Thriving in the Wake of Disaster

Passionate administration work to rebuild the outside of the Cathedral as well as the inside.

Tuesday, August 23rd of 2011 ruptured the course of Washington D.C.’s architectural future. A 5.8 earthquake shook the city to its foundations, including major landmarks such as the Washington Monument and the Washington National Cathedral.


For a historical and religious symbol to crumble, even in our secular society, it shifts the dynamic of religious strength. Those that originally saw the Cathedral as a place of empowerment and faith were devastated by the catastrophe, and those that did not see the Cathedral as a focal point now had a reason to pay attention. The Cathedral’s commandeering Gothic facade crumbled, stained glass shattered, some of the infamous gargoyles were destroyed.

Like most things in Washington DC, it can be easy to assume that the Washington National Cathedral would be able to be restored to its past glory because of federal funding, considering the word “National” is in the name. However, this is not the case. Church and state jurisprudence means that while the Cathedral is the nation’s religious center, it is not supported by the government. In the years after the earthquake, the Cathedral finds itself in a predicament of locating funding in an ever secular world, begging the question- who will donate to the multi-million dollar earthquake fund? The regulars who have been donating to the cathedral for decades are usually older religious congregation members who have lived in the Virginia, DC, Maryland area. However, these blue-haired congregates yearly twenty-five dollar donations aren’t cutting it, and neither was the Cathedral’s lack of a response system in the event of disasters.

Two years after the earthquake, the Cathedral realized that there was no system in place to effectively solve a crisis like the earthquake. This led to the hiring of the outspoken, intelligent Director of Preservation Jim Shepard. “I’m an unusual candidate,” Jim begins, reaching over to take a sip of his iced coffee, “because I actually have architectural and restoration experience in other Cathedrals.” Jim’s job description entails practically everything physical about the Cathedral. The capital needs, earthquake repair, deterred maintenance, fire safety, and “The Organ Project”, which requires the organ to be updated regularly to continue to function normally. The organ was put in place in 1938, and has slowly been expanded and updated throughout the years. However, this ongoing project has been put on hold since the earthquake because of the crumbling exterior. Ten million dollars of funding needs to be raised to attend to all the damages, both from the earthquake and for the general needs of repairs to make the Cathedral pleasant and habitable. Under Jim’s passionate leadership, the Cathedral has begun to make strides to repair earthquake damage, and will continue to do so with zeal.


While the physicality of the Cathedral is modernized, the Program’s office is also working tirelessly to continue the programs. Michelle Dibblee, the new program director since July, entered with a background in community organizing and social justice work. She has continued progressive work concerning topics like gun violence and racism in relationship to faith. “We’re really looking to grow our relationships between the Cathedral community and the administration, along with finding other organizations that want to work with the Cathedral community on projects to further the gun violence and racial justice work,” Michelle explains, in her quick to the point manner that has become famous among congregation members and administration alike. When I ask her about how she feels that the Cathedral has changed since she has been a part of the Programs team, she clasps her hands together to think. She opens them up again, gesticulating around her, conducting her response, “This initiative to create stronger relationships isn’t a new concept at the Cathedral, I think that the Cathedral has always had a place in the civic sphere about elevating the conversation and experience in our changing society. We are both a spiritual and civic institution. It’s important for the Cathedral to respond to the world around us.”


Most recently, in response to the racially charged shootings and police brutality, the Cathedral had an event in which stained glass from one of the windows was extracted. It was given as a gift commemorating Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. In conjunction with taking the stained glass out, the Cathedral brought in speakers and created a schedule of forums to discuss where and how the Confederate flag serves as a piece of history and a proponent of racism. To take these pieces of stained glass out and create an open discussion space about the topic of race within the Cathedral congregation and the population of DC, it places the Cathedral in a new space as a meeting place for discussion and progression. Kelly Brown Douglas, the canon theologian at the Cathedral has coined the term a “new narrative of race” at the Cathedral, which requires the literal building fabric to be a source of discussion and change along with the social fabric of the congregation. After the physical removal of the windows and the planned racial justice events, the Cathedral is making its exterior as strong as its interior.


Just like how the Cathedral is changing physically, it is changing socially as well. The Cathedral might not make any outward political statements, but it is moving towards being a well known, inclusive national landmark and community.


Mr. Dylan, The Times Are Still A-Changin’

musicandpolitics-p1Has anyone considered that Bob Dylan might not want his Nobel Prize? He has yet again dismissed his prize for Literature by declining an invitation by President Barack Obama himself. But why? 2016 saw an increase of adversity and a divisive election pitting the country against itself. With continued violence against black America, increased involvement in the middle east, and a fear mongering demagogue becoming the leader of the free world: The United States has not seemed to heed the warning of his protest songs from the past 50 years.

Maybe he doesn’t want the prize because he feels as he doesn’t deserve it. The country is constantly divided, changing for better or worse and the need to call out injustice is still as necessary as it was in 1963

Music is and has always been a vehicle for ideas, movements, and stories to proliferate through society. The bards of past reciting stories of glory and triumph; began a legacy of allegory and perspective through music and prose. Weather it was “The Star-Spangled Banner” in the War of 1812, “Revolution” by the Beatles during the Vietnam war, NWA’s “Fuck Tha Police” and race issues in LA during the 80’s or today’s “Fuck Donald Trump” by rapper YG. Music and politics have traversed time hand in hand.

The contemporary impact of political music reflects the civil rights movement and anti-war sentiments of the 1960’s. Music provides a united front in the face of injustice. Musicians have always used their music as a platform to provide their own insights on the world. Mississippi Goddamn (1964), By Nina Simone reflects this, as it was inspired by a bombing of an Alabama church that killed four little girls. A year later, she performed Mississippi Goddam, concluding the historic marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.

Hound dogs on my trail
School children sitting in jail
Black cat cross my path
I think every day’s gonna be my last

Lord have mercy on this land of mine
We all gonna get it in due time

– Nina Simone — Mississippi Goddam

In 1963, Bob Dylan Wrote The Times They Are A-Changin’. Emerging from of a counterculture of peace and love in contrast to the brute force of American patriotism and the fear of communism began to take hold. As the Disapproval of American involvement in Vietnam was beginning, so did the power of anti-war music and piece loving hippies. No longer did people desire to be wanted by Uncle Sam, an emergence of criticizing the government led to the movement of thousands against the Vietnam war. People wanted to be heard, and the government wasn’t listening. Music was the catalyst of this fissure between federal control and individual autonomy.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s the battle outside raging
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changing

– Bob Dylan — The Times They Are A-Changin’

In times of adversity and struggle music also can unite us. In 2004 the United Nations Secretary-General asserted that music unites people of different backgrounds.

“Music penetrates almost every part of our lives: our rest, our entertainment, our education, and our worship. Throughout history, it has celebrated the triumphs and tragedies of life. As Plato said, music “gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination”. Music both shapes and reflects society. Dancers follow its beat; protesters use it to find their voice. It can promote ideals — like peace and solidarity — but it can also prepare armies for battle. It is part of almost every important personal and collective moment. In a world of diversity where often values clash, music leaps across language barriers and unites people of quite different cultural backgrounds. And so, through music, all peoples can come together to make the world a more harmonious place.”

– Secretary-General Kofi Annan Introductory Remarks on “Why Music Matters” by Professor Leon Bostein (November 8, 2004)

Music is a language all on its own, one does not need to understand the lyrics to understand the music, the feeling, the idea which surrounds a song. No matter one’s race, place of origin, heritage, sexuality, gender and identity: music creates connections even between the strongest of adversaries.

bio photo of Chris Richards courtesy of

On the individual level, music can change one’s life. Raised in the D.C. punk rock scene, and now the pop critic and editor for the Washington Post, Chris Richards is a man made by music. When considering the impact of musicians, music and politics he believes “music can teach us a lot about empathy and compassion — it shows us how other people feel and how they live”. It seems that the music we listen to has the ability to disseminate into what we believe, think, and do with the world and our personal politics.

Growing up in DC and being a part of its punk scene in the 90’s also had a major impact on Richards’s life. Many of the shows he would go to as a teenager were benefits concerts to raise money and awareness to local activists and charity groups. He explains, “It taught me that if you want to change the world, starting with your own community is an excellent first step”.

Music has always been an expression of free speech, and as a journalist Richards understands this all too well. He claims “a lot of the best music communicates a certain sense of possibility, and freedom is necessary to explore those possibilities”. For the Beatles, it was the possibility of coming together, or imagining a better world.

Considering the police brutality in LA During the 1980’s N.W.A.’s controversial song, Fuck tha Police is also an expression of these “possibilities”. Organized under the value to protect, mobilized by the fear of minorities, the police did not represent or protect black people, they were at war. Chris Richards believes “Musicians can use sound to respond to the world in countless ways, and that can include responding to the political moment. I’ve seen musical expression motivate listeners to take political action in their own lives, for sure.” N.W.A. used their music to make light of the injustices, to show the world why a sentiment like that was needed for society. It may have not been pretty, and respectful, but it carried meaning for all those who could relate.

Fuck the police coming straight from the underground
A young nigga got it bad cause I’m brown
And not the other color so police think
they have the authority to kill a minority
Fuck that shit, cause I ain’t the one
for a punk motherfucker with a badge and a gun

– N.W.A.    Fuck Tha Police

Music is Powerful. Music defines identities, provides foundations for movements, and inspires change. It can reinforce personal values, divide us and unite us. The stories told, and shared through a musician’s eye reflects the society that surrounds it. Music is a record of history, it shows us where we have come from, the changes we have seen and the issues that still preside from the past. As politics, debates and adversity continue to dictate our lives music shall always follow to show us the light as we follow it into the dark.


Natalie Landin
Bradley University Class of 2018
American University Semester Internship Program Fall 2016

Can a Rider’s Union save the WMATA from going underground?


The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) opened its car doors on March 27th, 1976.  This coincidentally is the last time a majority of its trains were updated.  With broken down escalators at almost every station, trains that just fail to arrive, and overcrowded commutes, riders don’t have to look hard for the shortcomings of the WMATA.

    2015 has been a trying year for the WMATA; starting off with the tragic death of a rider due to a car filling with smoke and the madness that comes from single tracking disrupting weekends and evenings all year round. Public transportation has the opportunity to cut down the traffic on the roads and the pollution in the air, all while making citizens lives easier by taking them from point A to point B, but the WMATA has found a way to make it more of a chore than a convenience. Loyal riders have found themselves buying cars, doing anything to avoid having to wait for delayed trains only to then be packed in like sardines.  After 40 years since Metro’s opening day, riders are banning together and saying enough is enough, someone needs to stand up for the riders.  

    To go deeper into the complaints that riders have, there are some serious safety concerns when it comes to riding Metro.  For riders that are in a wheelchair, it is sometimes impossible to get on or off the car safely because it isn’t level with the platform.  Smoke incidents are happening all the time.  It seems there is an escalator or elevator out at every station, and when it comes to the very long escalators, that poses a serious health threat expecting riders to walk all the way up.  And then there are the administrative issues.  There are trains that never come and if you rely on the Metro App you will find that bus schedules are never accurate, and that buses often just disappear.  “It has come to the point that if you have to be somewhere on time, you don’t take Metro! It’s too unpredictable,” said an American University student we talked to at the Tenleytown Station.  


    Let’s give a little insight to how WMATA is set up, and how the Rider’s Union fits in.  There is a General Manager, a board of directors, inspector general, the whole bit.  All people who, if we had to guess, don’t ride Metro.  Some of the Board responsibilities include “policy, financial direction, oversight and WMATA’s relationship with its customers, jurisdictional partner and signatories,” according to the Board of Directors bylaws.  This Board essentially fell to pieces earlier in 2015.  The General Manager had to step down, and the Federal government took over because of how badly WMATA was being managed.  Another part of the WMATA office is the Rider’s Advisory Council that was established in 2005.  This council’s purpose is to serve as a connection to the riders.  Meetings are open to the public and serve as a forum to discuss rider’s needs.  Unfortunately, this council hasn’t worked as planned.  On average less than 10 people go to the meetings.  Across the board, Metro has fallen short, making way for the Rider’s Union.  The Rider’s Union mission statement captures what they hope to do for riders.  It “represents the interests of the riders of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s bus, rail, and Metro Access services…operates on a democratic and consensus-driven basis, and its actions are intended to benefit all WMATA riders.”       

    Ashley Robbins, a transit consultant and principal figure in the Rider’s Union, stated that “while the WMATA is addressing the issues of communication, service, infrastructure and  reliability, it needs to be transparent about what riders should expect”. Although Robbins recognized the Rider’s Advisory Council and has met with them on occasion, she suggested that “its presence hasn’t been felt by riders”. It seems to act more as a focus group that presents the WMATA Board with issues, whereas the Riders’ Union is looking to recommend changes and push for specific policy goals that it would like to see implemented. Transit authorities across the country, including in New York and Boston, are very active in publicizing all the work they do. The Rider’s Union in Washington DC is hoping to follow suit by pushing the WMATA to communicate better.  The Union has been very successful at using social media, for promoting their own events as well as official WMATA board events that riders should attend.  They have the upper hand when it comes to social media.    

    When talking about the goals of the Rider’s Union, Robbins says it all boils down to growing their organization, and empowering riders.  By working together, the WMATA Board and Rider’s Union can achieve the common goal of happy Metro riders.  Only time will tell if Metro will be willing to listen to a union organized by one of their fiercest critics, habitual riders.   


“My Little Sister’s Best Friend is Muslim”

Junior Tarah-Lynn Saint-Elien localizes the events at Charlie Hebdo through her op-ed originally published on her fashion blog, Adorned In Armor.

Adorned in Armor

My little sister’s best friend is Muslim. They met freshman year of high school and the two have been close for a little over a year now. Within their friendship, they have learned to ignore the stares of onlookers that solely see two black girls – one apparently ordinary and one that isn’t, solely because she wears a Hijab. For the ones that know my sister personally, their eyes pop out even wider because she’s a Christian and apparently, Christians and Muslims don’t mix.

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National Press Club History

As part of their internship at the National Press Club’s Broadcast Operations Center, Abessalom Araiza, Claire-Francesse Dalzon and Florian Blankenburg produced a video of the Club’s history with Abessalom and Claire in front of the camera and Florian behind it.

In Turtle’s Shoes

by Sabine Kaupp.

Soft chiming of an Asian carillon fills the air when entering The New Da Hsin Trading company in Chinatown in Washington, D.C. One can hear water fountains, one can smell herbs and one can see hundreds of little figures, porcelain or silk stacked in the back of the room. A older, tiny lady with Asian looks comes silently round the corner and smiles. Continue reading