November 14, 2010

4

The future is bright

It’s no coincidence that my tour through Washington D.C. was largely defined by politics. I mean, of course it would be in the nation’s capital where my friends & hosts were more interested than ever to talk about their leanings and viewpoints, and where I wanted and encouraged them to do that, and where I really realized that most of my conversations up to that point in my trip had entailed catching up on personal news, discussing the more neutral aspects of life, and trying to define this journey of mine.

The feeling was heightened by the fact that I happened to be in town not only for Election Day but also for the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert rally, which I will admit missing most of, because the buses and trains were so crowded, but I was there in time to catch most of Stewart’s speech, and despite all the heads that were blocking my view from even seeing him on the stage, these words reached me:

We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is: on the brink of catastrophe, torn by polarizing hate and how it’s a shame that we can’t work together to get things done. But the truth is we do. We work together to get things done every damn day. The only place we don’t is here or on cable TV. But Americans don’t live here or on cable TV. Where we live, our values and principles form the foundations that sustains us while we get things done, not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done.

And as cynical as I am about things like rallies, where it seems like people just stand around and talk about what needs to be done rather than doing it, well, I thought Stewart’s words were actually pretty uplifting, because they basically said what I have been seeing thus far: that people are so much more similar than different; that they worry about the same stuff; that no one wants their money to be wasted; that most everyone wants their families to eat and have a safe place to sleep and they want their kids to grow up to be strong and smart and successful. It just doesn’t always seem that way, when emotions and special interests get in the way.

After having gone to the rally, it was pretty perfect that the following Monday, my friend Yvonne had signed us up for a tour of the Capitol. She had given those very tours one summer as an intern, so it was something she was excited to experience again, and it was a first for me, who had somehow never gone inside the building where government happens, even though I spent about the first 12 years of my life going to D.C. at least once a year to visit my grandparents there. And as we sat in one of the theaters at the new Capitol Visitor Center, watching the 13-minute film that neatly summed up the importance of our Constitution and the history of Congress and how so many people have always managed to put aside differences and find some common ground, getting through hard times, like emancipation and desegregation, I felt rather encouraged, like maybe there is some hope that we can pull ourselves together this time, too.

Then I got to see a real life example of how we do work together every damn day and it was thanks to social networking. Basically, it all started when the rally was ending and the escalator at the Plaza L’Enfant station malfunctioned. A whole bunch of people piled up at the bottom; some of them were seen being carried out on stretchers and there was a small uproar on the safety of the Metro. I wasn’t there for that one but then a few nights later, I was leaving a Caps hockey game in Chinatown with friends Rachel & Steve when the escalator we were on did the same thing: the brakes failed and all of a sudden, a huge mass of us was speeding toward the bottom, an equation that could not have sustained itself, had the machine not turned itself off and prevented imminent disaster. Steve tweeted about it and about an hour later, he was being interviewed about it on the phone. A few hours more and it was posted to the Internet. For the next 24 hours, Rachel and I shook our heads in disbelief as multiple TV stations started calling him, showing up at their house to talk to him about it and even dubbing him Escalator Victim on the nightly news. As of a few days ago, he was still getting calls from them but the good news is that one intrepid blogger has since uncovered some ugly truths that might put pressure on officials to take maintenance issues more seriously.

But now I am going to show you my pictures from my time in the city and surrounding Northern Virginia, and you are probably going to notice that despite everything I have just told you, you’re just seeing a lot of babies and smiling people doing their thing, and that there is virtually nothing political about anything you are looking at. And do you know why that is? Because Stewart was right: the majority of us don’t live in the halls of Congress or the screens of cable television. We live in apartments and houses and duplexes, and we have dogs and kids and maybe even roommates, and we go to offices or stay home to work, and we worry about rent and mortgages, and groceries and gas, and some of us voted for Obama, while some of us didn’t, and some of us worry about who is taking care of the children, while some of us don’t, and some of us go to church, while some of us won’t. But that didn’t stop any of us here from sitting down together for at least an hour and looking each other in the eyes and just having a conversation.

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Momminerd
    Nov 15 2010

    Gramps and Meme, awww. Thanks to you and Chris and
    Hillary for going to visit them.
    Guess I’ll keep using the stairs. Now escalators are not only SLOW, they are DANGEROUS!

    Reply
  2. Steve D
    Nov 15 2010

    Great post, Maggie. We loved having you and hope to come and see you one of these days.

    Sincerely, Escalator Victim.

    Reply
  3. SirenaSteve
    Nov 15 2010

    Reminds me of an old favorite song by a group named Timbuck 3:

    “The Future’s so Bright I Gotta Wear Shades”

    I want to vote for Jon Stewart for President.

    Reply

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