Whenever we travel to Washington D.C., we remember the first time we visited as a couple. It was 2008. Early summer. Hotter than hell. At the time, we had decided D.C. would be a perfect jumping off point for a road trip across the United States. During the prior year, we had found an avalanche of life inspiration while traveling around Africa and South America.
We wanted to find the same kind of catalyst in our home country. Besides, it was an election year – with all the associated political tension – so it was a perfect time to explore what different Americans across the country were thinking. The road trip started out with a bang; we jumped right in by attended gay rights events and advocating on behalf of Obama. After a few days in our country's capitol, we were ready to jump into our rental car and head west.
Our hope for the road trip was realized. What we learned along the way – bonding with people in red states and blue states – is exactly what we had learned visiting countries in Africa and South America. Despite all of our awesome and interesting differences, pretty much everyone wants the same things for their life and for the world.
Flash forward to this week, which finds us visiting D.C. again. This time, we are here to celebrate International Women's Day, advocate for the eradication of poverty and fight for the dignity of all people. Specifically, we're in town to learn about key international development issues and to meet with our Congresspeople in order to urge them to support legislation that supports global prosperity. At the opening event, after a long day of work and sightseeing, that same "we are one" message came though loud and clear. From the journal:
Being here and wandering around is making us feel very patriotic and reminding us how good we have it in the developed world. Tonight, we'll head to a beautiful hotel and celebrate the progress we have made empowering women and eradicating poverty. It gives us pause, though, to think that – at that party – we'll enjoy safe water, extravagant food and awesome entertainment. Celebrating is important. The contradiction in realities actually deepens our resolve to whoop it up and then fight hard. Oh, and we're eager to see India.Arie perform.
We didn't get back to our hotel until nearly midnight. We caught up on work e-mail and then got up a few hours later to workout, do more work and prepare for the day ahead. Last night was overwhelming and inspiring. It's fascinating to be around a bunch of people who share your concern for the same issues. We bonded with some of our co-advocates and enjoyed the prelude to the upcoming events. Oh, and India.Arie was as incredible as we had hoped. At one point she sang: "We all want the same things from life - we want peace, love and prosperity." No one in the room disagreed.
When our 2008 road trip took us to the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, Alabama, we found a huge dose of the inspiration. The direction and trajectory of our (then) new life had been further confirmed by a simple, yet profound, memorial with a powerful statement, reaffirming our belief that we will not be satisfied until all life is recognized as equal.
Flash forward, again, to this week and the opportunity we had to learn some of the specifics about the current state of poverty in our world. From the journal:
It's about noon, and we're both foggy. Depressed about the state of the world. Hopeful? Yes. We just had a particularly moving session during which Melinda Gates spoke on behalf of the Gates Foundation, and we both feel like we're walking on air. Talk about inspiring; that woman makes anyone want to be a better person. She talked about the fact that there is no question that all life is equal; it doesn't matter where you were born. We must all care for each other. She speaks our language.
In general, people in the U.S. don't have much of an appetite for foreign aid - especially right now. That's a rough reality to face. We keep talking with our advocacy group about the idea of spending money now to create conditions where our assistance is no longer needed. Smart. Plus, if we keep working in "problem mitigation" mode, it'll only get more expensive and more lives will be lost. That reminds me, Gates was talking about vaccines for diarrhea (yes, who knew) and pneumonia - two of the biggest causes of infant death. Think about the money we'd save by implementing those soon. Let's be proactive!
The afternoon passed in a blur of information. With no time to breath, we're now preparing for the big evening event, where the waterworks will really start. They are presenting an award to an ultra-inspiring woman, Peninah Nthenya Musyimi, who came from nothing and is now changing lives for women in her home, Kenya. There will be, I am sure, a mix of high drama, off-the-charts inspiration and guilt. Guilt because we have it so damn good and should be doing so much more. How do we urge more Americans to care about the world?
Memphis, and the National Civil Rights Museum, was another inspiring stop on our mega-road-trip of 2008. The museum succeeds in it's mission to inspire participation in global human rights efforts. Learning more about the Civil Rights Movement helped to cement our belief that you must stand for what you belief in at any cost. We must lend our voices to the cause.
Back to this week's events in D.C., we were beyond eager to take our message to Capitol Hill. More blurbs from the journal...
Now, we head to Capitol Hill to keep a big part of our promise to ourselves. Today presents a wonderful opportunity – a moment we embrace – where we get to prove how grateful we are for our freedom and our ability to do what we please, unlike our inspirers back in Africa and South America. Today is for them and about them. Since the two of us are speaking about the power of education, we want to attach a face to our plea. We'll speak about the impact that sponsoring an education has had on Ailess.
We had our meetings. Our advocacy group rocks. Lots of passion with heartfelt stories. Our "giving back" tribe, for sure. Being able to speak with this group of people is an indescribable form of fuel for our passion. Erin's smarts and leadership, Lauren's enduring passion for the cause, Julie's commitment to get here and lend her voice, Marcus's compelling Peace Corps experience, Jennifer's tenacity. There are others; they are all incredible. It's satisfying to be around people who don't look at you like you're crazy for caring about people around the world. Oh, and sharing our personal story about Ailess worked wonderfully. We even showed a couple pictures on the iPad. Look at us, taking our tech savvy selves up to The Hill...
A day full of meetings. We are both in a fog. Tonight, DC is cloudy and there's a umbrella-bending storm going on out there. We braved the beating rain in order to grab some food. Chipotle. Two vegetarian burritos. Heavenly. Easy. We were planning to head out for a drink, but when we both looked down, we found jeans soaked to our knees and impossibly wet shoes covering blistered feet beaten from a day of walking House-to-Senate-to-House-to-Senate. It's time for some Full Circle chocolate – left over from the conference - and then bed.
We were on a high at the end of our road trip and we're on a high here at the end of our advocacy work. As you know from our last post on gay rights, we'll continue to do the thing that we're able to do as citizens of this country. Fight for what we stand for and provide a voice for the ghosts of society. What we know for sure is that when people learn about the reality of poverty they don't question the "right thing to do" or their level of commitment. It takes energy and time to reach people. We must continue the fight.
We're both on empty. Tired. Emotionally drained. It's time to move on. We should no longer be in public. Last night, when the woman at the restaurant said she didn't have the ingredients for the one vegetarian sandwich on the menu, I had a mini-melt-down. Such a small thing felt like a punch in the gut.
Today, we enjoyed what has become a D.C. tradition for us. We've gotten into the habit of sending ourselves off and refueling by visiting the FDR Memorial. The serene setting – gorgeous stone, lush trees, flowing water – and inspirational quotes reboot the mind like a visit to the spa. Clutching our cups of coffee, we lift our heads to face the blustery weather and read:
On the way back to the hotel, we felt rejuvenated. We talked about how fortunate we feel and brainstormed advocating activities for the rest of the year. As we walked the Tidal basin, we caught a glimpse of the still-being-constructed MLKJ memorial that will open later in the year. Looking through the fence at King's figure emerging from the hewn stone, we thought he'd be proud of what happened in D.C. this week.