A Witness to History

Posted: Aug 11, 2008 12:01 AM
A Witness to History

The longer one works in DC, the more one gets used to things that make that city unique. Getting stuck in a car because of a protest march or a presidential motorcade is less an exciting curiosity, and more of an ire-inducing annoyance, for instance. On the personality side, one gets used to the cycle of broken promises, and outcomes that don’t match the fiery rhetoric of political leaders. But every so often, something so extraordinary happens that it gives someone a renewed sense of hope. This past week, I was privileged enough to witness a piece of history unfold right before my eyes—and I am writing because this is something I implore each of you to experience for yourselves.

On August 1, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi adjourned the US House of Representatives for its annual summer break, a five-week long vacation in which House members can go back to their districts, raise money, and do what they can to hold onto their jobs. She did this despite the fact that the House had yet to move on a host of legislative initiatives dealing with energy, the most important issue facing the American people she was elected to represent. If you’re like me, you were outraged by this possibility, but you also knew that given the record of Republican leadership in recent years, there was little that was going to be done about it.

So it was with great surprise that I found myself getting bombarded by e-mails that afternoon. “Have you heard?” they asked, “Some Republicans are snubbing Pelosi’s adjournment. They’re standing in the House chamber, talking with the lights out and the microphones silenced!” But I hadn’t heard. And why? Because the mainstream media had blacked itself out, and Speaker Pelosi had ordered C-SPAN’s cameras turned off.

I got more information from people who were going up to see this “revolt” firsthand. These members were promising to keep talking in the chamber until Pelosi reconvened Congress and moved some package of legislation that would offer meaningful and immediate help to the American people. What’s more, their numbers were growing.

This is the way a movement works. Someone makes a decision to take a stand on something—in this case, not simply leaving the chamber when the Speaker decided to ignore the needs of the citizens who elected them. To essentially defy the petty decisions of a despot, regardless of the consequences, and act. That’s the definition of leadership—and when one leads, others follow. At first there were three, four, five members. But more came. Some turned around on their way to the airport and came back, some recognized how important this is and returned here from their districts.

But this isn’t where it ends. Despite the lack of cameras or microphones, these leaders are reaching out to the American people…directly. When the House isn’t in session, average citizens are invited to visit the floor of the House, and so it is right now. If you go to the Hill, you can go down to the floor, and sit, and listen (and clap and cheer) as member after member after member stands up and talks about energy.

I can think of no other legislature in the world that lets its citizens do this. No legislature that allows its citizens to enter the legislative chamber, sit in the seats of the legislators themselves, and essentially have an unfiltered dialogue. This is truly a unique event, even in the world’s greatest democratic republic. Groups of school-aged children who are brought in take it as a matter of fact that they can sit in a congressman’s seat.

Not so for me. I was incredibly moved as I sat there, taking it all in. Where I was, who was around me, who was speaking, what they were saying. There were about 150 people in the chamber when I was there, mostly everyday Americans visiting DC, each impacted deeply by the subject being discussed. And yet there they say, on an equal playing field with their elected officials, having a conversation uninterrupted by commercials, cameras, sound bites. It was hard for me to leave.

Minority Leader John Boehner has promised to carry this on until the Republican Convention. I urge you, if you are near DC or planning on coming to DC, go to Capitol Hill. See for yourself the unbelievable events happening there. Our leaders are once again showing the courage which propelled them from minority to majority in 1994.