Posted on July 30, 2003
Washington, D.C.

From Jon:

Washington D.C. is where this whole trip comes together. We’ve been roaming this vast country for 31 days, learning about the issues, meeting with the activists, and formulating our own opinions, and now we are in the nation’s capital where all of these issues are addressed, worked on, and sometimes resolved. Our political, social, and philosophical beliefs, as well as our opinions of government in general, have been forever changed by this trip, and now it is time to apply what we have learned.

This first day in Washington was the most packed of the entire trip. We spent the entire day active and walking around, meeting with politicians, lobbyists, and other non-governmental organizations. Our first meeting was with Congressman John Lewis of Georgia. Congressman Lewis is in his 9th term as the representative for Georgia’s 5th district, or downtown Atlanta. He became legendary for his activism in the civil rights movement, marching at the front of the Selma to Montgomery march that we learned about in the first days of this trip. Congressman Lewis was brutally beaten by Alabama National Guardsmen during that march, and yet he never faltered on his beliefs in non-violence. Those beliefs still stand today, and they are instrumental in his politics. Hearing John Lewis speak at an anti-war rally I attended a year or so ago was one of my first truly moving experiences in my interest in politics, and since then he has been one of my political heroes. Getting this chance to meet with Congressman Lewis in his office in such an informal way helped the political system seem much more human for all of us who have been questioning its fairness throughout this trip.

Next, we (temporarily) left Capitol Hill and met with Jubilee U.S.A., an organization dedicated to third world debt relief. This was an issue that was, for most of us, unfamiliar at best, but at the end of this meeting we realized how important it is. Many third world nations are billions of dollars in debt to the United States as well as other economically powerful nations, and because of this they are forced to spend more money paying off their debts than they spend on health care, education, and other necessities to the well being of their country. At first, we believed that the one concern to Americans would be the cost to us as taxpayers if we forgave these debts, but the representative from Jubilee showed us that the debts to the U.S. Treasury Department itself are already paid, and thus the taxpayers will incur virtually no loss if the debts are forgiven. The debts are currently owed to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and the American taxpayer is barely affected by them. This organization opened us up to yet another important issue for America and the world.

After Jubilee, we met with Amnesty International. This powerful and far reaching organization polices human rights violations around the world. They stand against the death penalty, as do I, and we discussed that issue extensively. Currently, America is one of only a handful of other nations that implement the death penalty on minors as well as adults, whereas most other democratic nations do not use the death penalty at all. Clearly, there is some imbalance that needs to be considered by our government. We also discussed human trafficking, use of land mines, forced child soldiers, and other human rights abuses across the world.

Our next stop was the Religious Action Center, a reform Jewish lobbying organization that pushes policies and legislation that reflect the beliefs of the reform movement. Yet another staunchly liberal organization, the RAC is pro-choice, anti-death penalty, anti-land mine, pro-campaign finance reform, and in favor of gay marriage. Our experience with the RAC was more interactive than with other organizations. We were all given passages from the Torah or an issue in America on a slip of paper, and we went around the room trying to match up one with another and explain why we thought they fit.

Next on our agenda was Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts. When we arrived at the capitol again, we found that Congressman Frank was in committee, but we spoke with one of his legislative assistants instead. Congressman Frank is the first openly gay representative, and thus he has one of the strongest voices in the House when it comes to gay rights. Mr. Frank is one of the further-left representatives in the House at this time, and he is adamant on the legalization of marijuana and campaign finance reform. We did have the chance to briefly meet with him on the way out of his meeting. We had a quick photo op, and then we headed to our next meeting.

Since we had a thoroughly liberal day, Billy figured it was time for an experience with the other side. Our next and final meeting of a busy day was with John Lerner, a conservative pollster and friend of Billy’s who was enlisted to meet with us and simply argue the right side of the issues we had been hearing only the left side of. This was a very interesting meeting for all of us, the liberals because we finally had someone to argue with, the conservatives because they finally had someone to agree with, and the undecided faction because they had finally heard both sides. For me, the highlight of the meeting was a rigorous death penalty discussion. It shocked me to see that, with him as well as most other death penalty advocates with whom I have had this discussion, costs, human error, and prejudice aside, support for the death penalty comes down to some kind of merciless revenge complex that overrides all other concerns. This meeting was riveting and productive. It helped us all to figure out more exactly where we stand politically, and it further honed our discourse skills.

After being thoroughly drained by the day, we went to Georgetown, where Eric, Josh, Jordan, Andrew, Ashley, Hydi and I had a wonderful Vietnamese dinner. We wandered around the neighborhood after dinner, and after that it was definitely bedtime. The fullest day of trip was over, and we had earned our rest. This trip is drawing so rapidly to a close! As much as I want to see you all at home, I am so sad to get off the road. Until Tuesday!