On January 6th, in the span of ten minutes, I was asked by my 8-year-old son what a gas mask is used for. I intended to give him my full attention but I was distracted by whether and when to pull my property management team from the field as I observed protesters scaling the US Capitol Building live on CNN. This is life, leadership and parenting in a pandemic. During a coup.
Flock DC, our family of companies, tends to thousands of homes in the District. Managing home is an essential service during this time. It always has been and always will be. But operating a District business today offers myriad complexities as the political landscape shifts and very real threats to people and property unfold.
And so, perched in our DC row homes, our leadership teams learned quickly to prepare for just about anything. The pandemic taught us how to pivot. The protests, elections and the recent coup taught us that planning ahead is everything. I was asked on the 7th if the 6th came as a surprise. Certainly not, I thought. Ahead of the presidential elections, we studied the very real possibility of civil war at worst and increased unrest at best. We anticipated the protesters ahead of the 6th and planned our field activities to avoid any work near or around the Capitol Building and White House. We alerted our residents that access to services may be disrupted, and advised them to stay in and stay safe from the anticipated tension the protests would bring. We’ve trained our teams to act quickly when they feel threatened and to retreat quickly and without hesitation – whether the threat be proximity to the unmasked during a pandemic or a pipe bomb. But even with best-laid plans, and the eyes-wide-open approach to the current realities of the world, my leadership team and I were still in shock when what we’d planned for unfolded before our very eyes. We might all feel better and more prepared with a parachute strapped to our backs, but nobody wants to pull the cord. We’ve had our hands squeezing that cord for a solid 10 months and we’re not letting it go anytime soon.
Crisis management is squarely in our wheelhouse as a company that handles real time escalations all day every day. Problem solving is our business. But the external threats the political and public health landscapes have delivered in the last ten months have tested even the most sophisticated leaders among us. In 2020, it became commonplace to be in almost constant conversation about the pros and cons of boarding up street level properties in response to, or anticipation of, a disruptive and potentially violent event. And one of those “events” was election day. To think, Washington, DC, the host city of democracy, had business leaders scrambling to protect its citizens and streets in anticipation of folks exercising their right to vote. Living and working in Washington comes with baked in low level (at best) anxiety about the threat of terrorism. We’re all keenly aware that the District will always be a target, but logically didn’t assume domestic terrorism would be the actualized threat. But here we are. And doing business in a city that is stateless complicates things for government leaders who lack full agency in governing people and place with the full suite of services afforded any other state.
To live through the reality that calling on national guard wasn’t a right afforded to our own Muriel Bowser as Mayor illustrates a substantial gap in the right to representation for some. That some includes our residents and our business. Yet we’re operating in a city that is more vulnerable than most and as the Capitol Police tuck their tail between their legs, the balance of the city wonders aloud what the solution is while we simultaneously plan for whatever imminent threat lies around the corner. And such is life and leadership in 2020 2.0 in Washington, DC.
Lisa Wise is the founder/CEO of Flock DC. She lives in Washington, DC with her wife and their son Beckett.