We hear often, from the extreme political right and left, that Washington D.C. is broken. People across the nation grumble about how the power-heeled mingle with elected representatives on Capitol Hill and achieve little for the everyman. Putting the efficacy of the political system aside, what about Washington D.C. as a city? What about D.C.’s governance and its ability to provide for its residents?
A look at Kike Arnal‘s series In The Shadows Of Power would tell us that D.C. is failing and it is the poor and disenfranchised it fails most. The series features photographs of youth locked in the city’s jail (above).
“Washington, D.C. is truly a world symbol in ways most people do not understand. It is my hope that the work in this book might expand that understanding,” says Arnal.
I visited D.C. last week and it felt good and weird. The video exhibit at the Hirschorn was amazing, the Reflecting Pool was drained and scummy, a new $400M Museum Of The Bible had just been announced, and the Ethiopian food was tremendous. But I got the feeling I was treading the visitors’ routes rather than the locals’ usual routes. I stayed in NoMa, which is a new acronymic fancy recently applied to the area North of Massachussetts Avenue.
NoMa is where the new headquarters of NPR are located. It’s undergoing massive change as Washington D.C. spiffs itself up in the blocks north of The Mall, Union Station and Congress. Historically though, it has been a poor area. No more. The poorest residents of D.C. are pushed around, from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. All the while, the D.C. metro area is the “centre of the free world.”
The economic downturn of 2008 barely touched D.C. With such a high proportion of government jobs, the capitol didn’t suffer in the same way cities reliant on industry and services did. As a result, migration into D.C. among the young and hungry picked up, and the renters market boomed. Areas that had, for the longest period, been home to lower economic classes changed wholesale. For example, vacant lots in the 14th Street area — which was devastated by 1968 riots in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination — were only developed in the last decade. And even then it was with Target, Starbucks and other chain name stores.
The area was left to waste until such a time it was useful for corporate/consumer interests.
Arnal talks about the body of work on C-Span here and Ralph Nader sings the praises of In The Shadow Of Power on Democracy Now! In that same program, Arnal talks about the photo of the coffeeshop (above).
In the Shadow of Power was sponsored by the Washington, DC, based Center for Study of Responsive Law which was founded by Ralph Nader in 1968. The Center has sponsored a wide variety of books, organizing projects, litigation and has hosted hundreds of conferences focusing on government and corporate accountability.
Kike Arnal is a Venezuelan photographer and documentary filmmaker based in New York City. His photographs have been featured in the New York Times, Life, and Newsweek, among others. His video, Yanomami Malaria, produced for the Discovery Channel, covered the spread of disease among populations of indigenous people in the northern Amazon. Follow Kike on Tumblr.