Sunday, July 31, 2005

"Taxation without representation"

One thing I think is really interesting about DC are the license plates coz they say, "Taxation Without Representation." DC which stands for "District of Columbia" is just that, so it's not considered a state and thus has no representation in Congress, except for an appointed delegate in the House of Representatives that can debate on issues but can't vote. Thus, people who live in the city pay taxes but are not represented, which I think is really unfair! So, while the District's official motto is "Justitia omnibus" (Justice to all), the words "Taxation Without Representation" were added to DC license plates in 2000 and there is a current movement to the add the words "No Taxation Without Representation" to the DC flag - the DC flag is one of the few things under direct local control without requiring approval from Congress.

Since it's the nation's capital, all the states have streets named after them in the city. I have not had the chance to visit Minnesota Avenue yet, which is also a metro stop. I'm really fortunate that my dorm is located right on Capitol Hill by Constitution Avenue, so I get to see the Capitol building everyday on my way to work. I have to admit, that no matter how many times I see it, I'm still awed by its beauty. Living here has allowed me to see politics in action which is really fascinating especially witnessing the rare moments when Republicans & Democrats work together on some issues. I'll never forget something that one of my professors once said: no matter how bitter & deeply divided the 2000 & 2004 elections were, the transition of power was still peaceful. This may sound cheesy, but it makes me grateful that I live in a country where that is possible.

I also get a chance to walk by the Supreme Court & the Library of Congress daily - when I think of how it was this Court that was responsible for things like giving women the right to vote or enforce de-segregation in the South, it is a very humbling experience & makes me realize that I'm a mere blip in this country's history. The city's architecture is beautiful - most government buildings are designed in Greek & Roman styles. What I love looking at are the residential homes because unlike in suburbs, they all look different. Some of them were built in the 1800 & 1900's, so they're really old - my favorite ones are red brick homes, and as I walk past these houses, I know they all have a story to tell & wonder what kind of historical treasures lay within them.

A favorite hangout in my neighborhood on the weekends is Eastern Market. Basically, it's like a bazaar where people put up stalls selling everything from fruits and vegetables, to African jewellery, to Indian shirts, to candles and flowers. There is a flea market every Sunday where you can browse through some cool antique furniture or old posters or junkie collector's items. I love the festive atmosphere here and enjoy the shopping more than in malls because many times, the items you buy are hand made or fair trade - yes, I know I'm a geek! A few weeks ago, my friend & I stumbled upon this really cute used old bookstore in an old house that was stacked with books all the way to the ceiling, even in the bathroom! Although DC has it's share of the usual corporate stores and restaurant/coffee shop franchises (a Starbucks at almost every block!!), there are many local options to explore too, which is refreshing & fun.

I think it's really ironic that I wrote my post on realistic idealism a day before the London bombings. I have to admit that after that incident and the violence in Egypt, I have been really down & just feel like crying sometimes - at times, I'm so confused & have a million questions but don't know who to turn to, which can be really frustrating. At a moment when I thought things could not get any worse, they did. The fact that the London bombers were British was disturbing but also proves something I have said many times - many Muslim communities lack visionary leaders who can foster political, social and economic means to address problems & frustrations. It's sad that it takes tragedies like these to serve as "wake-up" calls that these are not problems that happen "somewhere out there" but can hit close to home.

But not all is lost - I hope that just as many American Muslims were propelled into political activism after 9/11, the same will be true for British Muslims. I was at a Muslim Student Network banquet last week & it was heartening to see so many Muslims interning or working for a variety of organizations in the city. It was really cool to have two special keynote speakers - one, an elected Muslim council member from Texas & the other, our very own Congresswoman McCollum from MN's 4th District (Go Betty - thanks to Mohamed Sabur).

Last week, I also had an opportunity to visit the National Cathedral to listen to the National Symphony Orchestra play. The cathedral is a beautiful Gothic structure that reminded me of Westminster Abbey in London. I don't know whether it was the sonorous notes from the organ, the breathtaking architecture or the serenity of the place, but as I marveled at the magnificence of God, for a brief and rare moment, my mind was at peace...