D.C. Journal Part 3: Rare and Special Books

After four amazing whirlwind days in D.C. I’m back home and wiped out, but energized. Working for the Congressman has from day one been humbling and inspiring, but the last few days, seeing the things I got to see and meeting our D.C. counterparts to develop shared priorities for the coming year, I feel an enormous sense of responsibility, different than before. On another level. These posts cover the highlights of my trip, and the experiences I’ll never forget.

If you’ve been reading this series you know that I spent a lot of time on this trip inside the Library of Congress. I didn’t, however, have any time at all to explore the building. My friends expecting souvenirs are very disappointed. I’m counting on a future full of trips to D.C. where I’ll be able to remedy that.

Despite that, we had a slot on our schedule for a presentation from Mark Dimunation, Chief of the Rare Books and Special Collections Division at the Library. We were escorted by library staff to a room removed from the public area. It stored a collection of books kept under lock and key. A room adjacent to it, a reading room, overlooked the Great Hall of the library, the main floor of which sat about two floors down. An awesome bird’s eye view.

We entered the room and Mark was sitting at a great big wooden table. He wore wood-framed glasses and a tan sports coat. His shaggy gray hair and casual style told me he wasn’t much concerned with material things or cosmetic appearance. He was very comfortable. He’s been in his job at the Library for 20 years and still describes it as the greatest job in the world. When he talks about it his face lights up and his eyes glisten like a kid told she’s going to Disneyland.

Laid out neatly around him on the table and on two carts positioned on either side of him there were boxes of varying shape and size, from small and cube-like to big and flat. He explained the history of the Library. After the British burned the U.S. Capitol in the War of 1812, destroying the original Library of Congress with it, Thomas Jefferson offered to sell his entire library of about 6,500 books to Congress for whatever they’d be willing to pay. In 1851 another fire destroyed around 35,000 books, including two-thirds of Jefferson’s original collection. In 1998 Mark was hired and began the quest to restore Jefferson’s library with exact editions of the books Jefferson would have owned, no replicas or later editions allowed. His work continues.

Mark picked up one of the smaller boxes and slid another box out from inside it. He set that box on the table in front of him and opened the flap. “This (dramatic pause) is the first book ever printed in what we now call the United States,” he said, choosing his words carefully. Titled, The Bay Psalm Book, it was printed in 1640 in Cambridge, Mass. There are eleven known copies in the world, and one sold at auction a few years ago for $14.2 million.

Next, he picked up another box. This one a little squarer than the last. From this he removed another older looking book, a deep red in color, with a little golden latch on the side, which I thought looked like a bible. Mark offered the book to my coworker Brendan, “Put your hand on it,” he said. Brendan did and Mark explained that this was, in fact, the bible Abraham Lincoln had been sworn in on. Later, Barack Obama would choose the same bible for his own swearing-in. It goes without saying that I’m very jealous of Brendan right now.

We saw many more pieces, including the contents of Abraham Lincoln’s pockets when he was assassinated and some Washington Territory books and ephemera.

The piece that had the most profound impact on me was one Mark pulled from one of the large flat boxes on the table. He opened it to reveal the very first printing of the final draft of the Declaration of Independence. He told us the story of its creation, that Jefferson wrote the first draft and that 86 edits were applied before the final version we saw before us. Being a writing nerd, I clumsily asked about that process, being curious about what the changes were. Mark gave us a little more detail about the process and then told us the story of one of the edits, one made by Jefferson himself before handing it over to the other founders for review. At one point, he edits out one word for another. Not just a line through it, but a box was drawn around it and filled in completely with ink and then smudged out. Over the top of it, he wrote the word, “citizens.” It was never disclosed by Jefferson what the word he crossed out was, and it’s been a point of speculation for many years. Finally in 2010 through the use of spectral imaging analysis, they were able to uncover the secret word.

Jefferson had originally written the word “subjects.”

This means that in the course of his writing, I imagine in a moment where he’d hit a stride – that zone you get in when you’re writing without thinking and everything around you disappears. I imagine him writing that word and immediately catching himself. “No! No, we are NOT subjects anymore!” Is what he probably thought as he hastily smudged out that word. I can imagine the sense of pride he felt writing the word ‘citizens’ over the top. He probably paused and beamed at it for a long moment, filled with joy. He may have even taken a break, and gone for a walk and to clear his head before continuing. That’s what I would have done.

This story also reminds me that these people we put on pedestals (literally or figuratively), were just people like us. They made mistakes. They brought emotion into the work, they felt anxious and insecure. Those things powered them like they power us. They were figuring it out as they went along, building their parachutes after they jumped. I think it serves us well in the face of the challenges of the day to keep that in mind. We’re not so different from our heroes.

Thanks for reading.

 

D.C. Journal Part 2: Tour of the Capitol Dome

After four amazing whirlwind days in D.C. I’m back home and wiped out, but energized. Working for the Congressman has from day one been humbling and inspiring, but the last few days, seeing the things I got to see and meeting our D.C. counterparts to develop shared priorities for the coming year, I feel an enormous sense of responsibility, different than before. On another level. These posts cover the highlights of my trip, and the experiences I’ll never forget.

Everything in Washington DC was designed to make you feel small. From the Neo-classical design of the Capitol to the Brutalist J. Edgar Hoover building down the street. Everything is big; you are little. Our tour actually started in our office across the street in the Longworth Building. From there Derek led us down into the tunnels below. Like a long cut from The West Wing we walked through the hustle-bustle of the tunnels – groups here and there huddled off to the sides discussing strategy, young fresh-faced interns cutting through on some mission or another, Jared Kushner with his security detail clearing the way (my private daydream was that they were escorting him out, Omarosa-style). We came out the other side, and I found myself in a place I’d seen a thousand times on TV. It felt familiar and foreign all at once.

We met up with our tour guide at his office. He was of average height, bald, glasses, wearing a smart suit that was both nerdy and stylish at the same time. I likened him to a sort of renaissance type, who appreciates a range of interests. Refreshing in our inch-deep/mile-wide culture. He started us off with a briefing on the tour and what to expect. “This won’t be a walk in the park,” was his warning to us. We’d be climbing up and then back down many staircases, and he wanted us to know that it would be challenging, but rewarding. So we set off, my coworker Kate volunteered to make sure every door shut firmly behind us – these areas were not open to the public, only Members and their guests are typically allowed to go where we were going.

We came to a doorway that took us to the area between the outside of the dome and the inner supports. What you see from the outside is a skirting that has no structural function – even the columns you see are decoration. The structural framework of the dome is about 9 million pounds of cast iron, painted to appear to be made of the same stone as the rest of the building. Even the staircases were made of cast iron, with little divots worn into each platform where thousands of feet pivoted at each switchback over the years. So many little reminders of the great history of the place, easter eggs of history.

From there another steep set of switchback stairs and we came to a door. The door was opened, and a pressure change caused a rush of air to escape, gently coaxing me toward the opening, and the light. I stepped out and everything changed. Everything I felt about this city – like I don’t belong, powerlessness, insignificance – faded away. I didn’t feel tiny anymore because now I could see DC for what it is: a tiny little speck. Just like me.

We stepped out onto a walkway that rings the outside of the very top of the dome, just below the section where the Statue of Freedom sits. You can walk all the way around it and see for miles. The Washington Monument is a toothpick. The White House is a Lego. Donald Trump is a flea. They’ll keep building these structures and monuments in order to make us feel small. It’s an illusion, and now that I’ve seen through it, I’ll never be fooled by it again.

Thanks for reading!

D.C. Journal Part 1: Rep. Joe Kennedy

After four amazing whirlwind days in D.C. I’m back home and wiped out, but energized. Working for the Congressman has from day one been humbling and inspiring, but the last few days, seeing the things I got to see and meeting our D.C. counterparts to develop shared priorities for the coming year, I feel an enormous sense of responsibility, different than before. On another level. These posts cover the highlights of my trip, and the experiences I’ll never forget.

Part 1: Rep. Joe Kennedy

On the first day of our staff retreat, we gathered in a beautiful, old and ornate room in the Library of Congress, in a wing reserved for Members. We were in what used to be the House Reading Room, but after WWII was turned into a members’ event space for meetings, staff retreats, and receptions. On each end of the room sits a marble fireplace, each decorated with a mosaic above them. “Law” on the north end, “History” on the south. Above us, spanning the length of the ceiling were seven panels, collectively called, “Spectrum of Light” and painted by Symbolist painter Carl Gutherz in 1896. Each panel, a different color, features a central figure representing human achievements such as poetry, science, and research.

The private Congressional Reading Room, where the most important issues of our nation’s history have been researched and no doubt debated, was one door down. I sat just a few feet from our special guest, Rep Joe Kennedy. The work he’s done in Congress stands alone for me. I appreciate his hard work and optimism, and his spirit of compassion and generosity. He’s a refreshing voice against the din of cynicism. He also looks and talks too much like his grandfather, Bobby Kennedy, to ever forget that you’re seeing someone who grew up adjacent to greatness, which is a condition that breeds further greatness.

He began his remarks by praising Derek’s work in the House and thanking us for being the ones who carry it out on the ground, both in legislation and at home in the district. If you’re a political nerd like me you understand how tremendous it was sitting there listening to a Kennedy speaking to us because he’s friends with our boss and wanted us to know how valuable he thinks our work is to our country.

To our country… I hadn’t yet considered the notion that anything I do has that sort of impact. That right now, I serve people, and my service ripples farther than I ever imagined I could reach.

That was the first little blow in a series of humbling but empowering events over the four days in D.C. that changed me a bit. Changed me in the sense that it took my resolve and determination and moral imperative and grounded it anew in this work. Reinforcing the importance of bringing into it a spirit of magnanimity and service. The importance of leading with love. Ultimately, we are each defined by how we choose to be and how we make people feel. I want, at the very least, the people I touch in my work to feel heard and respected. If I can meet that goal, I think we can do great things.

Thanks for reading.

Throwing My Hat in the Ring

I’ve decided to seek the Vice Chair position with 22nd LD Democratic Party. The following is the nomination letter which I submitted yesterday. Wish me luck! Or vote for me if you’re a member!

Greetings,
I’m writing to express my interest in becoming the next Vice Chair of the 22nd Legislative District Democrats. I hope you will accept my name for consideration for this venerable position.
I’ve lived in the 22nd District for 23 years. As a senior at River Ridge High School, my senior project was focused on politics. I shadowed then Senator Karen Fraser throughout her campaign. I learned a lot from her and our team, and most importantly the experience lit a fire in me to give back and work hard for my community, and my party. I left for four years to serve in the United States Navy and returned home in the fall of 2000. Since then I’ve volunteered and worked for local nonprofits, in houseless services and community organizing, as well as for local progressive candidates and causes. Currently, I serve as District Representative to Congressman Derek Kilmer.

Over the years I’ve accepted increasing levels of responsibility on campaigns. In 2015 I managed the campaigns of Marco Rossi for Mayor of Olympia and Ray Guerra for Olympia City Council. Though not successful, I learned a tremendous amount from the experience. Those lessons were put in play last year when I managed Lisa Parshley and Carolyn Cox’s campaigns, which won, despite having well established and well-funded opponents. Those victories were in large part due to the support of the party, its PCOs, and especially the Young Democrats who I got to mentor through the campaign process.

The biggest lesson I learned from the campaigns last year, especially from looking at the precinct breakdowns from both the primary and general elections, is that we win in precincts with active Precinct Committee Officers. My reason for running for this position is because I want to help my party recruit and train PCOs. I also want to take it one step further, I want to challenge our PCOs to not just support our candidates during elections, but also to do the work during the off-season to recruit members, work on community education and engagement, voter registration, and to work hand-in-hand with our elected Democrats to fulfill our platform. If we’re going to live up to our ideal of being the party of the people, then we have to meet people where they are by being a continuous presence in the community, not just a campaign season pop-up shop.

I hope you’ll vote for me for Vice-Chair of LD22, I’m excited to take on this responsibility and to help lead our party into the Blue Tsunami!

Sincerely,

Rob Richards

The Happy/Sad Binary

I’m really happy.

These days, I feel happier than I have (allowed myself to feel) in many years. Along with this new happiness is all my old existential dread, anxiety, unconfidence, untrust, and yes, sadness. I worry about not being good enough, people call it Imposter Syndrome. I lay awake at night thinking about all the things I didn’t get done, surely leaving dozens of people disappointed. I feel guilty for not doing enough for justice, and shame that I don’t stand up for equity as fiercely as I’d like. I feel remorse that people suffer while I procrastinate or philosophize. Sadness can happen when I feel alone or when I long for companionship or partnership or friendship. But those things come and go and when I’m not feeling them, I feel happy. Happy is my default. I think that’s pretty cool.

Too much of what I see demands that I choose a lane. Either you’re happy or sad, whole or broken,  functional or not. The Self Help Industrial Complex (Elephant Journal, Good Man Project, etc) need you to feel broken. The need you to need them enough to pay them money for what they have. I see their articles shared all over and they all seem slanted to make you feel like something is wrong with you, that you’re broken because you feel sad, that you need help because you feel things wrong, or don’t feel, or feel too much.

What I think is this: all things exist on a spectrum. Anybody who tries to convince you of a binary is probably selling something and you should throw them out of the temple. Sometimes the spectrums have spectrums and it’s damn complicated and I don’t understand my brain. But I trust it. I trust me. I have good instincts and that gets me through. I know that there’s no such thing as fate, nothing happens for a reason, and nobody is in control. Also, life would be really dull if the weather never changed, so I embrace the turbulence.

Like Matsuo Basho said, “Clouds come from time to time and bring to us a chance to rest from looking at the moon.”

 

Obligatory “Something About Guns” Blog Post

This whole debate is a big pile of mental spaghetti. I’ve been itching to write about it but haven’t been able to quite find the words – or the strength – or maybe the nerve?

Three hundred and sixteen (316) people have died in school shootings since 1990. There were 54 in the 90s, 106 in the 00s, 156 in the 10s so far [at this rate we can expect 20 more in the next 2 years]. If that trend we’re seeing decade by decade isn’t terrifying to you then you should stop reading because there’s no hope for you.

If you’re still reading, congratulations. You’re a real human with a heart and feelings, capable of empathy and compassion.

As I’ve been trying to untangle this in my brain [one more time] here’s what I’m seeing.

The Kids

Those beautiful amazing sweet wonderful strong young adults. If we had been as strong as them after Columbine we could have fixed this then and prevented the deaths of hundreds of children. If they’ve done nothing, as Brittany Packnett said on Pod Save The People, they’ve exposed our great shame and failure as adults. We’ve failed our kids by becoming resigned that nothing will ever change. Another shooting, another shrug of the shoulders. Another, “what can we do?” Well, right now, we can get out the way. Once again [think: civil rights movement, Vietnam War protests] the young people of America are offering to save us from ourselves. We should support them. Stand with them. Cheer them on. We may not understand their tactics or agree with their strategies, but that’s probably not because we know better than them – it’s probably because this is no country for old men. America isn’t the same country it was when you were in your early-twenties [Obviously if you’re a young person I’m not coming at you here]. Our country is completely new and different and needs new and different kinds of leaders.

The NRA

[I promised myself I’d get through this without swearing] Vile, deplorable, disgusting, deranged. Those are the words I have for the NRA – and I’m just talking about La Pierre and Loesch here really. Let’s start by establishing a known known: the NRA is a lobby group for gun manufacturers. They like to posture like they support individual gun owners and their rights, but that’s just sheeps’ clothing. Like any lobby group, they want everything. They want every kind of gun and bullet and accessory to be 100% legal and accessible to 100% of consumers. They pay a lot of money to craft message to get them there. Part of that, and this is Dirty Messaging 101, involves creating a fog. If the AR-15 is making your clients [and you] filthy rich, then you protect it by distraction. They’re making it about mental health by using a lot of desperate and emotionally charged language. They talk about not wanting “nutjobs” and “crazy people” getting guns, very careful to carve out only the tiniest slice of consumers. Their members and supporters hear this and think, “I’m not a nutjob. I don’t want nutjobs getting guns either. They’re right. It’s not about the guns. It’s about mental health.” Then they repeat it to their friends and on Twitter and on morning shows that The Cheetoh watches.

Another known-known – and your talking point to memorize and repeat to everyone everywhere:

Less than 4% of all violent crimes have anything to do with mental health. The emotional problems that these shooters have aren’t diagnosable mental health conditions. We stop the shootings by getting the guns. Period.

Don’t let them change the subject.

Us

Your marching orders:

  1. Get out of the way of young people. Support them and love them unconditionally.
  2. Memorize and repeat the above quote until it sticks and the conversation becomes about guns and bullets and regulating them.
  3. DO MORE…

There are still more things you can do right in your city.

Lobby your city council to ban weapons in public places: city hall, parks, schools. No matter what anybody says THE DATA supports the fact that fewer guns mean fewer dead children. Ask the city council to BE BOLD: ban the sale of the AR-15 within city limits. Ban assault weapons across the board. Maybe it’s a symbolic gesture, but so were sit-ins and die-ins and pink hats but those things move us, inspire us, and can spark the change we seek. I’d rather my city do something than yet again shrug and say, “What can we do?”

We can do everything. We can change the gun laws in our country. Change moves up, and if we want Congress to move, we have to show them the way.

Hello, Friend

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve put anything here. This isn’t an apology or a promise for more frequent writing in the future [though I do like the idea of writing regularly again. I miss it. It makes me happy.]. This is just a note because I like sharing my life with you.

You may or may not have heard…

I started a new job in November (fancy job title = District Representative, US House of Representatives) and it’s kept me very busy. I work for one of our members of Congress (Rep. Derek Kilmer, WA-06) handling community outreach in Grays Harbor County as well as working with veterans & active duty military on casework.  I love the job. It just feels right; like this is where I belong. In just a few months I’ve grown to really like my coworkers and feel a kinship with them. They work so hard and I aspire to reach their level of awesomeness as I continue to acclimate. I’ve also begun to get to know and spend time with  Derek. He’s the type of person that makes me want to work hard because he works hard. Like me, he seems to hate that politics gets in the way of governance and progress and would be much happier just focusing on helping communities in the district. He’s very sincere and genuine, and well liked by our constituents – even among the conservative rural Republicans who probably voted for the Tangerine.

I’ve spent the last few months, while drinking through the firehose that is congressional work, also figuring other stuff out. I turned my Facebook account off, which was followed by a flurry of messages (even from my mom} from people wanting to know why I unfriended them. I didn’t unfriend you. I unfriended Facebook. It boiled down to whether it was enhancing my life or not and after a period of observation I figured out that it wasn’t.

As this local campaign season gears up I can already tell I’m really going to miss the campaign trail. As much pressure as it is to run a campaign, I kind of revel in it and it makes me feel really alive. It always reminds me of my days in food service when I’d be slammed and get into the weeds a bit (maybe even let myself slip into the weeds a bit just to feel that feeling). That feeling when your mind and body are working together without much conscious thought, just autopilot, and you make it through without screwing anything up too bad and you can sit there and revel in your success… it’s the best feeling in the world. The day to day of campaigning and working with a candidate to help them craft message and delivery, to work with volunteers and teach them and guide them. It’s a thing that I really enjoy. Maybe I’ll find a way to get a taste of it this year as a volunteer, but it won’t be the same as being a campaign manager.

Well, friend… that’s all for today. I have a few intrusive thoughts bouncing around in my head that I hope to share with you… so maybe you’ll hear from me again this week. Or maybe not until May. Who knows. It is what it is. Whenever it happens is exactly when it’s supposed to.

I leave you with this:

This morning while drinking coffee and watching my cat play I grabbed the Pablo Neruda anthology off the shelf and started flipping through it. It stopped on the following poem, which inspired me to sit down and write and reminded me how much joy writing brings me. Enjoy, and see you around the bend.

Poetry

And it was at that age . . . poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don’t know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, not silence,
but from a street it called me,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among raging fires
or returning alone,
there it was, without a face,
and it touched me.

I didn’t know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names,
my eyes were blind.
Something knocked in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
deciphering
that fire,
and I wrote the first, faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
nonsense,
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing;
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
unfastened
and open,
planets,
palpitating plantations,
the darkness perforated,
riddled
with arrows, fire, and flowers,
the overpowering night, the universe.

And I, tiny being,
drunk with the great starry
void,
likeness, image of
mystery,
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss.
I wheeled with the stars.
My heart broke loose with the wind.