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An appalling lobby visit, a beautiful Union Station

April 15, 2008

Working on Capitol Hill is often filled with contradictions. In just the past week and a half I have experienced both profound frustration as well as awe at the neighborhood’s superficial beauty.

First with the happy beauty. Since I started work here in July, the front esplanade of Union Station has been blockaded. I thought it would stay there forever, as part of some kind of post-9/11 protection. On Monday, however, they were gone- leaving the view to the Capitol Dome clear. Walking to work I felt like Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Now to the frustrating. FCNL hosted a smashingly successful young adult lobby weekend from April 4-7 and I was lucky enough to accompany three groups of young people to make photo record of their visits with congressional staff. The first two visits went smoothly, with legislative assistants listening attentively to what the students had to say, and taking notes on information to bring back to their bosses. The third visit, however, was dismal. The group I went with was nervous, as is normal on your first lobby visit, but the legislative correspondant we met with regarded this nervousness as a show of ignorance, and proceeded to treat them with a condescension and disregard that I found insulting and appalling.

At one point this staffer asked me to explain the bill and the mission of FCNL. I was not familiar with the bill; as I had stated at the beginning of the meeting, I was there to take pictures. The more upsetting fact revealed by this move was that the staffer was more interested in what I, a self-proclaimed ignorant resident of Washington, had to say more than a group of students who lived and studied in his district. Was it because he thought I was a lobbyist? Because I was older? Why he did this I can’t say, but it left a bad taste in my mouth. Not to mention that his response to what we shared with him demonstrated a basic lack of understanding of policy and history. Shame on you, nameless staffer, for treating constituents like this. Shame on you for not engaging and empowering young people, all of whom can vote. We all expect better.

So go the days of our internship. I am usually impressed with how easy it is to talk to legislators. This experience taught me to remain calm and always check in on what bill you are lobbying…. even if you’re just taking pictures.

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