Thursday, September 29, 2005

The fabulous Jodie Evans just sent me this picture (I'm the one on the left, with my jacket falling off)--another great reminder of my time in DC. I don't think my feet have fully reached the ground yet.

I've been thinking today about my last time in DC. I was 18 years old, and had won an essay contest sponsored by the United States Information Agency (there were three American winners and three French winners; the subject of the contest was "The Meaning of Liberty", to celebrate the Statue of Liberty's Centennial. At the celebration, our essays were placed in the time capsule of the statue and we were all named "Stewards of Liberty for the next 100 years." My essay had been about the liberty of the human spirit and imagination; that is the liberty I hope to still steward for the next 81 years!) The winners of the trip were flown to Washington, DC before we headed to NY for the Liberty festivities (with a side trip to Connecticut, where we were the guests of honor at a UN-sponsored Apple Festival.) We were feted all over DC. I have a picture of William Bennet tshaking my hand and handing me some sort of certificate in the Department of Education building. I remember he named me the "Minister of Smiles". If I had known at the time what a conservative hypocrite he was, I wouldn't have been smiling so broadly. Did you hear his comments yesterday about how the crime rate would go down if we aborted all black babies?!!?!! I see the picture of my hand against his and I cringe.

I was so shy as an 18 year old. It was hard for me to ask questions of people, to speak to people at all. We were given an audience with Supreme Court Justice Warren Berger; I remember he smiled at me and said I must have a question for him. I shook my head and stammered no, even though I knew it was an opportunity I was silly to pass up. I found myself staring at the bags under his eyes and wondering what would ooze out if they were sliced open--marshmallow creme, I imagined--instead of allowing my my critical brain to zoom into focus. Later, we had the chance to talk with the Press Secretary under Reagan (I forget his name). I forced myself to ask a question--I said something to the effect of "Do you ever withhold information from the American public?" I was a bit taken aback when he laughed and said "Of course." There was no attempt on his part to sweeten the situation, and this came as a shock to me; I already considered myself a peace activist at that age, but I was still fairly naive, still fairly trusting of those in power. That moment opened my eyes big time.

How cool to return to DC with more awareness, more knowledge, more desire to ask questions, to speak to power. I still struggle with some of that innate shyness, but being surrounded by others asking the same hard questions helps pull me out of my shell, helps make my own voice stronger.

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