Inside the Beltway Author: BobRDate:2013-09-19 11:01:35
Stereotyping is one of those things that is so easy to recognize in others, and so easy to miss in yourself. It's a shorthand way to dismiss a large group of people based on some shared characteristic by assuming some other shared characteristic. I think about how ignorant this is every time I hear some generalization about "inside the beltway" thinking. For the uninitiated, the "beltway" is I-495 that circles Washington, DC as well as parts of Virginia and Maryland.
Technically, I live inside the beltway, even though I live in Virginia. This part of Virginia is also called NoVa (for northern VA) because it is as different from southern Virginia as DC is. Actually, the part I'm in was once part of the original square of DC before it was returned to Virginia.
This offhand disparaging of the DC area is made by people who assume way too much about the area. To them, it is a teeming cesspool of politicians with no redeeming values. To them, it exists almost beneath a bubble, cut off from the rest of the country, luxuriously appointed with taxpayer dollars, occupied by bureaucrats who care not a whit about anything beyond that mythical beltway.
Even those who visit the nation's capital seldom venture beyond the Mall and the Smithsonian and the various tourist spots. They, perhaps, get an inkling that there is something noble here that goes beyond politics, that these institutions have preceded us, and will be here beyond our eventual passing. This is serious stuff.
However, this is also where people live and work. Sure, there are the 500-something elected officials who meet and argue and pass laws. But there are many many more who call this place home, who live and work and play among the monuments and museums.
The recent shooting at Navy Yard likely surprised the nation that yes - there are military installations here, that are staffed by both soldier and civilian, both serving the same ideals. There was the usual snark about gun laws (as if DC's gun laws had any bearing on a military installation), but the reality is that crime (especially gun crime) has been dropping in DC for years. Despite the federal and military and city government, there are a huge number of people who live here who do not work for the government at all. They live here because it's a great place to live.
We have numerous lively neighborhoods (Adam's Morgan, Dupont Circle, Eastern Market to name just a few) with bars and restaurants and a thriving nightlife. We have parks and public transportation. We have ball teams and historic areas and - yes - museums and arts and theatre. We even have several breweries. It's a real city with real people doing real work. I have lived here for 4 years and have not yet had a job that was government-related. Some of my neighbors do - but it may surprise some that they work in offices doing normal work just like normal people. Others work for regular companies who happen to be located in the area, or teach in the local schools.
It's true that without the federal government here, none of this would have likely happened. However, it did happen, and despite the federal government, there's so much here that has nothing to do with government at all. Using the "inside the beltway" epithet tarnishes an entire city that goes about its collective daily life without revolving around what happens in government. To them, the beltway is simply a highway, not geopolitical border. It's lazy and unfair to most of the people who call DC their home.
It's time to replace "inside the beltway" with "underneath the dome". Place the criticism where it belongs, and leave the rest of us alone.