastic food containers; dry cleaning bags; plastic grocery bags; and rigid plastics such as laundry baskets and flower pots. Even before the recent expansion of the recycling program, residential recycling rates for newspapers, cardboard, plastic bottles, and green bottles exceeded national averages (2008 Waste Sort Report). Many of the items not included in the weekly recycling collection can still be recycled or disposed of safely through the city dump. For example you no longer have to wait for semi annual hazardous waste disposal events to get rid of computers and TVs because DC is providing free electronics recycling. If you don't recycle where you live or work, go here for more information about how to start.

The local government involvement in environmental protection doesn't end with waste issues.
DC is now requiring that all new construction over 50,000 square feet comply with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. Foregoing revenue our city government even charges reduced sales tax on new hybrid vehicles. To encourage residents to do even more for the environment, the DC government sponsors such events as the Energy Efficiency Expo coming up on November 1. For more information from the DC government about going green go to this site.

DC homeowners go well beyond government requirements. In the recent Post Magazine Home and Design Issue a Florida Avenue, NW home was featured for its unique design and environmental considerations. We even have enough green households that you could even tour solar homes earlier this month. Parked in front of our increasingly energy efficient Logan Homes, I've been seeing an explosion of Smart Cars, which is remarkable in that they very recently came onto the US market and there is currently a waiting period for delivery.

DC business support the environment too. Reusable shopping bags have become a staple at our local stores; Go Mama Go and Pulp have a good variety available for purchase. Commissary has branded itself as a green business using clean sources of electricity. As well, in our neighborhood, there are two stores specifically focussed on environmentally friendly goods — Greater Goods at 1626 U Street, NW and Eco-Green Living at 14 69 Church Street, NW. Anyone in need of new furniture can easily find very worthwhile recycled pieces at resale shops along 14th and U Streets — Miss Pixie's, Good Wood, and Rough and Ready among other retailers.

Support of the GLBT Community: No one would argue that there is no discrimination against the GLBT community in DC. However, DC is increasingly more accepting than many other cities. We've moved well beyond having one gay-friendly neighborhood and one recognition of the gay community during a pride festival.

The 1992 DC Law 9-114, the Health Benefits Expansion Act, allows for unmarried couples to register as domestic partners. According to Wikipedia, there are only eight other states in the US with domestic partnership laws. In fact, our neighbor Maryland was unable to get a limited partnership law enacted until this year. California did not enact its first limited partnership law until 1999.

As registered partners in DC, couples, gay and hetero, are protected with hospital/nursing home visitation rights, family leave, ability to include a partner on health insurance plans, rights to inheritance, and the ability to receive alimony if the relationship is terminated.

The DC government has specifically reached out to the GLBT community. Under law, DC does not allow for discrimination on actual or perceived appearance, gender identity, or sexual orientation. The Federal Government and many states do not define nearly as many protected classes as DC does. Within the mayor's administration, we have a permanent cabinet level Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Affairs headed by ANC 2F commissioner Christopher Dyer. This office is responsible for public education, community outreach, and public policy development. As well, members of the office go out into the community during monthly events. See their schedule here.

Workers' Rights: As of this year, employers over a certain size must provide paid sick leave. What a tremendous help to hourly wage earners who otherwise might feel compelled work while ill. I, for one, do not want a line cook with norovirus preparing my food because he can't afford to miss out on pay. Nor do I want a healthcare worker with a contagious disease attending to the immune compromised. This law also provides time off for victims of violence and abuse. The mandatory sick leave bill passed despite strong opposition from the DC Chamber of Commerce and business owners. According to the Washington Post, San Fransisco is the only other US city with a similar law on the books.

DC also supports parents with a mandatory annual leave allotment of 24 hours for parental duties. Parents and primary caregivers can take time off to go to parent-teacher conferences, school graduations, and even student performances.

As well, in Washington employers must provide 16 weeks unpaid medical leave for individuals to take for themselves or an immediate family under the DC Family Medical Leave act. Here employees have the option to take four more weeks off for medical concerns than what is nationally mandated under FMLA.

Faith Communities: In this city we have plenty of houses of worship that advocate for inclusion. In our neighborhood, several churches advertise their acceptance gays and racial minorities. I have seen rainbow flags hanging on churches and as well as signs and websites reassuring that all are welcome to come worship. If you are seeking an "affirming" church, synagogue, or religious organization, visit this page on the DC Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Affairs.

As well some of DC's churches have tackled human rights and political issues beyond sexual orientation. St John's Church in Thomas Circle has hosted or will host forums this year on preventing gun violence, supporting human rights, and maintaining the separation of church and state. This past Sunday Eboo Patel, named one of America's top Muslim visionaries by Islamica Magazine, spoke before the service at the Washington National Cathedral. Last night the Cathedral hosted a packed house for a foreign policy discussion entitled "America and the World: Picking Up the Pieces." Churches, once known for being homogenous slices of their immediately surrounding areas, are now beginning to reflect the diversity and probing intellectualism of DC's culture.

Health and Wellness: In 2007, DC attacked one of the major contributors to heart disease and cancer, cigarette smoking, by banning smoking in almost all places of business. With this legislation, our city became one of fewer than 20 "states" with a comprehensive smoking ban. Contrary to pre-ban fears, no more bars and restaurants folded in the year following the ban than would have been expected any other year. In fact, I'm more inclined to go out knowing that I'll feel and smell better when I come home.

Addressing another source of heart disease, we have proposed legislation to ban trans fats in restaurants in committee. I'm not entirely sure if I agree with such laws, but I do like that our city is considering measures to keep our populace healthy.

Exercise is key to almost any wellness effort, and DC culture does well to promote it too. We happen to be fortunate to live in a city with lots of green public land, a wide river, and a temperate climate. If jogging and gym memberships aren't for you, hop on a SmartBike and roll the streets for a while. Or you could join up with a club such as the International Club, which offers tennis, fencing, and sailing lessons. You could get lost in the depths of the internets trying to choose just one running club or kickball league. I have no idea how one ever chooses a yoga studio with all of the options in our neighborhood such as Flow Yoga Center, Boundless Yoga, Circle Yoga, DC Yoga, and Maruka Yoga. For those who need a coach, we have two personal training gyms here in Logan within blocks of each other — Body Smith and One World Fitness. My entirely unscientific survey indicates that Logan residents are pretty good at caring for their fitness and manage to do so in creatively fun ways. Thanks to the newly opened Lululemon on P Street, we can all look better in our active pursuits. As consumers of health products and services, Logan also offers a lot of options. We have two naturopathy centers, Tulsi Holistic Living and The District Wellness Group nestled in among chain and non traditional pharmacies and myriad medical offices.

For those who are actively fighting severe illness, we also have a couple of public and private programs of note. Our HIV/AIDS Administration has ties to a number of community organizations and a fairly extensive website connecting the infected to services. And Logan Circle is home to the Whitman Walker clinic, a truly admirable and compressive organization. Though Congress prohibits DC from using public funds for needle exchange, PreventionWorks still protects the IV drug addicted, their children, and their sexual partners from infectious disease with a free needle exchange program. To move the addicted beyond dependence the Department of Health has an Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration. We can always do more to prevent and treat disease, but it is still remarkable to me that a city with a population around 600,000 has so many public and private health resources.

Social Causes: Whether you want to help the homeless, cure breast cancer, or end the AIDs epidemic, there are numerous walks, fundraisers, and community events for your cause (charity walk list here). Being the nation's capital, we also have associations for everything, including an association for associations. Not only can you walk the walks, but you can make your career helping in whatever sector matters to you most.

So, before you bash DC or just generally get down on our city, remember that we care for people and environment alike. There's always more that we could be doing, but our policies are at least as comprehensive if not more so than those you will encounter in famously progressive citie such as Portland, San Francisco, or Boston. Enjoy the freedoms DC gives you and take advantage of the remarkable government and private resources here to support and express your world view.


Anonymous said...

I love DC, and as a gay man (and even if I wasn't), there's no place I'd rather be... or else, you know, I'd already be there.

Not sure why people get down on the city moreso than any other (let's face it, most major cities have huge problems). It's been on a remarkable upward trajectory for the past 15 years, certainly the "most improved" city in the US. I have spoken to many well-traveled Europeans, and they LOVE DC. Even more than they like Boston and NYC (but maybe not as much as San Fran...). I think to be liberal, in a way, invites self-loathing. You're always looking at ways things could be better, and disappointed that things are not and idealism quickly fades. But that is another discussion entirely!

Anonymous said...

Wow, great post. Glad to hear that you two are fellow lefties (Workers of Logan Circle unite!)

Anonymous said...

of course it helps when one can afford to be not hating your success (diverse logan circle and all), but.....we are talking mostly white "progressive"-yes?

14th & You said...

You're reading into something that's not there if you think that my implication was that progressive = white and/or that Logan = white.

I'm not sure how any of the following central supports for my argument are"white" issues or activities:
1) Approving of DC's recycling programs, LEED certification requirements, and Energy Efficiency Expo
2) Supporting gay and straight domestic partnerships for those who can not get married or chose not to get married.
3) Workers' rights to family and sick leave
4) Health and wellness
5) Working at associations and non profits