Podcast Episode 61: How Six Years in Washington DC Changed Me

The author's face reflected on a computer screen showing a terminal window.

By Marc Eliot Stein, World BEYOND War, June 28, 2024

Concluding the story that began last month, World BEYOND War’s technology director and podcast host Marc Eliot Stein talks about the personal confrontations and crises that eventually led him to his current work and commitment to peace activism. Before making this life-changing choice, Marc spent the years from 2009 to 2015 working in Washington DC, naively hoping to find a meaningful vocation as a software consultant and project manager for three federal departments within the Obama administration: the Department of Labor, the Postal Regulatory Commission and the Center for Disease Control. Beginning each new position with great optimism and hope, he watched as one project after another disintegrated into epic, maddeningly frustrating failure.

The apathy, fecklessness, incompetence, nepotism, backstabbing and greed our podcast host witnessed during his six years inside the federal government technology workspace wasn’t the direct cause of his growing commitment to alternative politics and pacifism. The journey was also encouraged by spending time at Occupy Wall Street in 2011, which presented a more action and community-oriented path towards urgently needed societal change. In the winding, deeply personal and self-questioning narrative that is Episode 61 of the World BEYOND War podcast, we also talk about Woodrow Wilson and the history of segregation in USA’s capital, about the easily debunked but still widely popular terrible ethical philosophy of Ayn Rand, about civil war reenactments in Virginia, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, Drupal and Solr, and the important life lessons that painful failures can teach us.

Music excerpt: “Fake Empire” by the National.

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3 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing the story.

    I believe it is a mistake in saying or thinking, ‘I am ashamed to be an American.’ That is a dis-service to yourself and to America.

    Instead I say “The government and businesses should be ashamed by the manner in which they treat people. They should be ashamed that they act in an unjust, predatory and militaristic way to protect the financial interests of the greediest of the nation. They should be ashamed of the harm they cause to people and planet in their pursuit of their limitless greed. They should be ashamed that they are willing to change laws so that their predatory actions are legal, and that they establish laws to imprison or marginalize any dissent. They should be ashamed that they fail to act in a caring and kind matter. The mainstream media should be ashamed that they fail to expose these injustices and lies in a timely manner, if at all. (the list continues)

    I am sad that they don’t feel ashamed of their actions, or take steps to rectify they harmful actions. I place some of the fault on people that we haven’t gotten together to realize that we need to have each other’s back and stand together. But the propaganda machine has been going on for thousands of years as we are taught about the history and importance of kings and empires is meant to create enemies. But we fail to learn about peacemakers and educators and cooperation. Whether through school text books, mainstream media, culture (movies, books). Yes, there are some who do point out the injustices, and for those I am grateful. But the balance in off kilter.

    But lets clearly identify who should be ashamed. I am an Americana, you are an American, we are American. I am not going to be ashamed of being an American. I think the people who act taking the rights of people away, and harming the planet should be ashamed in pursuit of wealth should be ashamed. Including those that hide behind the flag loudly proclaiming that they are American, and that they represent America. They don’t represent America, because I am American, and they don’t represent me. The people who should be ashamed are those who are causing harm to other Americans and the country’s ability to provide a healthy sustainable thriving society. That is what should be criminal.

    We are one, or we are none. We have a ways to go.

  2. Dear Attila – thanks a lot for your thoughtful feedback. We do agree on the meaning of shame, and there’s a lot of it. But I also believe that your wish to identify as an “American” (whatever that may mean) is your own voluntary choice. We are all allowed to choose our associations. My problem with being labeled an “American” is that in current times, during our lifetimes, being an “American” is defined by who is outside the walls, outside the fortress, outside the gates. Our foreign policy creates wars and wage slavery in Latin America, and then the refugees from these broken societies come to the US/Mexico border and are treated cruelly. I feel complete solidarity with the refugees on our southern border, with the victims of US-funded genocide in Gaza, with the billions of human beings in China who must be wondering why a country called USA is so eager to start a new war in Asia. There is nothing forcing me to identify as an “American” and I have a right to choose not to do so. Does that make sense?

    1. Marc,

      I say that to challenge the predatory people’s definition of what it means to be an American. I am accepting that I am an American, and that I have a role in how that term is defined. I’m not going to self-marginalize myself. I may not succeed. Of course the reality is that the monied class has the ability to manipulate almost everything for their benefit.

      Saying that I am an American (by birth) is a geographic statement, that really has no intrinsic value. I share all of your concerns about how our nation acts, and how harmful and predatory is has always acted, is acting, and will act if nothing changes. But I have little control what other Americans do, even if they proclaim they do it in the name of America. I don’t think America was ever great so it can’t be great again. And while not everything it did was bad, the harm that they did was intentional, there was not for a ‘noble’ purpose, was not done with the intent to protect America, but to enrich and protect the elite class. And more importantly, it resulted in harm to the well-being and sustainability of people and planet. No different than any other empire that was built on military aggression, division of people, control of public media, put as many people as it could in survival mode to that we don’t rise up above them. And soldiers and civilians are just fodder, inconsequential and disposable.

      I never accepted the so called patriotic definition of American that America is great. Or that any criticism of US policies is un-American. There is more than just a cognitive dissonance between what some say it means to be American, while lying about the reality of what is actually happening (every war in the last 75 years was unjust, and most even before that). I just want to challenge how we define ‘American’ and not let the predatory people who have taken it over be the ones who define it. Its like how the term ‘woke’ was taken over and given a new definition.

      How do they do this? “Simply put, the wealthy few invest heavily in shaping laws that strive to place unlimited private property and corporate expansion above and beyond all else, including the lives of people, the health of communities, protections of what we own in common, the capacity of society to function as a democracy, and the stability of the living biosphere itself.” Ralph Nader (Breaking Through Power, 2016, City Lights Books)

      Thanks for the exchange, hopefully catch up in person at some point in the future.

      Look forward to a World beyond War.

      peace joy happiness health to everybody.

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