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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Rumination: 14th Street

I am not a political voice. I am a 29 year old Irish-Sicilian-American mid-level federal employee with just an associates degree. I have no political background other than growing up just outside the DC line. But I feel compelled to share my experiences on election day.

Politically, I liked both candidates. I am sorry John McCain will never get to be the president. I wish he had been 8 years ago, he would have been a much better president through 9/11. And as a war vet who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, I think he would have caught bin Laden and I don't think Iraq would have turned out how it did. But as he gave his very inspirational concession speech, it reinforced to me that now is not his time.

I then watched Barack Obama's victory speech, and for the first time in my adult life, I felt inspired watching a leader of this nation speak. I knew I would have an easy time getting behind whoever won the presidency (after working for W for 7 years, it wouldn't be that difficult to do) but President-Elect Obama's words left me with a sense of pride in serving the country.

But what really inspired me, really got me excited, was the people in the streets at 14th and U.

Growing up, we suburban kids threw around "14th Street" as a metonym for prostitution in DC. From the '68 riots until about 6 years ago, I was very wary about that part of town, which was blighted, crime ridden, and worn down. And for a "white boy" growing up in the suburbs, it represented a horrible racial stereotype, one that many were too ignorant to see past. The scars of the '68 riots were more than abandoned storefronts and crime, there was a psychological scar that was handed down to me and my generation, remnants of a different time where people saw something different and met it with fear and hate.

In 2002, I visited the African American Civil War Memorial for the first time, and I fell in love with the life that the Green Line brought to that part of the city. It was the DC I always wanted to see, the town my parents described to me, not the city that was abandoned and stereotyped from behind picket fences.

Last night, seeing this neighborhood once destroyed by race riots as an area where all types of people gathered to celebrate the election of the United States' first African-American Commander-in-Chief was a beautiful thing. It was a microcosm for the progress that makes this country so special, and it showcased the diversity and vibrancy that ought to be found in the capital of such a great country. I have always been proud to claim DC as the city of my birth, but never as proud as I was last night. It was a good night for DC.

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