Sunday, March 17, 2013

Blitz on Washington, Part 4, Finale

March 13, 2013
     9:00 AM
          We leave the Cannon Building and find our way back to Longworth, where Steve Southerland has his office.  He's a Florida representative from District 2, and one of a handful of this state's reps who will agree to see petitioners from outside his constituency.  But one week hadn't been enough notice, so he wasn't available.
          "Maybe next month," his executive assistant and scheduler said.  "I'm sure he'd like to talk with you."  We left the Rampant Injustice video (John had made twenty copies) and asked that one of his staffers watch it.  I wrote a letter to Representative Southerland right then and there, outlining my dilemma and requesting his help.
          If you send a letter by snail mail, it takes at least three weeks to reach a representative's office.
          "Why?" I asked one of the staffers.
          "First, the letter is sent to Ohio, to be irradiated.  Then, it's sent to New Jersey, to be decontaminated.  That's because of the anthrax scare.  After that, it's sent here, to be sorted and delivered.  Sometimes it never reaches its destination."
          "What about email?"
          "Each representative gets about 60,000 emails a week."
          "How do you handle all of them?"
          "We don't," the staffer said.
          "So, how are civilians supposed to communicate with their leaders in Congress?"
          "The best way is to do what you're doing.  Come here, in person."

     9:30 AM
          Back to the Hart Senate Building.  There's a line outside, and it's very cold.  The wind has picked up, and my hat blows off.
          We're supposed to meet with Thad Cochrane, a Republican from Mississippi.  We sit in the waiting room, where there's a bridal magazine full of Mississippi beauties.  It's a thick, glossy photo album, but every bride is white.
          "Why are all the brides white," I ask the receptionist, who is from Mississippi, and black.
          "I could have been in there, too, when I got married," she says.  "I chose not to, because you have to pay."
          "That says something about the economics of Mississippi," says Stacks.
          "You mean, the money is in the hands of the whites?"
          "It's probably not good to talk about this, now," Stacks says.
          "Doesn't it make you mad?" I ask the receptionist, ignoring the warning.
          "Well, no, I guess not," she answers, smiling professionally.
          We take some Laffy Taffy from the candy bowl.
          "Is Laffy Taffy made in Mississippi?"
          "No, it's made by Nestle, which is lots of places.  It's a Willy Wonka brand."
          "Why don't you have candy from Mississippi?"
          "I don't know.  It's the rules."
          "Doesn't Mississippi make candy?" I ask. " You could have peanut brittle, or pralines."
          "We have candy makers," the receptionist says.  "Like Robicheaux."
          "Everything else in here is from Mississippi."  I point to a picture of the river.
          Then, Taylor Lam comes out to greet us.  He's Homeland Security Fellow for Senator Cochrane.
          We are ushered into a private meeting room, and launch into our story.
          "Is this a Homeland Security issue?"  I ask.
          "It sounds like one to me," Lam says.  "Some of the same tactics have been used on you."
          "Can Senator Cochran help us?"
          "I'll communicate your concerns to him.  But you might want to contact Issa."
          "Who's that?" asks John Stacks.
          "Darrell Issa.  He's a representative from California, and he has a lot of influence.  He's Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Clommittee."
          "Would that be better than the House Judiciary Committee?" I ask.
          "It wouldn't hurt to get both involved."
          "We have a lot of work to do," I say to Stacks.
          "We can do it," he answers, with his usual optimism.
          "The more people you can get on your side, the more likely you are to get a hearing on the matter," says Lam.
          "If we make a lot of representatives aware, then there won't be opposition to increased restrictions, or even new law, if we get a hearing."
          "It's very hard to change laws," Lam tells us.  "Very hard."
          "Well, some people do it.  Why shouldn't we?"
          "If that's what its' going to take," says Stacks, "that's what we'll have to do."
          "If we can get an Executive Order to limit the application of the laws that are currently in place, including RICO, that would be a step in the right direction."
          "It would go a long way," says Lam.  Representative Cochran could be a great help."
          "The problem is that an executive order is only good as long as congress doesn't change.  But as soon as a new tide of congresspeople get elected, we're back to the same laws, and the executive orders are dismissed with a wave of the DOJ's hand."
          "There's some truth in that," says Stacks.  "But we have to do what we can."
          "The wheels of justice move slowly," says Lam.
          We write down Issa's name, shake hands, and walk down the long corridor, our shoes clicking on the marble floors, to face the wind again.

     10:00 AM
          "Should we try Grasslee's office again?" Stacks asks.
          "He's from Iowa, right?"
          "Yes, and the Aossey family is good friends with Chuck Grasslee."
          "Did they set up a meeting?"
          "That's what I was told.  It's a shame they couldn't be here, but they've just come back from a tour in Dubai, where a lot of their halal products are exported."
          "Okay, let's try him again.  He's been a senator for more than thirty years, so he probably has some clout."
          "Plus, he's the Ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.  If he sympathizes with our cause, we could have a powerful ally in the Senate."
          For the tenth time in two days, we pass around a tremendous sculpture that sits in the lobby, near the marble staircase that winds its way up the nine floors of this building.  "Mountains and Clouds" was created by Alexander Calder, and requires attention because there's no way to cross the lobby without walking through and around its giant legs.
          C-Span is playing on the big screen in Senator Grasslee's reception area.  There are dozens of young people in white lab coats waiting for a tour--their osteopaths-in-training.  Perhaps they're petitioning something from their senator.  It's probably their presence that makes it impossible for us to get a hearing with the senator or one of his staffers, despite the prearranged meeting.  Stacks and I aren't form Iowa, either, which works against us.
          We leave a video and some identification cards, and plan to visit next time we come to Washington.  Maybe the Aosseys will be with us, then.

     11:00 AM
          Our last scheduled meeting is with my congressional representative, Corrine Brown, from the 3rd District of Florida.  My home is in her district, my office in Yoho's.
          Congresswoman Brown has been in the House for twenty years, representing a district that outlined to carry the black vote.  It's a little like Affirmative Action for the House of Representatives.  I have voted for her, election after election, believing that she would help to balance the predominantly Republican ethics of the state.
     After the raid on my clinic two years ago, I contacted Corrine Brown, but I couldn't get a meeting with her.  My calls went unanswered, my letter seemed not to have been received.  That's when my party allegiance began to change.
          Lee Footer, her Senior Legislative Assistant, apologized for this mishap.
          "It's better to write to me, by email," he said.  "I'll make sure she gets your message."
          "You mean, my letter just disappeared?  I sent it to her Florida office."
          "I can't say what happened to it."
          "I have never asked a congressional representative for anything," I said.  "But I need Representative Brown's help now."
          "I'm sure she'll try to help you in any way she can."
          "Is she here now?"
          "Yes, but she's in session, and can't visit with you."
          "Can I get a meeting with her in Jacksonville?"
          "Why don't you send me an email describing your problem, and I'll make sure she gets it?"  Footer suggested.  "Send it directly to me, not to her."
          "Okay, but do you want to hear about my problem?"
          "Yes, sit down."  We had our meeting in the reception area.  "There aren't any open rooms," he explained.
          Once I described my situation, with a word or two about Stacks, who nodded in agreement, Footer reiterated his request that I send him the story in an email.  He handed me his card, and left.   I felt strangely abandoned, as though my problem didn't fit Brown's agenda.  Nevertheless, I need to let her know what I want, which is for her to hear me out and communicate my concerns to the House Judiciary Committee via a letter.

     12:00 noon
          My flight leaves in 78 minutes.  I hail a cab, after walking a few blocks.  But the driver doesn't speak English, and doesn't have a GPS.
          "Do you know how to get to the airport?" I ask.  "Ronald Reagan Airport?"
          "Airport?" he asks, looking confused.
          I exit quickly, and find another cab.
          Many cab drivers in Washington come from Ethiopia.
          "There are 400,000 Ethiopians living in the DC area," my driver told me.  "That's almost half of the Ethiopians in this country."
          "Why do Ethiopians come to Washington?" I ask.
          "Because it's a beautiful country."
          "Isn't Ethiopia beautiful?"  I ask.
          "Ethiopia is beautiful, but there is no opportunity.  The people at the top take everything."
          "Don't your leaders care, that all these Ethiopians are leaving the country?"
          "They like it," he said.  "Because we send lots of money back to our people."
          "But Ethiopia has oil, and gold, and tourism.  Why does the country need money from cab drivers in Washington?"
          "All that oil and gold money goes to the military leaders.  It's corrupt," he says, looking very sad.  "Very corrupt."
          "Our country has corruption, too," I reply.
          "Not like us," he says.  'Your country is beautiful.  Very, very good.  Everybody wants to be like your country."
          "Yes, our country is beautiful," I say.
          I have been feeling ennobled by my visit to Washington, and emboldened by my citizenship--especially by how seriously being an American, being a civilian, being a business owner has been taken by our congressional representatives.
          "Our country is very beautiful," I reiterate.  "And I'm proud."
          "Good," the cab driver says.  "It's good, here."    


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