On a grocery delivery day last year for “We Are Family,” a small interfaith initiative serving the elderly, volunteers gathered to fill bags and take them to residents of the North Capitol neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
One of the volunteers, a young punk rocker, had shaped his hair into three mohawks standing on his head. Mark Andersen, 46, We Are Family director and co-founder, said he remembers “the interesting conversations with the seniors as they tried to figure out how in the world he got his hair to be so stiff.”
We Are Family—part of the Northwest Settlement House, an organization with a long history in Washington, and Faith in Action D.C., a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation—draws many of its volunteers from the D.C. punk scene and the global justice movement, known more by the broader public for protest and rebellion.
“One of the things I’m interested in is drawing people from all these faith-based communities into relationship with not faith-based and sometimes anti-faith-based activists to find common ground,” Andersen said.
Community activist and poet Lucy Stokes, 68, said she welcomes visits from young punks involved with We Are Family through “Positive Force,” a punk activism group started in 1985. “They dress a little funny, and wear their hair a little funny, but they are wonderful. Once they get in and you start talking, the fact that they got green hair, blue hair, just disappears.”
Andersen said he found common values between seniors he works with and punk philosophy. One of those common values is a “do-it-yourself attitude,” he said. “I don’t know how much more do-it-yourself you can get than the seniors of the Shaw neighborhood,” he said, given their history that includes struggles against segregation, limited rights for women, and the challenges of raising a family on a limited income in an expensive city.