US Public Service Academy Youth Conference 2010 was a study in grassroots gumption, all volunteer and many peanut butter sandwiches. Since 2008 the grant money that kept an office open for us and Chris working on the Academy full time and supported by a compliment of super incredible interns ran out. And we had a new Congress to introduce the bills to. And our champion in the Senate became the Secretary of State. And our Republican Co-Lead in the Senate switched teams and became a Democrat. And the economy melted down. And health care debates seemed endless. And wars raged. And Haiti crumbled. And the Gulf drowned in oil. All of the sudden, we found our bills being sidelined for way bigger issues, and the irony continued to be that so many of the agencies directly involved in administering to these civilian needs were being revealed to be run by the inexperienced, the inept and the unethical. So what did we do? We organized a pay-your-own-way conference to come to DC and lobby for the Academy.
Wednesday morning, I arrived on a red-eye which is about as glamorous as ditch digging. I collected one of our volunteers at the airport and on we went to meet the rest of our gang at George Washington University. Handshakes for the newly introduced and big hugs for those of us on the 2nd or 3rd time around. We got checked-in, ate lunch and found more caffeine, then hustled over to our meeting rooms for introductions, lobbying prep and to hear our speaker for the evening, retired Congressman Tom Davis of Virginia. I was impressed to count about 40 of us all together and got super-energized hearing the intros from all the students and grad students who had come to join the cause. I breathed a sigh of relief that we have some very smart and inspiring young people coming up behind us and felt honored to be their mentor for a couple days. Tom Davis gave a great speech and as he promised, made me cry, then made me laugh really hard while we took some photos and ultimately, left us all feeling pumped for our meetings the next day.
On Thursday morning, I joined our lead conference coordinator, Amy, for a run around the monuments. We were joined by Andrew, a Teach for America teacher about to start his second year of the program in Missouri. He is considering law school and fell into the Academy tractor beam when he sought out Shawn, also a TFA alum and an attorney. Amy is a Peace Corps alum and seems to have walked out of the pages of the Perky and Spunky Catalog. She is a MORNING PERSON (!) in every sense, yet is gifted in the ability to be magnetic rather than overbearing. She is organized and flexible, very quick to a joke, and, girl after my own heart, leads and delegates with confidence. We peeled off from Andrew and she took me to the good, local coffee place where I found a coffee geek to make me something not taste like coffee.
We cleaned up and headed to the Hill. My group was a little quiet on the way over, I couldn’t figure out if they were still asleep or nervous. The overwhelmingly humid walk from the Metro the Rayburn Building perked everyone up, if only to commiserate on the heat. Then, some unexpected fun. The entrance we chose to Rayburn just happened to be right next to a live hearing room where Rep Henry Waxman from California was holding a meeting of the Energy and Commerce Committee which just happened to be waiting on the Republicans who were late so an intern ushered us in to the gallery. The Waxman was talking about a bill which would specifically change the testing requirements and maintenance for blow-out preventors on off-shore oil wells. Nice!
The Republicans joined and all members started making statements in reference to the bill. Chris pointed out to the students that Rep. Joe Barton of Texas was on the committee and he was recently the center of much public ire when in another meeting of this same committee a few weeks prior apologized to the CEO of BP for the US government, specifically the White House forcing BP to pay $20 billion in to a clean-up fund for the spill. He said it was a “shakedown.” Needless to say, his colleagues were not amused and there he was right in front of us, doing his committee work. The kids were digging it.
And then off to Jim Moran’s office, and a lot of waiting…