A month ago we (the royal we) posted on our students' experience with the Close Up program. Wouldn't you know it? That post left out the best part...a meeting with Rep. Eleanor Holmes-Norton. As the students roamed the halls of the congressional office building it became apparent that this was an environment that was foreign to most of the students. If you have ever been in one of those office buildings, you are familiar with the din of large, pointy, high heels and hard, heavy, clunky wooden soled shoes moving way too fast. Pair this with the fact that, at any given time, you can hear 38 people talking on a blackberry and you have a fairly intimidating environment.
The students waited anxiously outside Rep. Norton's office and even tried a Tango to take off the edge. After a few minutes, we were invited inside by Rep. Norton herself. She took a good amount of time out of her day to answer questions from the students. She spoke very passionately on DC voting rights and the importance of education to the youth in the district.
This was 11th grader Markus Batchelor's take:
"I think what most surprised me is that her speaking... it wasn’t like a stump speech. It was passionate and she gave her personal opinion"
When asked about what he took away from Rep. Norton's discussion of DC voting rights he had this to say:
"[The lack of DC voting rights] makes me think of the disenfranchisement before the revolutionary war because the maxim of the DC voting rights [movement] is, ‘taxation without representation’ and that was the maxim that the oppressed colonist used to build this country and incite the revolution that made this country. It kind of seems hypocritical to me that the government that was founded on equal representation to all people and giving everybody the same rights as each other...well... it just kind of seems hypocritical, that despite what the Constitution may loosely say, the US is depriving its people of equal rights."
Lastly, Markus wanted to extend his thanks to Rep. Norton:
"First, I want to thank her for meeting with us and then also thank her for giving us her personal opinion and her personal insight on everything that she does in congress and the things that affect her and us because it wasn’t rehearsed and it gave everybody a better insight and deeper understanding of what its like to be in congress"
The Close Up program gave students like Markus an opportunity to learn about the government, but the real "Ah-Ha" moment came when they got to talk to their representative about issues that directly affect them. This experience helped our students see the importance of government and, more importantly, may inspire them to become active participants in our democratic society.
Until we meet again...