Civic Days Roundup

May 4, 2010

After a very busy week, now is a good time to reflect and report on this year’s Civic Days experience. Last week marked the Office of Public Policy’s Third Annual Civic Days, where we brought individuals from all across America (and outside of it) to Washington DC to learn about and lobby on important issues.

It all began on Saturday April 24th in the evening, when our guests slowly trickled in to the DC Center as their flights arrived and they got settled at their hotel/hostel. The Civic Days participants mingled with one another over pizza and salad, while OPP Policy Analyst Matt Separa began with a brief history of the OPP and an overview of the activities in the days ahead. OPP Policy Director Toni Van Pelt continued with a presentation describing what Civic Days was all about and how our participants could communicate effectively with legislators and their staff. After brief conversations and introductions, it was off to bed to be rested for a very busy Sunday.

Bright and early Sunday morning we reconvened at the DC Center for a series of policy briefs designed to better inform the participants about the main policy issues. These briefings included wonderful presentations by Maggie Garrett from Americans United for Separation of Church and State who spoke on charitable choice, Stu Jordan, Ph.D. who spoke on climate change, and Marissa Brown from Alliance for Justice who spoke on the upcoming Supreme Court nomination. Following the policy briefings, we adjourned for lunch, and our guests had the opportunity to explore the Eastern Market neighborhood for a place to eat.

After lunch it was off to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum to take in two exhibits: one on human origins and one on Charles Darwin. Many of our participants highlighted this event as one of the best in the entire trip! Following the Smithsonian, everyone returned to Eastern Market for dinner in the neighborhood, followed by coffee, dessert, and conversation with Doug Crandall. Doug is the Director of Legislative Affairs for the US Forest Service and discussed with our group the intricacies of policymaking and lobbying from the perspective of someone who has served in both the legislative branch (as a Staff Director for the Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health) and the executive branch (in his current position). While the discussion was excellent, Doug never did get to show off his mean martini making skills…

Monday began with an optional tour of Robert Ingersoll’s life in Washington DC. Thankfully the rain held off so that those who went did not return to the center drenched. No sooner did everyone arrive at the DC center than Representative Brian Baird (D-WA) arrived to give a talk on the need for integrity and citizen involvement in government. Representative Baird was very eloquent and funny as usual, despite having had a root canal earlier in the morning, and everyone highlighted it as one of the most informative and personal aspects of their visit to Washington. After all, it’s not every day that you get to meet in such a low-key setting with a Member of Congress! We then participated in a role-playing activity in preparation for our lobby visits. This has become an essential element of Civic Days.

Following that, we walked over to the Capitol for lunch in the visitor center cafeteria, where everyone got their first taste of what it’s like to eat like a Member of Congress. At 2:30, we began our tour of the Capitol building. Because we had a special reservation and our group was fairly small, our guide was able to take us through areas of the Capitol that most tours do not get to see, including the Old Senate Chamber, and the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the basement of the building. At the conclusion of our tour, we posed in front of the Lady Liberty “larger than life” model located in the lobby of the Visitors Center for our group photo. We obtained gallery passes for both the House and Senate, and were able to visit the galleries. Although the House was not in session at the time, our group was able to see actual debate on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

We then trudged back through the light rain to the DC center, where Matt gave the final policy talk on the importance of the Office of Technology Assessment. While most members of the group had not heard of the office prior to the talk, almost everyone agreed that the office provided good analyses to Congress and that it should be re-funded in the future. At that point all the participants had worked up a considerable appetite, and following a brief period of down time, we headed to Clyde’s of Gallery Place for dinner and drinks, where we wound down the night to fabulous food, and more fabulous company.

Tuesday morning it was time to lobby, lobby, lobby! Our group met bright and early in the cafeteria of the Rayburn House Office Building. After some clarifications and group assignments, it was off to our lobby visits! After each group finished, many of them returned to the DC center before leaving to catch flights to give a short on camera report on their Civic Days experience to our videographer. We look forward to being able to post these responses on the website in the near future, so stay tuned!

Lastly, the Office of Public Policy would like to thank everyone who attended for making this Civic Days the best one yet! We hope that everyone will consider attending again next year, when we will pull out all the stops to make it even better! Also, a very special thanks to all of our stalwart volunteers is in order. Without the help of Stu Jordan, Beth Bernath, Steve Lowe, Brian Engler, and Keir Jorgensen, and Gregory Walsh, Civic Days would never have happened. Thank You.

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