A Personal Essay and Getting to Know the DC Council Vol 10: Elissa Silverman
This week I am doing something a little bit different, both because I have some feelings I want to put down in writing and because those feelings are preventing me somewhat from doing the extensive research that I usually put into writing a topic. So this week, Topic 1 continues my ongoing series on getting to know the DC Council and what each of them does. It includes a lovely interview with Elissa Silverman, who was very helpful and seems very passionate about DC. But Topic 2 will be more of a personal essay. I hope you find that essay helpful or inspiring or interesting, and I would love to hear from anyone who has similar thoughts or feelings about the current moment. Why do you keep fighting? How have you been holding up lately?
As usual, your acts of resistance and your weekly events are right here at the top.
Small Immediate Acts of Resistance
That are never calling your Senator or Representative
- Send a card to the Adams Center in Virginia. (From Kate Schatz of Solidarity Sundays.) Early Sunday morning in Sterling, Virginia, a group of Muslim teens were walking from The ADAMS Center mosque (All Dulles Area Muslim Society) toward a shopping center to get food. They had been attending an all-night prayer session for Ramadan. According to police reports, a man driving a red car got out and confronted the teens, assaulting a 17 year old girl named Nabra Hassanen. Police said her friends ran back to the ADAMS Center to get help; a search was launched, and her remains were found in a nearby pond. Police arrested and charged Darwin Martinez Torres, 22, with her murder on Sunday evening, and have announced that the murder will not be investigated as a hate crime (they have not said why). Nevertheless, we know that, according to a May 2017 report by the Council on American-Islamic Affairs (CAIR), there was a “57 percent increase in anti-Muslim bias incidents” from 2015 to 2016, accompanied by “a 44 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes in the same period.” The ADAMS community is serving as a center of grieving for the community, and is offering counseling services. Send a postcard to the ADAMS community expressing love, sorrow, and solidarity.
46903 Sugarland Road
Sterling, Virginia 20164
- Submit a complaint to the Seattle Police Department. On Sunday morning, two officers were dispatched to a burglary call in Seattle. The statement released by Seattle Police and the audio recording of the incident demonstrate that the officers were aware prior to responding that the caller in question had children in the home, and that she had a history with the department demonstrating mental instability. Seattle police confirm, in their statement, “Both officers were equipped with less lethal force options, per department policy. All Seattle police officers receive Crisis Intervention Training.” The police can be heard entering the apartment and speaking with the caller. They can then be heard telling her to “get back,” as they claim she was wielding a knife. Then, 2 gunshots. Three children were in the home when both officers fired, shot, and killed their 32 year old mother. These police were trained in methods to safely de-escalate the situation without killing the woman, in front of her children. They had stun guns and non-deadly weapons. They had no reason to murder her. Charleena Lyles, the victim, was a small-in-stature woman, 3 months pregnant, and shot by the police she had called to help her. Please file a report. Make some noise. Don’t let this keep happening. Fill out an online complaint with the Seattle Police Department office of Accountability. Tell them this is unacceptable, and that the police must be held accountable for their actions. Tell them that training in non-violent crisis intervention is useless if the culture that creates racial and class profiling and no consequences is allowed to continue.
- Write an email to the Washington Post and New York Times about not covering the Senate Healthcare bill more prominently. For the last several days, grassroots organizers have been going crazy trying to bring public attention to the secret, abominable Trumpcare bill that is being written in secret in the Senate. Over the last couple of weeks, not one major news outlet has had a front page story about healthcare. You can contact the Times newsroom at email@example.com, or their National news section at firstname.lastname@example.org. They also have a position called the Public Editor that is specifically for answering concerns and questions from the public, and you can see some contact guidelines in this article. You can contact the Post at this online form (select “Journalism” and then select “send feedback about an article”, even though it’s really about the lack of an article) or by emailing the Post’s Reader Representative, Doug Feaver, at email@example.com. Please submit your concerns that what is likely the most important legislative decision of the 45th Presidency so far is not being more prominently covered by our major newspapers. This should be front page news.
Resistance Events this Week
Local to DC unless otherwise noted
June 22: Safety Beyond Policing, hosted by the DC Movement for Black Lives Steering Committee
June 22: (afternoon) Rally at DCA for Healthcare at Senators Flying Home, details to be announced later today by Topher Spiro, Center for American Progress, on Twitter
June 25: Resist, Retreat, Resign? A Workshop for Federal Employees, hosted by Takoma Park Mobilization, RSVP required
June 27: SURJ-DC Police Team Meeting, Shaw Library, 7–8:30, hosted by SURJ DC (Showing Up for Racial Justice)
June 29: Housing Challenges Facing the LGBTQ+ Community, hosted by The Urban Institute, RSVP required (morning)
Topic 1: At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman and the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development
Elissa Silverman currently serves as one of four at-large councilmembers for the District of Columbia. She has held the seat since 2014. In 2013, she ran in a special election as a Democrat against at-large member Anita Bonds and came in second. in 2014 she switched her party affiliation to Independent and ran to fill David Catania’s vacated seat and won. Silverman ran on supporting government subsidies to expand affordable housing; extending minimum wage laws to tipped workers; and she did not accept corporate contributions during her 2013 run.
Councilmember Silverman is currently Chair of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, whose other members include Trayon White of Ward 8, Kenyan McDuffie of Ward 5, Mary Cheh of Ward 3, and at-large member Robert White. This committee’s responsibilities include labor relations, DC’s unemployment fund, and the Office of Employee Appeals.
I reached out to Councilmember Silverman about how to successfully advocate in DC and she was kind enough to speak to me on the phone about some of her upcoming legislative work and what she thinks is important to fight for in DC. What follows is a record of her answers based on my notes of our conversation.
First I asked Councilmember Silverman “What, in your mind, is the issue most under threat here in DC from the current administration and why? This can be anything from a specific law you think Congress may try to overturn, to a broad topic like DC’s budget.”
She answered immediately that she believes the current Republican Administration is conducting a “war on the poor”, which includes a broad agenda of generally threatening the social safety net all across America, including the ACA; deep budget cuts to welfare programs; curtailing abortion, etc. There are also funding and legislative issues specific to DC, such as Congress’s attempts to change DC’s gun laws. (Editor’s note: this has become an issue again recently since the shooting at the Congressional baseball practice in Alexandria last week.)
Next I asked her, “As a member of the Council, what are your priorities for DC in the coming months? Again, these can be specific legislation or just broad goals.”
Councilmember Silverman mentioned Paid Family Leave right off the bat. She has been a big supporter of this bill, and believes it will strengthen working families in DC. As Chair of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, she also wants to introduce a true workforce development system that creates a “pipeline to living wage careers” for DC workers. She wants to work to enforce DC’s labor laws; connect young people and seniors to good jobs; and enhance opportunities in DC for training and certification. One of her biggest concerns is making sure people have the flexibility to change careers, enter new careers, or enter the workforce at every stage of life. She further pointed to a bill that would increase the number of childcare facilities that provide care during “non-traditional” hours for parents who have jobs that are on a non-9-to-5 schedule (editor’s note: the number of facilities in DC that already do this is currently being evaluated by the Council), and expressed the desire to provide free public transit for adult learners.
Finally I asked Councilmember Silverman “If you could tell the residents of DC to do one thing — either support one cause, take one action, join one group, etc — to help advance progressive causes in DC and/or keep DC independent, what would it be? (You could actually list a couple of things here if you’d like.)”
She responded that the most important thing is to “do what’s of interest to you”. She also said that getting to know your neighbors and building community is a good way to mobilize people and feel connected to advocacy work. She told me a story in which she went to a meeting in ANC 3B in DC and spoke to some elementary school children. One little girl came up to her to say hello, and this little girl and her brother were upset about the country and wanted to do something about it. Their mom had taken them to the ANC meeting as their “something”.
She also advised that DC residents should testify on legislation to the Council, so that their voices are heard. She mentioned that you can keep up to date on legislation your Councilmembers are working on by signing up for their newsletters (editor’s note: ALL the newsletters!!). She then mentioned a few local advocacy groups that are doing great work, some of which will be familiar to my readers, including DC for Democracy, Jews United for Justice, the Washington Interfaith Network, the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, and Democratic organizations in each Ward. Many Councilmembers, she added, are aware of the super local groups within their Ward and may be able to give you information on them if you ask.
Thanks to Councilmember Silverman for her insights!
Topic 2: A Personal Essay on Right Now
I just put a letter in the mail to the ADAMS Center (the All Dulles Area Muslim Society) expressing my sympathy and sorrow at the horrific murder of a young member of their community, Nabra Hassanen. I never used to write such letters, and the act of writing it was surprisingly difficult. I feel that it is the right thing to do, and I mean what I say when I tell them they are not alone in grieving, and that some of us stand with Muslim Americans against hate. But the letter does not make me feel any better. It doesn’t make me feel like I did something good to write it. I feel the same as I did before: not terrible, but just a bit sad. Just a bit worse than how I wish I felt.
This is my new normal feeling. That’s not to say I don’t break out of it often. I am still happy, joyful even, many times a week. But my everyday middle ground, my default state, is just a bit worse than it was before, like I was standing on a solid floor that the election revealed was actually made of sand, and I’ve sunk into it up to the tops of my feet, and I can’t climb back out. It takes more than writing a letter to make me feel good these days. In fact I often feel like I can never do enough, never protest enough, never write enough, to feel accomplished, because there is so much going on and so many things to oppose all day every day all the time every minute every second every news cycle every…
Days ago, Nabra Hassanen was murdered just one day before an attack on Muslims in London’s Finsbury Park neighborhood, killing one person and injuring ten. Less than a week ago, jurors acquitted the police officer who murdered Philando Castille. This week, we lost an election for a House seat in Georgia, prompting some commentators to say that the anti-Trump backlash is a myth and that the Republicans will continue to rule with impunity over the lives of women; African Americans; those with healthcare; those of us breathing in America.
So it was a bad week. A bad week after quite a few other recent bad weeks. And once again I find myself struggling to muster the energy, the passion, the drive necessary to keep going. I understand people who started out fired up after the election, but have now returned to their normal pre-November lives. I don’t approve of it, and I think it is, as many before have pointed out, an act of immense privilege, but I do understand. The temptation is sometimes overwhelming. Why should we continue to fight battles we have a high probability of losing? Why do our small acts of resistance and defiance matter? Why bother?
I host a monthly group for an organization called Solidarity Sundays. Some of this month’s action items included writing letters to Betsy DeVos asking her to rethink her views on federal funding for schools that discriminate against LGBTQ+ kids, and letters to Rex Tillerson asking him to denounce the torture of gay men in Chechnya (an action 50 US Senators signed a letter asking him to do and which he still has not done). And I thought….what’s the point? The idea that Betsy DeVos is going to become more queer friendly is completely laughable to me. Why am I writing her a letter?
And then I had an, if possible, even worse thought: There are people coming to my house this weekend and they’re going to see it on my face. They’re going to know that I think this is pointless and they’re going to start to think it’s pointless too and then I will have been, in some small way, personally responsible for dousing the flames of other people’s resistance. What do I say to them? How do I convince people, convince myself, that we should write these letters? Or make these phone calls? Or do anything? I’m supposed to be leading by example and I don’t know what face to put on today.
This is what I ended up telling them: it’s not actually about winning. It doesn’t matter if you change Betsy DeVos’s mind or not (aside: I mean, of course it DOES matter; if I could magically do it I would. It would potentially alleviate the suffering of thousands of queer youth so yes of course it DOES matter, but….). She isn’t going to change her mind, or is at least very unlikely to. So that is no longer the point of this exercise. The point is the opposition itself; the fight itself; not necessarily the outcome. We fight, in an ideal world, for the outcome we want, but this is no longer an ideal world for progressives. Now we’re fighting for the record. We’re writing our letters so that someday, when they make museum exhibits about what’s happening right now, people will know that not everyone agreed with what’s happening here. We’re registering our opinion like a survey: we are not okay with this. On a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being very okay with all of this and 1 being really fucking not okay with any of this, we pick 1. We’re telling them they don’t have a mandate or unanimous support from this country, and by extension we’re telling the people they are hurting the same thing.
I sat here this morning, writing another letter for the record: telling the ADAMS community that they are loved and supported, but knowing the letter won’t change anything much. It won’t bring Nabra back to life. It won’t end anti-Muslim hate crimes. I know what it does do, maybe; I knew that when I sat down to write it. I don’t know if it’s enough but I do it anyway. And I remind myself that we will win some fights in this way. There is a chance, however slim it still is, that registering our opposition can still stop the Senate healthcare bill. That can happen. That is both for the record and for the outcome. But we need to do it all. It’s okay to lament the fact that I’m just a bit sadder now than I was before, but frankly it would be pretty nuts if all of this didn’t make me sad. Being sad in the face of, you know, tragedy, is vital and human and important. So I am sad but I am mighty. I am doing my part and I won’t stop, no matter how bad the news gets. I will keep writing, and calling, and mourning in my own way. And sometimes that is the point.
Welcome to the end!! I hope I didn’t bum all of you out too much. I mean I didn’t even put in any gifs this week, what’s up with that? Here have a couple right now:
Please keep calling your Senators on Trumpcare. Use trumpcareten.org as your resource; ask your friends in the ten key states to call. It’s not over yet!
You guys are the best and please let me know if you found anything helpful, frustrating, bewildering, or any other emotion!
As always in solidarity,
You can reply to this newsletter or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts, criticisms, or ideas. Check out my Medium page if you’d prefer a blogged version of this newsletter or would like to read any of my previous issues. Last week’s letter was on Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau and Healthcare (again!).
Follow me on Twitter at @speaknojessica. And get your friends to subscribe to The ForeRunner at http://tinyletter.com/theforerunner because surely, reading sad musings by people you don’t know is THE FUNNEST and should be SHARED!
Jessica, the writer, has written for Gender Avenger and been a speaker for Trybe. She is the DC state captain for the national activist group Solidarity Sundays (solidaritysundays.org, look for the NE DC/Brookland group) which meets once a month to take progressive political action. She developed this newsletter in response to the 2016 election.