By Haley Barbour, Isabelle Barrett, Jon Lueth, Maddie Miller, Harrison Yu
Just as we Midwesterners are used to a cold, blustery day, Washingtonians are used to tourists roaming their streets. Despite our best efforts to blend in, the occasional glance at a map and “Midwestern nice” demeanor set us apart in this busy city.
The public transit system was useful but took a bit of time to navigate for the first time. Of course, getting lost on the first day was to be expected and led us to meet some interesting locals. The differences between Iowans and Washingtonians are stark, so we decided to question some of the citizens of this fair city about their feelings about the upcoming inauguration. For us Iowans, the caucuses are a point of pride. For the locals here, the reactions are a mixed bag. A lot depended on their own particular field of work and how much they could avoid the chaos of politics. Still, a clean city is a happy city, and the pomp and circumstance of the occasion certainly brings a breath of fresh air to this city often seen as a dirty swamp.
Our first destination of the day was the Mary E. Surratt Boarding House in Chinatown.
We felt confident in our navigation abilities, and promptly headed to the northeast quadrant…which, if any locals know, is the exact opposite direction. As we frustratedly paced the same two blocks, we decided to take a quick coffee break to gather ourselves and try one more time. When we started to wander once more after a little caffeine, a local Washingtonian carrying groceries came up to us and asked if we were alright. We kind of laughed, then said we were trying to find Chinatown. He very quickly realized how lost we were and pointed us in the right direction. Before we left, we wanted to get this nice man’s thoughts on the preparation for the inauguration so we could compare with our own experience in the Iowa caucuses.
“Well we kind of avoid the inauguration…just a pain in the bottom, all these people coming into town. We usually just try to lay low.”
That was the first difference we really noticed. In Iowa, everyone is super involved. In DC,
however, you’re only involved if you’re working or participating in the event. So how many DC natives actually attend these events? According to the grocery guy, not many. The majority of attendees are staffers or from out-of-town. Unfortunately, grocery guy
needed to get going and left before we got his name. So, shoutout to the nice man who so kindly provided us with directions and the first DC local’s opinion on the inauguration of the day.
While we were waiting for the metro in between visiting the Mary E. Surratt Boarding House and the Eastern Market we met Sarah Andrews, a D.C. resident who is experiencing her first Inauguration living in the city.
While she also noted the inconvenience of so many new people being in the city, she appreciated the extra attention that was being given to publicplaces in the city. In particular, she is very happy that the scaffolding on the Capitol dome has finally been taken down. She also noted that the metros are kept extra clean and “where ever they can put a wreath, there is a wreath.” The extra attention reminded me of Des Moines area businesses taking extra steps to attract visitors to them during caucus season.
One of the biggest differences between caucus season in Iowa and inauguration season in D.C. was that Andrews noted a lot of her friends had recently lost their jobs because of the transitioning administration. In contrast, caucus season is a jobs hotbed. Just think of the 20 odd people campaigning for president a year ago, and all the positions that need to be filled.
On our way to the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, one of the locals that we interviewed had a different experience.As a street artist and life-long resident of Washington, D.C. the man we spoke to shared an immense amount of pride in the historic events that occur in his home. He shared how it was an important part of his growing up, and he has continually enjoyed his time during the various inauguration seasons he has witnessed. It really struck us that Iowans share a similar amount of pride with this man, despite his unprecedented optimism as a Washingtonian.
One thing that that our interviewee noted was how many more Metro and bus stops became busier than usual. As a local resident, this was not only noticeable, but a major inconvenience. While this is a common concern for many D.C. residents, Iowa residents do not experience these same woes as the public transportation system is significantly smaller. The magnitude of the problems caused by such high security risks differ greatly between the two cities.
Overall this experience has certainly been interesting. There is clearly a difference between the Iowa Caucus season and the Presidential Inauguration season. Everything from what it means for employees to how locals react and get involved (or rather for D.C. don’t get involved). Alas, its not all different. Both events are filled with attendees (both local and otherwise) who feel a mixed bag of emotions towards not only the people in the spotlight, but also the changes in everyday life they face.