Notes on Living in Northern Virginia Before and After January 20, 2017

Photo USA Today

Note: The views expressed below are solely that of the contributor and do not represent the blog, nor its content, as a whole. 

I was born in Washington, DC and raised right across the river in Arlington, Virginia. I’ve lived in the area my whole life excluding my four years in college, and I have always felt connected to this area, not just geographically. One side of my family has been in the Washington, DC area for over five generations. That history is important to me – especially in such a transient place.

That said, with history most notably going in a direction no one expected since Election Day, I’ve tried to be more observant about what’s changed, if anything, about day-to-day life in and around DC. Just to get things out of the way, I should be frank and describe Arlington as a pretty liberal place to begin with – it’s close to DC and has a stupid high percentage of residents with post-graduate degrees. Arlington goes blue, basically, with Clinton/Kaine signs speckled across lawns and fences.

After the election, there was definitely a general feeling, at least among people I spoke about politics with, of sadness. Our county oftentimes fit, or seemed to fit demographically, into the terrible stereotype of being “coastal liberal elites” so it also felt personal. I didn’t encounter any blatant aggression from the side of the victors, but more often, I found myself commiserating with friends, coworkers, and family members that just were bummed out in a major way. I’m not trying to be glib or make light of any of these reactions or feelings, but we felt powerless and defeated, which fits differently on everyone. Some people I know were thoroughly pissed whereas some picked moments to vent or share their frustrations with careful discernment.

From a purely logistical view, leading up to the inauguration, things just got quiet. The DC metro area has predictably terrible traffic and at times spotty, though usually dependable, public transportation. But on my drives to and from work and around on the days before the inauguration, roads were significantly emptier. I didn’t wait to merge onto the highway as long as I typically do – and this was after oversleeping on Friday January 20th, though I was saved because I knew my outfit ahead of time (a ‘Nasty Woman’ shirt, duh). My office was so sparsely populated that a cubemate near me took a picture of his half of the tower because no one was, nor was going to be, at their desks. Most people, myself included, kept their headphones in all day though that’s the norm on my floor. So many people worked from home, I had to stop myself on multiple occasions from just flat out saying, “why are we even open today?” I spoke to multiple people on our internal messaging service, just to check in with them about how they were doing on this most terrible of days. I streamed coverage at my desk and when I’d seen enough to know that America was on their 45th president, I promptly took myself to Starbucks to indulge in my most basic appetites.

I didn’t go out or anything after work mostly because I wasn’t sure what I would encounter. I obviously wasn’t attending a planned party or inaugural ball (still have never been to one) and would most likely have just gone to a bar or two. But I didn’t even feel like drinking, so I went with a girlfriend even further into the suburbs to go to an authentic Korean barbecue restaurant. We caught up but also talked about the day’s events and what they meant and how we were dealing with that. It felt nice, almost cathartic, to be somewhere with someone I care about and just connect in a really human way. Plus, I didn’t want to sulk at home by myself, which was a very real concern I had about my plans for the night.

The next day was obviously the Women’s March on Washington. I’d been planning in weeks leading up to it with some of my female relatives about attending together and converging afterward for a big celebratory dinner. I linked up with one of my aunts to drive to the metro stop closest to my house, East Falls Church, where we’d meet another aunt and some cousins. We were met with such a packed parking lot, we had to drive into the neighborhood by the stop to park on the street. The line to even get into the station extending for dozens upon dozens, probably hundreds even, of people decked out with signs and pink hats that got honks and cheers from cars driving past. The group that I ascended to the platform with broke into cheers and waves as we went – the act of taking public transportation suddenly became so much more welcoming and light-hearted.

The march was, of course, incredible. It was the first I attended in my life and I can say with certainty that it was worth the wait. My group managed to meet up with two more cousins, a cousin-in-law, and a group of friends. We formed a little contingent that wandered around the rally and just went with the crowd as we marched on. We ended up deciding to take the metro home from the Federal Triangle station, which coincidentally is across the street from what used to be the Old Post Office Building and is now a Trump International Hotel. We saw marchers leaving their signs on the metal barricades protecting the hotel and outside the metro station. It felt like some version of justice, knowing that we were being seen and heard. My group metroed home in such a crowded car, we got to know our fellow riders on what bordered on an intimate level and left feeling so satisfied, content, and fired up for the next four years.

Speaking of, I’m sure living in the DC area in the coming weeks and months will be sort of bizarre. Members of the new administration will be living and working in a place which they only garnered four percent support from (that’s in the District, specifically). At what point, is the elephant in the room, pun intended, acknowledged? Especially for those of us that do not work directly or indirectly in politics? I work in tech and so far, I’ve only spoken with close colleagues about the election and its fallout. I am intensely curious to see how the members of the new administration adapt to DC, especially. In the eight years that Barack Obama was president, DC became a significantly cooler city than it had been before. I don’t know if there will be a struggle or turmoil over DC’s identity, especially since it doesn’t seem like a place some members of the first family want to call home just yet. For those that have called this place home though, I hope we continue to show the joy and solidarity I saw on the Saturday of the Women’s March. That’s the sort of city I always want to call home.

Katharine-Donohoe-Contributor
Katharine Donohoe : lives and works in Virginia. She (sometimes) has very little chill but enjoys the simple things like GChat, Trader Joe’s frozen snacks, and listening to a healthy amount of podcasts.
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