George Washington said that America’s most important challenge and accomplishment was “not the election of the first president, but the election of its second president.” The peaceful transfer or extension of power is a blessing. Last weekend, I traveled across our country — from our first president’s namesake state to his namesake city — to celebrate it.
The inauguration festivities were a thrill. While expensive, exhausting, and time-consuming, the journey was worth it. My son once told me it was worth two days of travel just to see Lance Armstrong speed by on an alpine stretch of the Tour de France. The same was true for us to be on Pennsylvania Avenue to watch our President and First Lady get out of their armored limo and walk hand-in-hand, waving at so many enthralled Americans… including my partner Trish and me.
We waited an hour for security at our parade bleachers, and this sight made it worth the shivers. (All photos by Trish Feaster; for more, see www.thetravelphile.com)
We dressed up and attended what must be the biggest ball ever thrown. The DC convention center opened up all its collapsible walls, and more than two football fields of floor space was absolutely jammed. We muscled our way close to the pastel patriotic stage to hear John Legend, the cast of Glee, Stevie Wonder, and Soundgarden — and to watch the second couple, Joe and Jill Biden, dance to a Jamie Foxx serenade. (The line was so long, we missed the President and First Lady.)
But for us, the highlights were the smaller events. Being a good partisan and a co-sponsor of our winning bill to legalize marijuana in my state gave me VIP status for the weekend. My senator, Maria Cantwell, took me as her guest to a big-ticket fundraiser at the mansion of a former ambassador. She introduced me to seven senators as “the man behind Washington State’s drug policy reform law.” I met Senators Tom Harkin (Iowa), Jon Tester (Montana), Bob Casey (Pennsylvania), Bernie Sanders (Vermont), and even Chuck Schumer (New York).
Thrilled to meet Senator Schumer, I held out my hand, and before I could say, “I’m a fan,” he said, “I love your guidebooks. We just traveled with you through Italy and had a marvelous trip.” I gave him my card, and the next day I got a call from him sharing a tip on a good restaurant in Florence. Later, along with the rest of America, I watched him introduce President Obama at the inauguration. A staffer told me, “Washington is my Hollywood.” I felt the same way.
I also went to the new Bread for the World offices and huddled with 40 or so religious leaders in the USA. Jim Wallis (of Sojourners magazine), David Beckmann (president of Bread for the World), Reverend Mark Hanson (the Presiding Bishop of my Lutheran Church) were all there, along with Gene Sperling (Obama’s principal economic advisor). We discussed the “circle of protection” we are advocating to spare our nation’s most vulnerable citizens from cuts in the federal budget. Great public servants took turns talking about how we must find “common ground for the common good” and how, “in these times, protecting gains for the hungry has the same value as winning those gains in the first place.” To be with a room full of committed leaders passionate about our fiscal soul, rather than afraid of our fiscal cliff, was an inspiration.
Mr. Sperling congratulated Bread for the World and Sojourners as the only voices for the voiceless in the lobbyist-infested world of Congress. He noted how, because of their hard and effective work, even after several trillion dollars of necessary cuts to government programs, the “circle of protection” they declared around our country’s poorest citizens has survived so far essentially unscathed.
Flying home on Alaska’s wonderful direct five-hour flight from DC to Seattle, the newly elected governor of Washington State, Jay Inslee, was asleep in seat 21A behind me. Thinking he’s likely tired after his meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss how the Department of Justice will respond to our marijuana law, I’m thankful I live in a nation where engaged citizens can actually take part in their government. And I’m thankful we have a government that is filled with real people who, as far as I can tell, work hard for us and really care.
It’s my hope, perhaps helped by a little inspiration that comes from considering the amazing story of our nation, that together we can indeed find common ground for the common good.