The Talking City–A Birthday Tribute

Tiananmen Square and the Fourth of July

I live in a political town, probably the most political city in the US. Debate and policy forums run all day and all night. Any day of the week you can find and attend debates on what should be done about North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East, China, the economy in general—interest rates, taxes, trade and monetary policy; the economy in specific–the automobile industry, the oil industry; U.S. domestic policy in general—state vs. federal; US domestic policy in specific–abortion, health care, gay marriage, public education.

Washington likes to talk. Everyone has an opinion about almost everything, and you can hear those opinions formally at the think tanks and forums around town, on the cable news and talk shows, or in the restaurants and cafes. In the evenings at the receptions, the book parties, the embassy parties, the talking continues.

At the center of all the debate and discussion are the legislators, the executives and the President who will make the decisions after the talking is done, or more often while it is still going on.

Washington, D.C. is a small town—only 591,000 people in the city itself, with 5.3 million in the metropolitan area. It is a beautiful city, full of grand marble and stone buildings, parks and trees, with no building higher than the Washington monument, so the city doesn’t dwarf its citizens. Washington has been called America’s Paris—smaller than Paris, but with some of the same grace of architecture and with a river running through it. The Potomac River wanders like a large friendly brown snake down the city’s spine. The Potomac isn’t an industrial waterway like the Hudson or East Rivers in New York which host ships and barges or even the Thames in London or the Seine in Paris. The Potomac moves slower through the District of Columbia, though up river, the water rushes in rapids and water falls.

Washington–this northern outpost of the South–remains gracious while its citizens still work at a pace; but they may also be jogging and rowing and biking along its grassy river banks, plugged into their books on tape or texting on their blackberries.

While the U.S. will celebrate its 233rd birthday on July 4, Washington, D.C. will celebrate its 219th birthday a few days later on July 16.

I originally set out to write a blog about the upcoming 20th anniversary of the student protest and subsequent massacre in Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 4; however, having taken this detour into Washington, I will stay there and appreciate the ability to talk and talk and talk and debate. Even though the plethora of opinions can wear one down after a while, it is possible to turn off the TV, decline the forum invitations, take a discussion of a novel to the receptions and remain watchful and grateful that there are so many opinions, so many involved citizens and officials and so many diverse policies to choose from.


  1. Richard Bray on May 28, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    Thanks, Joanne, for your comments about DC and the importance of talking and involvement!! Coincidently, our library (located in the also talkative and multi-opinionated Bay Area …), is currently showing a good documentary on Washington, DC, given that all eyes are on your lovely town. See:

  2. Jill on May 29, 2009 at 9:54 am

    Timely mention of  repression as I am in China at the moment. The Professor we work with speaks about  the opening to more points of view and he has started a new journal.  Articles from Hong  Kong were censored for mentioning Taiwan, but he is fighting  it for the sake of knowledge of the effects of major political decisions on the psychodynamics of people. I was happy to read about Washington.  I do feel  extremely fortunate to live there in freedom and in comfort, compared to here,  but we’ve also had the friendliest welcome and interested students.  –Jill 

  3. SHOES INSOLES on January 6, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    Hello, thank you for this wonderful post, a really great beginning to the new year, keep up the great work, Tonia.

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