As the intense campaign season looms on the horizon for the fall, I want to keep hold of the inspiration I felt during our summer trip to Washington, DC, from which we just returned. A bit of idealism is a good thing! Our nation’s capital has always been magical to me, and I’ve made numerous trips there, in high school, college, as a young adult and now several times as a parent. (We are blessed to have a friend to stay with.)
The history and grandeur of the U.S Capitol never fail to evoke a visceral thrill. I recall fondly from early visits that you could just walk into the rotunda through the visitors’ entrance at one end, though tours had to be prearranged. In the post-9/11 reality, it saddened me that my children do not have that ease of access, but the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center completed in 2008 more than makes up for it. We toured the exhibits for the first time on this recent trip, and they beautifully depict the history of the building, the Congress and how our government works. (And you can book tours online ahead of time if you want to see the rotunda.)
An item particularly touching to me appeared in a display about the right of citizens to petition government. It noted that while women didn’t get the vote until the 1920s, they could still address petitions to their representatives. This they did, in great numbers. Women’s groups filed thousands of petitions in the 1850s, opposing slavery, in response to the Missouri Compromise, Kansas-Nebraska Act, etc. The artifact on display, in fact, was a document submitted by women in Clermont County, Ohio, just east of where I live. These examples of steadfastness inspire me to greater hope and remind me that change is slow. As columnist Gail Collins said on the 90th anniversary of women’s suffrage, “We always need to remember that behind almost every great moment in history, there are heroic people doing really boring and frustrating things for a prolonged period of time.”
Our favorite family memory from our first trip to DC nearly ten years ago was an after-dark tour of the monuments. The FDR memorial was new to all of us then, having opened in 1997. The kids had fun being photographed with the statues (both then and now). This time it was still light out for our evening visit, so more details of the memorial stood out. The water features and the fact that you walk through the memorial, surrounded by walls of red granite, create a meditative quality. Quotes from FDR are engraved on the walls, and the contemporary relevance of his words caught my attention. Jarring me out of cynicism and lethargy, they inspire renewed concern for the common good.
In these days of difficulty, we Americans everywhere must and shall choose the path of social justice, the path of faith, the path of hope and the path of love toward our fellow men. (Detroit, Michigan, October 2, 1932, campaign address)
The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.
(Second Inaugural Address, 1937)
The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith. (Jefferson Day Address 1945, written the night he died and never delivered)
No country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources. Demoralization caused by vast unemployment is our greatest extravagance. Morally, it is the greatest menace to our social order. (Sept. 30, 1934, Fireside Chat)
It was a pretty evening, not too hot, so we strolled around the tidal basin to the new Martin Luther King memorial. The following quote from that monument includes the whole world in the common good.