Citizen empowerment

Confession time: I used to be a registered Republican. There are moments I feel that I have that are purely Republican moments in Shaw. Usually they are summed up as, taking matters in your own hands when you don’t believe the gov’ment won’t do it right/at all/ on time/ etc.

I have these feelings during community meetings when folks demand that DPW clean the alleys and the sidewalks and other littered areas and keep the bums off their property. With all due respect to the city government of the District and it’s many departments, the City can be disappointing. Yet on the other hand, citizens really need to take some responsibility and take on some burdens to improve their environment and not wait for the government to do it for them.

Now, I am not advocating that people break the law, endanger their lives, or encroach on others rights and freedoms. There are things that only the state/govt has the right to do, such as arrest, tax, and transfer rights and freedoms. No citizen has that right or should. No. What I want people to do is salt their sidewalks when it snows. I want them to volunteer to clean the street gutters when the Weather Service says there might be flooding. I want them to take responsibility for their children and property. I want them to consider working together, neighbor to neighbor, on a one block level to tackle problems and concerns.

I love my block because people do things that others may believe is something for the government to deal with. We have alley cleaning man. Who is he? I dunno? But he takes it upon himself to sweep up the alley, post no dumping signs, and clean up the alley. B. cleans the sidewalks, whenever. Maybe once a week, a month, a quarter, but he helps keep the neighborhood nice. Lem, is the handyman who (possibly with marketing in mind) keeps an eye on repairs that need to be made on the block, helping with the upkeep. For a while the block had an informal Welcome Wagon to help orient new homeowners, providing community information. For my own part I patched a fence of a vacant property to keep out the illegal dumpers. With a neighbor we (I don’t recommend it) confronted a crackhead about smoking in a backyard. Some deal with trees, planting and trimming, things that with the patience of Job, one could wait for the city to do. Some help with enforcement by gently reminding neighbors of infractions. In winter, B. and I shovel, salt and sand the sidewalks.

Now we don’t take on large tasks by ourselves. Just small ones, that add to the livability of the block. So when I hear complaints from folks in other parts of Shaw complaining that the city should do this, or the city should do that when this and that are things a civicly minded citizen could tackle. Citizens should empower themselves, even if they just limit themselves to caring for their little section of the block, they have done a lot.

So if you can, maybe this weekend or next….
Clean out your treebox
Pick up some of the sidewalk litter
Tidy up the front yard
Secure your property
Talk to a neighbor
Check on the elderly down the block
Engage a conversation with some of the neighborhood youths
Try to find the owner of the vacant house on the block

Not the whole list. Pick one. And do it.