Last week seemed like the the longest week in my life. There was the fourth and the prelude celebrations before. And then I had to work for three remaining days of the week..
Taking full advantage of my Congressional Staffer ID, I saw the July Fourth fireworks from the front steps of the Capitol. It was actually a horrendously hot day to spend five hours sitting on marble with very limited access to food, water, and bathrooms, but it was an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And fireworks just looked extraordinarily magical around the Washington monument.
Another exciting activity that I’ve been undertaking is asking staffers in my office out for coffee. I know it sounds a little too lame to be exciting. Nevertheless, I really enjoy talking to the staffers, usually only five to ten years to my senior, about their life, how they got to where they are today, and their plans/aspirations/regrets, etc. One of our legislative assistants, Anna, told me that after college she didn’t even know exactly what she wanted to do except her determination to work on the Hill again; she interned on the Hill during college just as I am right now. So, after graduation, she rent an apartment in D.C. and moved down here without even knowing if she even could a position opening on the Hill. However, she was able to find a position just a few months after her reckless move: “Just months of searching and asking people I know and waiting!” Talk about taking a risk!
I went to a briefing held by the Congressional Arts Caucus and the National Education Association(NEA) yesterday. It started with three panelists introducing the progress that NEA programs achieved in changing low-income students’ lives by introducing them to arts and briefly talking about how much funding they received from the federal government. $6.8 million in FY17 and about merely $66,000 for the entire City of Baltimore, which has about 82,000 students enrolled in the public school system.
I’ve been bingewatching West Wing – I remember one episode in the Season One when the White House Communications Director was asked by representatives from the opponent party to take out the part during President Bartlet’s State of the Union speech that specifically asks Congress to direct more funding to NEA. “People don’t want to pay for arts that no one wants to pay or see!”
The briefing concluded with a beautiful performance by ten students enrolled in an after-school training program funded by NEA. One of the songs they chose was “This little light of mine.” Listening to their heavenly collaboration and thinking about all the reasons, provided by the panelists, why NEA persists with these programs, for a moment I genuinely wished someone in the briefing room could open the doors and drag in all those lawmakers in Rayburn House Office Building who insisted on tax cuts instead of funding for education programs to listen to the kids sing. They need to listen to why everyone, these kids in particular, should know how to discover arts and find light around them no matter how dim their circumstances may seem. They need to listen to why students coming from ALL backgrounds deserve beauty in life.
Erin, another intern in my office, asked me how I felt about the briefing when I got back.
“Arts and education do not get enough funding in this country,” I said.
“Nothing gets enough funding in this country,” she turned around and got back to typing her memos.
This weekend I will be heading up to my beautiful home state, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, at the frequent requests of my mother. Also as a direct response to my dying yearning to see my dog. It turns out that no matter how many times I awe at the majestic National Gallery of Arts, or how many TV-only, powerful lawmakers I see around here, just the idea of going home and collapsing onto my couch with my dog on my lap with West Wing playing on the TV can still make me cry. I can already smell my mom’s mushroom and shrimp wontons and ocean-themed candles. I really miss home.