Saturday, October 23, 2010

Serendipity 10. Spend Columbus Day Weekend in Washington, DC with 29 Students

So, it's been a couple weeks, and I really want to make sure that I get to share some of the cool things (lots of new ones, too) that the 30 of us MDG class and Social Justice Leaguers of Saint Michael's College did in Washington, DC. The whole trip was the suggestion of students from my Global AIDS course last year. I told them that I was thinking about starting a new class in fall 2010 on the Millennium Development Goals, and they gave me all kinds of great ideas for the new course. Mae suggested that the class should incorporate a trip to Washington, DC over Columbus Day weekend to do advocacy on the issues we were covering in the class, and that seemed a great idea, so now we've done it.

We left on Saturday, October 9, and since Saint Mike's takes off both Monday and Tuesday of that week, we were able to spend both days in DC. We attended an environmental rally in front of the White House called by the Vermont-founded organization on Sunday afternoon and spent Monday morning doing a training on the issues we'd be speaking about with Hill staffers. Monday afternoon was a fabulous teach-in with Maurice Carney, Executive Director of Friends of the Congo and two of his staffers. One of their offices is upstairs from a wonderful bookstore-coffeehouse adjacent to Howard University called Sankofa, and after our teach-in, we were having drinks and snacks outside, and the actor Danny Glover dropped by to visit the cafe and FOC office. It was great to chat with him about issues affecting the Congo, and he even posed for pictures with our group and some of the individuals.

Of course, everything led up to Tuesday morning, which was our actual time for lobbying. We split into teams and were able to visit 6 offices: Senators Leahy and Sanders and Representative Welch from Vermont; Senator Gillibrand and Representative Lowi from New York; and Representative Hodes from New Hampshire. We talked to them about fully enforcing Public Law 109-456 which has already been passed on the Congo; providing more money for global AIDS and global health spending; and our recent environmental action at Saint Michael's College.

Along the way, we managed to get in some sight-seeing (at museums and monuments, including as you see here, the Lincoln Monument at night) and new food (Ethiopian) and lots of exploring different parts of the district. I've posted more pictures than usual, mainly because there were so many things we did and so many people involved. There's a picture of Olivia, Samantha C. and I asking Danny Glover a few questions. Although Josh got to chat with him about labor activism, an even prouder moment is captured here when he got to meet one of the heroes of the environmental movement, James Hansen, the early scientific voice of warning about climate change in the United States. There is a shot from our Ethiopian eating adventure (almost everyone at the table had never tried it); photos from the hotel lobby getting ready for Hill lobbying (that's Sarah, Matt, Jerry and Mia sitting on the floor strategizing, and I'm waving around a photo of our recent 350 action on campus we brought to give to our Congressional delegation); and pictures of Rachel and Claire helping Maurice with his presentation and then all of us outside with him. On lobbying day Team Leahy passed Team Gillibrand in the Senate office building, so I forced Ben, Connor, Tim, Chris, Tim, Ellen, Claire, Olivia, Katerina, Samantha H. and Alexsis to pose together. And finally, you can see something our class and advocacy organizations have become quite adept at -- what we call the Kindergarten Circle. It doesn't matter where -- class, outside our hotel, on the grass of Lafayette Park in front of the White House -- when it's time to get ready for something or analyze what we've just seen we "circle up" and talk it out.

When 30 people take a trip, everyone takes home different favorite memories. But for me, my favorite memory is a shape -- our circle-- that we made all over Washington DC, whenever we took some time out to learn and prepare and talk together. I am lucky to work with fabulous students and student-activists who came to Washington to learn and advocate for issues they believe in. Not a bad way to spend a four-day weekend.


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