I had high hopes when I arose on Saturday morning. Sure, I wasn’t super excited to attend a 10 a.m. meeting. Sure, it was likely to be another dog and pony show from Muriel Bowser. But I was committed to having a positive perspective. Unlike years prior, I did not attend the forums that were scheduled earlier in the week. The time and location of these events were not accessible to any human. A superhuman would get there in no time.

Black Panther making his way from Southeast, Wakanda to attend a Budget Engagement Forum!

Black Panther making his way from Southeast, Wakanda to attend a Budget Engagement Forum!

 The chosen locations/times were not ideal for regular, schmegular, degular individuals traveling from Ward 8. In case you are lost, Cardi B coined the term "regular, schmegular, degular" to describe people with no influence or power.I must also mention that no childcare was offered for prospective attendees who may have been parents. Because parents don’t care about policy, obviously!

So What's The Point

 Despite the challenges,  I attend budget engagement forums because I am committed to ensuring that my fellow DC Natives/East of the River residents and their priorities are represented in these spaces.  This Saturday, I entered Kramer Middle School for the same purpose. I convinced myself that Mayor Bowser’s 2018 Budget Engagement Forums would be better than before.  I was certain that her desire for re-election would be momentum to improve her relationship with communities East of the River. I was certain that this year’s forum would provide space for voters to openly speak to their Mayor about their budget priorities: not pretend to allocate $100 in a small group in order to supposedly represent a $13 billion dollar city budget. I had seen mixed reviews from respected community advocates who attended the 3 forums held before Saturday. I took this feedback with a grain of salt. Many of these individuals are paid to advocate for issues they are not impacted by and communities they do not live in.

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Phaedra Parks, Esq. explaining how to legally advocate for communities you are not apart of.

  But I digress, when I arrived at the meeting I was told where my assigned table was. My heart sank in slow motion. Was this a wedding or a sweet sixteen? It was as if I could only reach 98% disappointed. I was floating on 2% hope that maybe my instincts would be proven wrong. I knew what was coming but I didn’t want to. At table 7, I listened to gentrifiers speak on impacted communities they knew nothing about. Comments were made that I could only respond to via my Twitter page. Check it out for my real-time reactions here. I was awestruck at how my neighbors spoke of Wards 7 and 8 while admittedly gentrifying Ward 4. If they even lived in Washington, D.C. Many were there for work and representing their job. They insulted youth, homeless people, and certain East of the River neighborhoods.

  I watched the Deputy Mayors of each agency come forward and perform. On the surface, they seemed to share convincing budget needs. Each spoke without referencing the available funding in the fiscal budget's surplus. For some reason, I still wasn’t insulted by this blatant misrepresentation. Messy Muriel and her Green Team were doing what has worked for them. Why would they try and fix what they never saw as broken? It’s re-election season!

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The Bowser Administration discussing the city's budget.

The Big Show

 I had made it through most of the opening acts. Messy Muriel arrived donning an Anacostia hat. I was amused at this secret shoutout to the latest developers she has been ruthlessly selling this area to. In a room full of people who did not live in Ward 8 the hat gave her attempted sneak entrance away. She stood there as Deputy Mayor of Greater Economic Opportunity Courtney Snowden came up. She began to give her spiel. She shucked and shucked hard. She jived even harder. It kinda looked like this.

Snowden's abbreviated shuck and jive. #ICYMI

Snowden's abbreviated shuck and jive. #ICYMI

  I sat in my assigned seat like “a good little girl” as intended by your Mayor. I remained underwhelmed but still not insulted. Then she attempted to force the crowd to applaud for a 1% decrease in D.C.’s unemployment. The hesitation of the audience showed that they were clearly underwhelmed with the achievement.

The response to our 1% decrease in unemployment.

And Then It Hits You

 The feeling of insult sat on my chest. I instantly thought of the unemployed people I encounter every day in The Future Foundation’s  Work D.C. program. I fought the urge to raise my hand and ask how many people is 1%? Is it 2, 200 or 2,000? I resisted asking how many were from the ward with the highest unemployment rate (Ward 8)? I did not fight the urge to side-eye at all. Messy Muriel was up next. She began with how fortunate we all were to be there. Because that's not insulting or microaggressive at all! She ranted about how previous administrations didn’t hold forums to hear from their constituents. Oh lucky us! She went on to give her usual talking points that make shit sound like sugar. She then dismissed us to finish our group activity at our assigned tables. But not without letting us know she was coming to some tables to listen “aka get her photo op.” This event had officially become an epic fail. I was taken from insulted into disappointment overdrive.


  My heart really hurts to see this Black, D.C. Native Woman lie from the sole of her feet in order to profit off vulnerable communities. You’d think I would be used to it by now. Maybe I was hurt this time because this is Black History Month. Maybe it was because Women’s History Month is on the way. No matter the reason, it gets me every single time and had gotten me again.

"B" is for Bad

 So how did this event epically fail? Every speaker FAILED to tell residents that each budget season Mayor Bowser meets with every Councilmember to discuss their budget priorities. Everyone FAILED to mention the budget surplus. Why? Because that fact would reveal that Messy Muriel could fully fund the things that would make our city better for everyone. Literally with a simple pen stroke. They FAILED to mention the Mayor's budget is complete and close to submission if not already submitted to her faves. This event revealed your Mayor has been FAILING the people who need her the most for a long, long time.

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 I was over this performance and wanted my Saturday morning back. I should have had a V8. Once again time I could have been using to organize was spent listening to how M&M is EPICALLY failing our residents. My tablemates went on with their elitist conversations about the budget items they loved. Some shared anecdotes about how funding or lack thereof helped them gentrify this city. One participant gave $5 to housing because of how pleased he was with his home purchase process. Other things were said to show that most of these individuals weren’t the best. When my table’s $100 budget ended up being 230 dollars. I thought it might be an opportunity to talk about the budget’s surplus. But their previous comments made it clear that they weren’t my target audience. I have learned to be more strategic than I am passionate because it gets more results. I remained quiet.

Hits the mute button on my mouth.

Is It Over Yet?

 Finally, the facilitators indicated that it was time for "some tables "to share their $100 budgets. Silly me to think every table would be able to share. Open community dialogue is not Messy Muriel’s favorite. Transparency and accountability aren’t “DC values." Two people who were clearly seeking jobs were eager to share and be seen. Because it’s re-election season! When they saw it might not be possible they switched from hand-raising to brown-nosing the facilitator at our table. It had already been shared that these facilitators were employed within the Bowser administration.

Never Forget

  As this event ended so did my patience with Messy Muriel. The only thing that warmed my heart was the presence of Councilmember Trayon White’s Legislative Assistant.  You may recall that his office held an emergency budget meeting to challenge last year’s budget and had success in making some changes that were more equitable for Ward 8. When I saw her I was reminded of what can happen when we “do something” for ourselves and release the expectation that B.S. Bowser will. I thought about how the old Wilkinson Library now says D.C. Infrastructure Academy because of her policy work. I remembered how Bowser and D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson had vocally opposed to funding this effort before pressure from Ward 8’s Policy Team that culminated at the meeting. This team consists of both Councilmember White’s staff and Ward 8 constituents. I realized that while Messy Muriel had no interest in investing in this community people existed who did. Ms. Jackie Ward (Ward 8 Affordable Housing Advocate) would join us as we awaited our Ubers and Lyfts. Because obviously, public transportation in Ward 8 is amazing! As Ms. Ward and I got into the same car (even though we requested separate Lyft lines, at different times). I accepted the sign and suddenly felt encouraged that although Bowser’s administration and this event had epically failed; the people will not.

A message for Muriel Bowser from East of the River.