Sam Salkin: Cast your political net closer to home

Washington is an attractive place for GW students to spend their four undergraduate years for reasons ranging from its rich history to being the other city not too far from New Jersey. Chances are, however, that most GW students are attracted to D.C. for those important buildings located on or near Pennsylvania Avenue.

But there is another building on Pennsylvania Avenue that, despite its uniquely political nature, is usually overlooked by GW students, especially those studying politics.

The John A. Wilson Building, located at 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, houses both Washington’s Mayor and City Council and serves as the headquarters of the D.C. government. Chances are, however, that your typical GW student has no clue it exists. One of the most infamous political axioms is that, “all politics are local,” yet we seem to display a huge void in attention to what happens closest to us.

As many GW students plan to spend their adult lives in D.C. as lobbyists, wonks, staffers or whatever else they may aspire to, keeping abreast with local issues couldn’t be more important. The important lesson students can learn early is that in D.C., more so than in other metropolitan areas, city politics matters.

For obvious reasons, the District government doesn’t get a fraction of the attention garnered by the federal government. Still, some of the decisions made in that other building on Pennsylvania Avenue have made or will make a serious impact on our lives as both college students and adults who may soon be living in the District. Furthermore, while most people think real impact is made on the national level, it quickly becomes clear that the most tangible effects of government can be felt much closer to home.

Don’t believe me? Even in the past week, news stories in the Washington Post have shed light on how important local politics in D.C. can be. Tuesday’s Post reports that Councilman Jim Graham is planning to introduce a bill that would force clubs serving alcohol after 11 p.m. to obtain a special license to allow entry to patrons under 21. These are the kinds of decisions that impact people our age, despite the fact that we aren’t permanent residents. These are also the kinds of issues that we can speak up on or participate in with a real chance of being heard.

Perhaps the most decisive and most pervasive local issue in Washington has been that of D.C. statehood and voting rights. At last week’s Democratic National Committee meetings, politicians announced plans to begin a grassroots effort to increase awareness of the D.C. statehood issue. For those of you who don’t know, the only representation the city gets in Congress is through Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democratic delegate who can only vote in committees and on amendments to legislation.

However, a recent proposal outlined in Sunday’s Washington Post would give D.C. a full-fledged seat in Congress and would give a seat to Utah, a red state, to offset the inevitable addition of another Democrat.

In a town dominated by the seemingly important issues, it is easy to overlook the smaller “less important” issues. It is unfortunate that campus organizations such as the College Democrats and College Republicans so often tow the national party line but are quick to forget the real happenings in their backyard.

Topics ranging from abortion rights to the war in Iraq may seem sexier than the club hours, but they do not directly affect our daily lives the way local issues do. On the simplest level, the federal government doesn’t collect your trash or plow your streets. While some of us may only be four-year residents of D.C., it is intensely important to have pride and awareness of where you live and what is happening around you.

A trip down Pennsylvania Avenue for most might be an awe-inspiring tribute to patriotism and love for the good old US of A. Maybe now it can also be recognized as a testament to the importance of local government and local pride.

-The writer, a junior majoring in geography, is a Hatchet columnist.

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