We spent most of the past week visiting our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.. Congress was in session, although from a brief time spent in the Senate Chamber, it didn’t seem much was getting done.
In the gallery we were told to be quiet and observe. A senator from Hawaii was speaking, but no one was listening. A group of pages alternated places, delivering notes, glasses of water, and portable podia in a well choreographed exchange within a mostly vacant chamber. (Think Wimbledon with only ball boys/girls, no players.)
Once outside, you may encounter the random legislator passing through with a posse of aides. In the capitol rotunda velvet ropes form a temporary corridor for members of congress to navigate through constituents without pause to connect. These are very busy people doing something very important @work.
The folks we elect to congress are protected by multiple layers of security. I’m not sure how many times I passed through security screenings or how many x-rays my body absorbed in the course of six hours, but it’s clear that we are paying a price for our democracy.
Our elected officials don’t talk to those they represent, because their workplace provides a cocoon from reality. And @work they don’t listen to one another. They don’t even show up to demonstrate professional courtesy when a colleague is speaking.
There are hundreds of twenty-somethings waiting in the wings of congressional office buildings with a vision for the future of our democracy. They hold a glimmer of promise for the future. But the prevailing impression is that no one is home.
This was the week of the Las Vegas horror. If there was a time for leadership and visibility, this would be the moment. But as I walked the grounds on Capitol Hill, all was quiet.
I think, as Americans, we visit D.C. in search of inspiration from the past. Our history is neatly laid out in the geometry of Pierre L’Enfant’s urban design. We remember our fallen in war, recognize our culture in museum exhibits, and honor the leaders whose vision has maintained our democracy.
We stayed at the Mayflower Hotel, just down the hall from where soon to be president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt wrote his first inaugural address on the eve of his swearing in on March 4, 1933.
As I took off my bracelet, opened my bag, checked my FitBit, and listened to an usher instruct me to keep my views to myself as I entered the Senate Chamber, I realized this is what worried Franklin Delano Roosevelt 84 years ago.
“This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.”
To those of you who go to work every day as an elected official, this is your job description: leadership of frankness and vigor – don’t shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. (and maybe get rid of the velvet ropes in the rotunda)