City Paper is not for tourists
Forget the homeland. Glitterati everywhere are beefing up the home.
This past February, in his State of the District Address, Mayor Anthony A. Williams recalled a recent gathering at Ballou Senior High School, where he’d met with parents and teachers to discuss the torrent of juvenile violence that had been ripping through the city. “‘It starts at home,’ [a victim’s] mother implored the room to remember,” said Williams. “It starts at home.”
It used to be that trouble at school started at school. These days, it starts at home. The change of venue is no coincidence. After years of languishing in obscurity, the home has finally arrived at the center of our collective concern. Recent studies suggest that home is the new space: a final outlaw frontier, as complex as the Milky Way, as thorny as the Wild West. To end teenage violence—not to mention illiteracy, mercury pollution, nuclear proliferation, and the mumps—politicians and social scientists, celebrities and mountaineers will have to team up to do the undoable: They will have to tame the home.
In recent months, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department has launched a number of home-based initiatives, including Operation Prevent Auto Theft, which aims to crack down on kids stealing cars by reaching out directly to parents. In late July, Inspector Lillian Overton explained the underlying philosophy and the new party line to the Washington Post. “It doesn’t take a village,” said Overton. “It takes Mom and Dad.”
Former Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. recently appeared on News Channel 8 to weigh in on the topics of the day. During the show, host Bruce DePuyt asked Barry what could be done to prevent further youth violence. “Obviously, this starts with the family,” Barry responded.
Take it from the former mayor: Crime prevention doesn’t begin in hotel rooms or in the shadows at Buzzard Point. It starts at home.
The legions of born-again home-believers already include numerous local and national celebrities. Two years ago, the Washington Post ran an article puzzling over the Redskins’ inability to win consistently at FedEx Field. How could the Redskins return to their glory days of yesteryear?
“It starts at home,” said LaVar Arrington.
In November 2001, a reporter for Arizona’s Flagstaff Tea Party asked activist Julia Butterfly Hill, “Do you think there’s hope for peace in the world?”
“It starts at home,” replied Hill.
Of course, support for the home extends beyond the Barrys and Butterflys on the left. On numerous occasions since taking office, President George W. Bush has professed his own solidarity with all things starting at home. In February 2001, President Bush was flying aboard Air Force One when he told a group of reporters, “The best foreign policy starts at home.” In September of that same year, Bush attended a Teamsters barbecue in Detroit. “We’ve got to have an education policy that starts at home,” said the president. About a year later, Bush elaborated on the point at a school in Nashville: “The best education starts at home.”
So does the best meatloaf. But that’s neither here nor there. The point is, everything good starts at home.
Shockingly, it wasn’t long ago in human history that respected scholars were spreading the delusional notion that some things don’t start at home. Perhaps the most egregious example appeared in Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens. “Charity begins at home,” Dickens wrote in 1844, “and justice begins next door.”
Next door? How fatuous. Obviously, justice starts at home. And apparently so do weapons of mass destruction. Recently, a story appeared in Insight on the News magazine about how biological weapons agents had been discovered in Iraq at the home of an Iraqi scientist—under his sink. In late July, the New York Times published a story about how authorities in France had foiled a terrorist plot, which they had traced to an apartment in suburban Lyon. “[The suspect] borrowed his mother’s coffee pot and kitchen scale to set up a makeshift laboratory in her sewing room,” wrote the Times. “He rarely left the apartment.”
Another thing that starts at home: literary dementia. Over the past two years, the editorial writers at the Washington Post and the Washington Times have pursued a tireless campaign to shed the light of wisdom on all sorts of murky phenomena that begin at home. A quick summary: Justice begins at home. A better understanding of history begins at home. Sound public policy begins at home. Helping Iraqi citizens begins at home. AIDs prevention? Home. Charity? Home. Sacrifice? Home. Compassion? Wealth? The war on terrorism? Home. Home. Home.
All of which is irrefutable. But it does raise a problem: Our understanding of the political ramifications of the home is expanding faster than our actual homes. Things could get crowded and fast. There is a real risk that the District’s concerns could be elbowed aside by our big brothers on Capitol Hill. We could be forced into suboptimal accommodations on the home front alongside some of the more unsavory elements of the “starts at home” movement. Who wants to share a room with a bunch of loudmouthed Christian conservatives preaching, for example, that sobriety starts at home?
Shutting the hell up starts at home also.
In any case, what this country needs more than a Department of Homeland Security is a Department of Home that could help organize our collective house and all of the various public-policy programs that logically start there. Yes, the war on terrorism starts at home. But more specifically, it starts on the fire escape. Education reform? Try the den. Improving the environment? Look under the toilet seat. As long as Mayor Williams agrees to work closely with President Bush, there’s no reason why the District can’t get a good seat at the kitchen-cabinet table.
As for his own home, Williams made an admirable attempt to sum up its policies during the State of the District address. “Of course, there is one place in D.C. where the climb toward democracy never really got off the ground,” said Williams. “And that’s my house. It is more like a monarchy, and, no, I am not the monarch.”
Not to worry, Mr. Mayor. Log onto the Web site for the left-leaning political organization MoveOn.org and you can download the hippest protest poster du jour.
“Regime change,” it reads, “begins at home.”CP
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Susie Ghahremani.