Recently I returned from an amazing experience in Washington, D.C, where I lived, studied and worked as an intern for C-SPAN for three and a half months. I was there as a fellow of the Washington Semester Program which is organized through the University of South Carolina’s Honors College. I was one of 17 students chosen for the spring 2010 semester, each of us from colleges and universities around the state. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Living in the district was a dream come true for me. I have always wanted to live in a city and experience what it is like to be in the middle of a fast-paced environment. What better place to do that then in D.C., my favorite city? It is in D.C. where my dual passions for history and politics meld together. It is in this city where leaders of every background and viewpoint work tirelessly together to defend and improve upon the freedoms we so deeply desire. Is it any wonder that families from all over America, and even around the world, make it a priority to visit our nation’s capitol at some point in their lives? They each want to be a part of the heartbeat of what makes this country and its freedoms so precious.
Every day in D.C. I walked past the Capitol Building on the way to work. For three and half months I took that walk, and the rush of excitement I felt was just as strong the last day as it was the first. During my time there, I met seasoned Washingtonians who have dedicated their lives to being a cog in the wheel that keeps this country running. Each of them shared with me that no matter how long they have lived there, they still get that exact same thrill every time they walk through the halls of the Capitol, help brainstorm a piece of public policy, walk past the White House or do any of the countless things that make D.C. such a unique city.
While I was living there I experienced so much. I learned how to navigate the city by foot and Metro and how to order groceries online (a hard-learned lesson after first attempting to bring them home by foot in a rolling suitcase!). I met powerful and influential people (I promise you they are regular people, trying to make a difference, just like us), and I was able to go to the White House. I survived the worst blizzard D.C. had seen in years and watched people cross-country skiing down our street! When the snow finally melted, I learned that D.C. is one of the most beautiful places to experience the spring.
After all I had seen and learned, I had no clue that the district had much more in store for my roommates and me. We quickly found out that the unleashing of riots of flowers was just one product of spring in the city. There is another unleashing that is just as varied and just as overwhelming, and that is protesters!
Protesters FOR healthcare, protesters AGAINST healthcare, protesters FOR immigration reform, protesters AGAINST immigration reform, Tea Party protesters, anti-war protesters, financial reform protesters, gay rights protesters, anti-government protesters, pro-gun protesters, protesters against big insurance, loud protesters, silent protesters, brick-throwing protesters, yoga-doing protesters. Protesters that try to set up camp in congressmen’s offices, protesters that wear tar and feathers, protesters that don’t wear pants. Yes, I’m serious. The list goes on…
After my semester in D.C., I would challenge anyone who argues that our first amendment rights have been compromised in any way. While I was there, I met people from Nicaragua, Georgia (south of Russia, not south of South Carolina!), Cuba, Italy, Brazil, Australia, Taiwan, England, Zambia, South Africa, Ireland and even Yankees! Each of them came from outrageously diverse and differing backgrounds. Each has different passions, careers and interests. Each has opposing views, likes, disgusts and idiosyncrasies. Each of them is in America for one primary reason: Freedom.
They want freedom. Freedom to choose their work, their speech, their news source, their hobbies, their life partner, their religion. Freedom to write without being censored, to learn about anything, to speak freely, to protest … and they find that freedom here. In America. Here they can do all of those things and more.
This is something most of us take for granted on a daily basis. I have garnered a new appreciation for what it means to have been born in this country. I could just as easily been born any other place in the world, but I wasn’t. Every day I get to wake up and make a decision about where I want to go, what I want to do and who I want to spend my time with. As if these luxuries are not enough when compared to the lives of millions of other world citizens, I also have the freedom to disagree with anything I want … and not just disagree, but protest! In any way I choose.
I am not a protester by nature. I am not one to get riled up by a cause and organize a group march. However, after witnessing the movers and shakers in our country, I have found I no longer feel I have the right to complain unless I am willing to do something about it. There are people here fighting every day for the very rights we take for granted. Some of them are over the top, some of them are outright bizarre, but in the end you have to admire the type of passion that causes someone to believe in something so strongly that they are willing to put everything else aside in an effort to make change happen. And you must appreciate a nation that makes that possible.