Saturday, February 27, 2010
Friday, February 26, 2010
Thursday, February 25, 2010
"I’m 33. I was born in the Dominican Republic and came to the U.S. in December 1983. My family first came to New York and then we settled in Hyattsville, Maryland. I have been doing construction since I left high school in 1995. I did general labor, demolition, asbestos removal, whatever. Being out there in the field, I was exposed to a lot of the injustices that people in the work force deal with, things like poor or no pay and mistreatment. I am fortunate because I am bilingual, so I could speak up for co-workers who didn't speak the language. There were a few times when I would be let go for speaking up, but the way I look at it, I am not going to let anyone disrespect me or my co-workers.
"My whole time in construction, I was never in a union. I don’t have a pension or insurance, none of that. With my health, I always just crossed my fingers. I got hurt a few times and always had to pay out of pocket. Back then, I didn't know about the unions. It’s not like contractors were telling us about our rights. Their bottom line was making money. The last thing many of them wanted was for us to have the knowledge that if we joined with our co-workers, we could have what they had -- a contract. No job gets done in this city without a contract, yet we never had one. Part of that may be that union density in D.C. is not like New York. Here, there isnt' that mentality where your Dad and Granddad were in the union.
"When I was given the opportunity to be an organizer, I said, ‘Heck, yeah.’ Now I'm able to give back. I spend a lot of my time in the field talking with people. I have been in their shoes, so I know how to relate to them. I think that it's important to even the playing field. If you want your community to thrive, you need to give your community the resources and options. Without options, people unfortunately turn to other means.
"With Small businesses, Minority contractors, and Advocates for Reform Today (SMART DC), we represent workers, whether they are black, Hispanic or white. The problem is usually the contractors who aren't held accountable. A lot of these construction companies get a contract and claim to want to boost the local economy and hire local labor, but we find that many of them get the contract and pull out the rug from under D.C. workers. Right now, one of our projects is holding Clark Construction accountable for their development of the new Homeland Security building in the old Saint Elizabeth's Hospital in Ward 8. Each project and contract is different, but there are terms that discuss the percentage of local workers to be employed. A lot of times, though, these contractors sub the work out to people in Maryland or Virginia instead of hiring directly from here. In the past, part of the reason was that some companies hired undocumented workers and brought them to construction sites. Look, if the contract said hire D.C. residents, hire D.C. residents. There are plenty of folks here who want to work; they just need an opportunity to do so. As a community, we need to stand together on this."
Learn more about SMART DC, including their work to bring more jobs to D.C. residents, here.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Monday, February 22, 2010
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Friday, February 19, 2010
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
"Theater and art are things that I have always loved. I also did a bit of acting, but I stopped because I got too nervous at auditions. My love for costume design really picked up in college where I was able to combine my love of sewing with learning about the historical components of how things were made and the materials that were used at different times in history.
"In D.C., I have gone in directions I never thought I would go into with costume design, like working with lobby groups. These groups usually do not want the kings, queens, and renaissance style costumes I thought I would do when I first got into this business. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals asked us to make a broccoli costume. An environmental lobby group had us build smoke stack and tree stump costumes. Another group had me make large hamburgers and huge pill capsules stuffed with styrofoam pellets, as they were picketing places that used meats with antibiotics. Now, a couple of those restaurants say they will not use meats that have antibiotics anymore. I am proud of things like that. I feel like I played a part in something bigger.
"With costumes, I think that when people wear them, their personality can change. But I also feel that a lot of times, their personality has been there the whole time and they just don't let it loose. In this business, I learn a lot about people and their behaviors. I can usually tell how long a couple has been together when they come in. A lot of newer couples want matching costumes where even the fabric has to be the same. Whereas couples that have been together for years are okay for one to go as Elvis and the other to go as a clown. They don't have to match because they are more secure in their relationship. It is fun to figure people out through working in this business. There is definitely a psychology behind costumes."
Backstage is located at 545 8th Street Southeast.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Monday, February 15, 2010
"About three years ago, I started playing wheelchair rugby. The team started in about 2006 with support from the National Institute of Health. I started showing up for practices and eventually got my chair, which is custom made out of aircraft aluminum. This chair is only 25 lbs and costs $3,000. The chair is made specifically for wheelchair rugby and designed for a lot of impact. In this sport, you are trying to hunt down people and hit them.
"I tried out wheelchair basketball, but rugby is more active and high contact. It is kill or be killed. It is like football, almost. We have about 12 people on our team. You only need four people on the court at a time. I was born hard of hearing, which makes this sport even more interesting. In wheelchair rugby, everything is about communication and yelling: go left, go right, pick, he's coming up behind you, stuff like that. I can't hear well, so I have to be constantly paying attention to everything.
"Most of the guys on the team have their injuries from car or diving accidents. Fortunately, I'm on the higher end as I can take care of myself, but there are guys on the team who need help getting in-and-out of their chairs. But, we don't really look at each other as being disabled. We are just normal people who get together to play rugby. That's all it is."
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Friday, February 12, 2010
"I grew up in a time when D.C. was the murder capital. This city was really struck by the crack epidemic and some neighborhoods were just completely ravaged. One of the biggest things that impressed me about my father was how he waged a campaign against drugs at the time. He was a leader of the orange hats in our neighborhood. They were a community watch group that established a presence in the neighborhood. At the time, there was open-air drug dealing in the District and this was a way of taking our corners back. My father was fearless.
"That's just how it was in my household. Everyone did something in the neighborhood. That was what we all enjoyed doing. Now I see it as an obligation to bring along people in my age group, as well as women, to get involved in politics. In our city, we don't have a lot of elected offices, but there are so many opportunities to be in leadership, whether on the Parent Teacher Association or an Advisory Neighborhood Commission.
"I always knew that I would be in the government. I started off after college in the private sector and hated it. I knew that it wasn't where my best talents would be used. I went to grad school in policy and worked in local government for a number of years. But there is a point when you know that if you want to change a bureaucracy, it’s best not to be in it. Elected office is really the best way to make change.
"In this position, I am more optimistic about where we’re going as a city than I was before the Council. I see the changes we are making and how quickly reform can take root. I also see that focusing on grassroots views of how to change a community is important. You can't go from the top down. Ward 4 residents want investment, improvements and options, but don't want to wake up and say, 'Where are we?” We want to keep growing, and it is so important that in my Ward development is community-agitated. People are fearful of change unless they have a hand in it. So, we are working with them to focus on neighborhood development and schools. With time, our neighborhoods are getting safer and better looking, but we still have work to do."
Councilmember Bowser was first elected to the City Council in 2007. She chairs the Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs. She is also a member of the Committee on Economic Development, the Committee on Human Services, and the Committee on Public World and Transportation. Learn more about Councilmember Bowser here.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
"I first came to D.C. in 2004 to be the Director of Orchestral Activities and conductor of the American University Symphony Orchestra. The Dean of Academic Affairs at American called my attention to the DC Youth Orchestra. It so happened that the DC Youth Orchestra was looking for a conductor for their top orchestra. I applied. Now, here I am. This is my first experience working with kids this young, but it's been a nice adjustment. They're very serious about what they're doing.
"We have over 600 students from 4 1/2 to 21 years old. The orchestra is diverse geographically, and we have kids of all ethnicities, races and religions. It's a rainbow organization. The mission of this organization is that we turn no one away. The student has to have interest and a sense of responsibility. We do the rest. We even provide instruments if they can't afford them. The DC Youth Orchestra is a twelve-level program. Every year, we start with a petting zoo of kids who are all two feet tall. They pick an instrument that speaks to them and, usually, they stick with it. We have a lot of kids who are lifers. They come in early and stick with it all the way through high school. This program becomes a very meaningful and essential part of their lives.
"We can boast that 100 percent of our students graduate from high school and most of them go to college. Some even go on to the great musical conservatories. One of the things we take great pride in is the values our students learn by being exposed to the great musical idea, rehearsing as an ensemble, and taking responsibility for themselves. All of these things serve them well in life. There are a number of studies which demonstrate that kids who grow up doing music really wind up excelling in life. Music teaches fundamental values that apply across all disciplines."
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
"D.C. used to have a derby league called the Washington Jets, which was a co-ed, banked-track derby league in the 70's. I don't know what happened to them, but what we do is obviously very different. Our league started after the Rollergirls TV series on A&E, but the whole movement began well before that. The Texas Roller Girls were really the first modern derby league. It was very theatrical and wrestling-like. Rather than a penalty box, they had a spank alley where you would get spanked. Now, it draws more athletic people who don't want an alter ego on the track or all the theatrics. I am the same on and off the track. I do have a derby name, Scarlet O'Snap, but I'm kind of over it now. I wanted something recognizable and sassy, and thought it was really funny four years ago when I picked it.
"The thing that makes D.C. really different from other leagues is how transient of a city this is. It is hard to keep people on for more than one season. We have three home teams: Scare Force One, The Cherry Blossom Bombshells and the D.C. Demoncats. We did have a fourth team, the Secretaries of Hate, which we had to fold because we didn't have enough people. We are also known as a conservative league around the country because we're not all covered in tattoos, and we all have 9-5 jobs as lawyers and teachers, or work for non-profits. I don't think there's one person in this league who does not have a 9-5 career, whereas in other leagues, it's more the counterculture: bartenders and artists. But that is not what D.C. is like at all.
"I don't think a lot of people recognize how much of a time commitment this is. We practice four-to-five times a week. We have nine bouts a season, plus a championship. We also all have responsibilities off the track. We're all required to do stuff to support the league. It is very D.C.-ish that we have a highly structured board and everyone knows how to run non-profits. It's also a very D.C. thing that we have people who work from 9-6, have kids and do this, too. D.C. is actually a bit of an older league, with most people being in their late 20s and 30's. The league has no coaches and we are all self-taught. We run our own practices and have our own trainers. The refs are mostly people's boyfriends, husbands, or fans who want to get more involved. All of this creates a well-oiled machine of awesomeness!"