You may have heard of the Mall, seen pictures of the White House, Capitol, and various museums in school, but there are many misconceptions about Washington DC. It was established as the permanent capital of the US in 1790, as part of a compromise concerning financial power between Jefferson and Hamilton. (If you’ve ever heard Hamilton, the song “The Room Where It Happens” is about DC becoming the capital). We weren’t made a state because there was worry that the proximity to influential federal buildings would give DC an unfair advantage. Since coming to BU where most people are from California or Massachusetts and not from the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) area, I’ve realized that almost no one is super clear on what DC is. My friends from home have also experienced this, with one girl at UCSB telling my friend that she didn’t know people lived in DC.First and foremost, the most common question about DC is whether it’s a state or not. It’s not, nor is it in a state. I once had a girl at summer camp try to tell me that DC was in Virginia. I get this often enough but she refused to admit that she was wrong despite me repeatedly telling her “I think I would know since I live there.” So, if DC isn’t a state, what is it?
DC stands for the “District of Columbia” which means it’s a federal district: the seat of a country’s central government. In practice, this means that there are government buildings that serve the country such as the Capitol and the White House in downtown DC, but those buildings are only a small part of the city.
When people think of Washington DC, usually the only things they think of are the White House, monuments, Smithsonian, and maybe Georgetown University. But we actually have a lot more going on than just that. The best time to visit is in the springtime, from mid-March to late-April when the cherry blossoms that were given to us by the Japanese in 1912 are (usually) in bloom. The cherry blossoms are all over the city and have a festival of their own.
Photo Credit: Pinterest
Additionally, we have a big music scene that rose in the 70’s, with the emergence of punk rock. DC produced many punk rock bands of its own and contributed to the genre. However, the most well-known and distinct music in DC is its native go-go music. Originating in the 80’s from the large black population, it’s a blend of salsa, soul, blues, and funk with a heavy percussive base. Not many people outside of the immediate area know about go-go music in part because people only see the predominantly white Washington elite and federal workers. Like in many US cities today, there’s the huge issue of gentrification going on in DC. Once a city with a black population making up more than 50%, after a budget crisis in the ’90s, housing prices were raised and the steady process of gentrification quickened. All this is rarely acknowledged outside of DC and even within wealthy areas of the city.
Another huge issue in the DC area is the fight for statehood. Many people believe that DC should become a state because we are taxed without having real national representation. Our license plates literally say “taxation without representation.” All 690,000 residents of DC are unable to vote in any elections outside of the presidential elections. And even then, we only got the right to vote for the president in 1964. Because we are not a state, we have no representative in the senate at all. The only form of national rep we get is in the form of Eleanor Holmes Norton, a non-voting delegate to the house as well as a “shadow senator” who advocates for DC statehood. On the local level, we have a mayor and a council of 13 members, eight of which are representatives for each ward within DC.
DC is an amazing place and more people need to know about it. I hope you’ve learned some new things about my hometown, and remember this the next time you go there!