Despite cries to drain the swamp, the marshlands of our nation’s capital remain vibrant with signs (literal and figurative) of the resistance. In this short guide to Washington, DC, I invite you to gather outside of the White House for a protest, stroll along the waterfront, peruse the historical and literary scene, and visit the many resistance-friendly businesses this city has to offer. In fact, you’ll find that the farther you wander from Capitol Hill, the more DC’s uptight veneer falls away—unless of course you forget that the left side of the Metro escalator is for walking, not standing.
Any anthropologist in possession of a good presentation paper is likely to be in want of caffeine. If you need to stretch your legs, local chains like Dolcezza and Compass Coffee are two good options, pairing coffee with a sizeable selection of gelato and kolaches. Across the street from the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, Open City’s drinks range from oolong tea to lavender hot chocolate, or you could walk farther afield to sister cafe Tryst (Adams Morgan) for endless coffee refills, animal crackers, and a wide selection of well-worn armchairs often occupied by harried graduate students.
Perhaps you’re caffeinated enough, but newly attentive to the fact that you aren’t as nearly well read as you thought you were? DC’s bookstores often provide libations to cut the dread of that creeping inadequacy. Take the Metro to Kramer Books in Dupont Circle (red line) or venture to U Street Corridor’s Busboys and Poets (green line)—both have sections dedicated to social justice literature and double as venues for open mics and live performances in the evening. Hail a cab or traipse through Rock Creek Park to Politics and Prose for an author reading or book signing.
Fortified by the cultural cache of your recent purchases at Politics and Prose, you might feel emboldened to step next door into the site of “Pizza Gate”—Comet Ping Pong, a local pizza joint and concert venue that most definitely does not have a basement. If the grittier Riot Grrl movement that sprung up in the city during the early 1990s calls to you, check out The Black Cat’s New Wave dance parties and Doctor Who screenings. Pop by U Street Music Hall and the 9:30 Club, or hop on the H Street trolley to Rock & Roll Hotel to see local and touring bands. For alternative refreshments, bars like American Ice Company, Boundary Stone, ChurchKey, and Right Proper, and restaurants such as Glenn’s Garden Market, Duke’s Grocery, and Roofers Union recommend homemade pickle-backs and local brews.
You can also participate in the Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park afternoon Drum Circle, which began during the Civil Rights movement. City signs for the park combine both names—Meridian Hill from the federal government and the local Malcolm X— in a demonstration of DC’s complicated relationship with the federal government . A short jog from Malcolm X Park, U Street Corridor and Shaw have been central hubs of DC’s African American community and became a flashpoint for the 1968 riots following the assassination of Marin Luther King Jr. Ben’s Chili Bowl witnessed the riots, and survived the neighborhood’s revitalization projects in the 1980s and 90s, and more recent gentrification that has pushed out other neighborhood staples.
Foodscapes of DC’s long-standing Ethiopian and Salvadoran communities are also central to DC’s culinary geography. The U St and the Adams Morgan neighborhoods are home to numerous Ethiopian restaurants, from Ababa on 18th St to Dukem—located on the block between Ben’s Chili Bowl and Oohh’s & Aahh’s soul food restaurant. The renovation and reopening of the popular Etete Ethiopian restaurant has also sparked debates about the effect of gentrification on immigrant communities and the DC food scene. A bit north, the Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights neighborhoods boast numerous pupuserias, named for the national Salvadoran dish, and fusion restaurants like Bad Saint and Purple Patch. Eating in DC also becomes a form of resistance when you sit down at establishments like Falafel Inc. and Foodhini that support refugee and immigrant communities. Mama Ayesha’s, a short walk from the conference, is more visibly resisting by foregoing the addition of Donald Trump to their Presidential Mural.
DC’s mainstream attractions another matter. If the free admission to the Smithsonian museums, and regular demonstration of resistance at events like the 2017 Women’s March, Climate March and March for Science, aren’t enough to tempt you to visit the National Mall, the opportunity to ice skate in the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden or explore the underground tunnels at the Library of Congress just might. The politics of memory probed in experiential exhibits at the Holocaust Memorial Museum and National Museum of the American Indian confront contemporary debates over tribalism, historical revisionism, and the military-industrial complex. Tickets to the National Museum of African American History and Culture remain limited, so wake up early and find a strong wifi signal to get advance passes online.
Travelers interested in DC lore can learn about the Demon Cat of the White House on nightly ghost tours along the Tidal Basin or get their thetans tested at a local Church of Scientology. For those of us who have committed a little too heavily to our podcast repertoire, NPR offers free weekday tours of their office (register ahead of time), sometimes leading to backdoor invitations to noontime Tiny Desk Concerts. Those more artistically inclined might check out the Renwick Gallery, Dupont Underground, or the National Museum of Women and the Arts, even though we all know that you’ll just end up in the basement of the Hirshhorn railing against capitalism with Barbara Kruger.
Finally, a trip to DC would not be complete without brunch, preferably in drag at Perry’s Restaurant and Nellie’s Sports Bar—yes, it’s a sports bar—and some political theater. Devoted theater patrons can find reasonably priced tickets at the Kennedy Center, GALA, Howard Theater or Wooly Mammoth. Cinephiles can catch the latest indie flick at any of the city’s multiple Landmark movie theaters, or head up the street from the conference to Avalon Theater or Suns Cinema in Mount Pleasant. Although DC winter weather is mercurial and indeterminate at best (like some politicians we might know), outdoor farmers’ and flea markets at DuPont Circle, Union Station, Eastern Market, and Georgetown remain mainstays for weekend warriors. Above all, remember that DC’s metro and bus system will eventually get you where you need to go, but complaining about WMATA (Washington Metro Area Transit Authority) is a sure way to fit in with the locals.
Emma Louise Backe has her MA in Medical Anthropology from George Washington University and BA in Anthropology from Vassar College. She is Managing Editor of The Geek Anthropologist and an active member of the DC resistance.
Cite as: Backe, Emma Louise. 2017. “A Resistance-Friendly Guide to Washington, DC.” Anthropology News website, November 3, 2017. doi: 10.1111/AN.673