Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Visiting the Capitol

Just about a week ago, I was in Washington DC with my fiancée.  We had just attended a Christmas party, a surprise 30th birthday party, and a wedding during the weekend, and then we stayed with my friends JR and Christy Pittman and stayed the night with them.  On Monday, we rose early and made our way to the Metro and took it into the city.  We had a fun and adventurous day planned in the cold capital city, and among our stops was a tour of the Capitol.  We have a great friend who works there, and he had made plans to give us a tour during his lunch break.

We were able to see and experience the Capitol in ways not often experienced by tourists, as we were ushered past the crowds for a more detailed guided journey.  At the end of our time, the journey became a bit more exciting as we were given two tickets to enter the gallery to sit and watch the Senate in session.  As we turned over all of our electronics and made our way up the stairs and through security, I found myself reflecting on the fact that very few citizens of our country have actually sat in the gallery and experienced the senate in session.  While most of us have access to CSPAN, it’s not quite the same. 

The Senate was in session putting in long hours during the weekend voting on a couple of major pieces of legislation, but not everyone was in attendance.  West Virginia’s own newly elected Senator to replace the late Senator Robert C. Byrd, Joe Manchin, did not vote on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell or the DREAM Act.  Of course, Manchin later made an apologetic statement to the people of the state for missing the votes. 

It was kind of strange sitting in the gallery and watching the senate at work.  During the 40 minutes Jamie and I sat in on the Senate, we only saw a handful of Senators present.  It was pretty amazing to sit and watch our government at work, but it was much different than I had expected.  I had assumed that when legislation was being discussed that every Senator would be present.  That’s simply not the case.  As the discussion took place, Senator Kerry was present along with a handful of other Senators who debated the nuclear disarmament treaty.  He was also using a Blackberry, which according to a recent New York Times article, is a banned object on the congressional floor.  I guess I had always pictured everyone sitting in on the debate and discussion to make the most informed decision before a vote, but very few were doing so while I was there.  I guess it is a bit naïve of me to make the assumption that these elected representatives wouldn’t have other responsibilities to take care of, but like I said, it was a learning experience for me.  I’m sure it’s hard to keep track of every detail and discussion point for every piece of legislation that comes by one’s door.

As I sat in the gallery and became much more informed on the disarmament treaty than I had been before that time, I was grateful for the opportunity to sit in on the process of how our government works.  I reflected on the fact that I was able to sit in the same room as the legislative branch of government for the most powerful country in the world.  How truly amazing that we have a government that gives us access to the process?  How wonderful that we have the right to petition our representatives and speak our minds about issues that are dear to us?  This isn’t the case in many parts of the world.  After leaving the Capitol, it is my hope that I will be able to become a more active and aware citizen.  And I’m hopeful that you will also take advantage of the many opportunities we are given to participate in our nation’s governance.

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