At the beginning of September, I was contacted by a representative of an organization called Bread for the World about a faith leader fly-in that they were doing in Washington, D.C. The purpose of the fly-in was for Millennial faith leaders representing a number of faiths from a variety of faith-based organizations to come to D.C. to advocate for U.S. foreign aid. I signed up for the fly-in because I could see a broad intersection with the work that I do for justice and equity. Without getting too bogged down in details—the purpose of this post is to share the “fun” aspects of what I got to do—I was pleased that the leaders I worked with in the Interfaith Working Group on Foreign Assistance, of which Bread is a part, seemed to be concerned with U.S. foreign aid being given in ways that are empowering to those who are receiving aid. This is very important because paternalism sucks.
Bread for the World’s main concern is with alleviating hunger, and so I had the opportunity to go to my Senators’ offices and advocate for a resolution aimed at strengthening the U.S.’s commitment to global nutrition. The hope is that by feeding hungry people, other global issues can be alleviated and people around the world can have a better quality of life.
I landed in D.C. just as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that she would start an impeachment inquiry on President Donald Trump. I remember seeing something on one of the TVs in Reagan National Airport, but honestly, I wasn’t paying much attention because I was trying to hurry to get to my first meeting at the Bread for the World offices. The gravity of what was happening didn’t really set in until I got to my hotel and I had a chance to listen to what they were saying about it on CNN as I waited to get checked in. I wondered how the latest developments would affect our day on Capitol Hill, which was scheduled for the next day.
The first night, the group of Millennial faith leaders learned some facts about foreign assistance and how critical the faith community is in helping those in need. I was happy that the focus of the discussion was not on converting people to religion, but rather on how our religion motivates us as faith leaders to put good into the world. One doesn’t have to look hard to see that there are still vestiges of colonialism in the ways some Christian ministries approach what they call “missions.” I was happy that, at least at this level, the focus was on the people and what their needs are. I also see room in the conversation for how the U.S. can support people in so-called “developing” countries as they begin to exercise self-determination. In other words, I would love to see the U.S. empower people to build a better society. I realized just how much of a tight rope people of privilege must walk in helping vulnerable populations but also not being paternalistic.
At the end of the meeting, we were told that Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) would be speaking at a reception that the group was to attend the next day. I was absolutely flabbergasted. Congresswoman Waters is one of my heroines. I was also SUPER bummed because I had planned on heading back home on that same day. After much soul searching and talking with my husband (not that I need his permission; we just have to make sure that we have childcare for our youngest covered), I made the necessary arrangements to extend my stay in D.C.
The next day, the group headed to the Bread Offices for a briefing and then we went up to Capitol Hill. I was both excited and nervous for the meetings that I was scheduled to be in. Capitol Hill meetings kind of remind me of Big Block of Cheese Day on The West Wing, except the people act like they are happy to see you. When you go into a Senator or Representative’s office, you often meet with a staffer, but there are times when you might actually get to meet with the congressperson.
My first meeting was with a staffer from Sen. Josh Hawley’s (R-MO). I shared why I was there (as a mother and a person of faith I am concerned that women and children receive excellent food and medical care to improve their life outcomes) and why I thought U.S. Foreign Assistance is important (the little money we use to help yields big returns for the people and economies in question).
Zach, the Bread staffer with whom I was working, and I had walked up to Capitol Hill from the Bread Offices. It was hot–mostly because of all of the concrete and stone from the buildings–and I felt kind of wheezy because I am still getting over an upper respiratory infection. I also sweat…like a lot…it’s a thing.I say all of that to make the following point: When we finally got inside and got to Sen. Hawley’s office, I was hot, sweaty, and winded. And I also had decided to wear my head wrap, which did not want to stay on my head at all. By the time we had sat down, I had probably re-tied it three times.
As I started to talk, I could feel it flopping and starting to slip on my head and I felt like I was in a Lucille Ball sketch. I ended up retying it as I talked, but I was trying to hurry. So My head wrap makes me look like a Whoo. I apologize to all of my ancestors, Beyonce, Michelle Obama, and Ciciley Tyson because I was raised better than this.
In case you didn’t know, the offices of the Senators and House are not in the Capitol building. They are spread among several buildings on what is known as Capitol Hill. The Senate offices and the House offices are also on opposite sides of the Capitol building from one another, so it is a long walk between them. Although I only had meetings with Senators, the group had meetings in one of the House offices and so I ended up hiking back and forth. It was a lot of walking and I am still sore. I was happy I brought my thermos with me because I drank more water than I have in a long time.
When we met with Sen. Roy Blunt’s (R-MO) office, Zach and I had to practically run from a group meeting at the House to the Senate Offices. Along the way, we saw several Congresspeople coming out of the Capitol. We ran into Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO) and I got to shake his hand briefly. When we arrived at Sen. Blunt’s office, there were all kinds of people in there. It was a stark contrast to Sen. Hawley’s office. Sen. Blunt is the senior senator from Missouri and he is on the appropriations committee, so he is fairly in-demand.
Our meeting with Sen. Blunt’s office went well. We were able to offer our thanks to him for adding to the Senate’s foreign assistance budget. The Trump administration slashed the budget for foreign assistance (if I recall, there were $0 budgeted from the executive branch…I could be saying that wrong so don’t quote me), but the House and Senate held firm with the Senate allocating more funds. I should note that less than 1% of the ENTIRE federal budget goes to foreign aid. A lot of folks don’t realize that. Anyway, Sen. Blunt is on the Foreign Assistance subcommittee (or whatever the words are…I don’t know the lingo…) so he was responsible for voting for the budget increase. My head wrap acted like it had some sense in this meeting and I felt like I did a good job saying my piece.
After I finished the meeting with Sen. Blunt’s office, I had a bit of free time. Zach told me that you could sometimes stop by people’s offices to see if they were in (or at least that’s what I took from what he said **looks askance**). I had three people who I wanted to see, all in the House: Maxine Waters, John Lewis (D-GA), and Emanuel Cleaver II (D-MO). All three of these men and women are people that I look up to, and so I wanted the chance to meet with them.
For some reason, I had it in my head that ALL of the House offices were in one building, so I went to that building to find Rep. Lewis’ office. Wouldn’t you know, he was in a completely different building. I was hot, I could barely move, and I was practically dehydrated even though I had been steadily gulping out of my thermos. But I drug my tired, stiff, and sore self over to his office…and I had just missed him. His staffer was kind and let me into his office. I was sweating like a Pentecostal preacher at a tent revival, I could barely get any words out of my mouth, and I was in awe and near tears. Rep. Lewis’ office looks like a Civil Rights museum. In the midst of that museumlike atmosphere, there was a small table with a copy of USA Today and an orange sitting on it; CNN was on the television. I hated that I had missed him, but honestly, I don’t think that I could have held it together if I had seen him and I would’ve been a sweating, bawling, head wrap drooping mess.
As I attempted to leave the building where Rep. Lewis’ office is, I got completely lost and stumbled onto Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s office.
Although Congreswoman Waters was supposed to be at the reception that I was attending, I thought that I would stop by her office anyway. I didn’t get to see her, but I did take a picture of the front part of her office.
I grew up in the Kansas City area when Emanuel Cleaver II was mayor, and after he stopped being the mayor, my family listened to Rev. Cleaver preach every week on our way to church. I loved hearing him preach, and he showed me that it was possible to be in ministry and public service. I was in awe to just be in his office, but he was in a meeting and so I didn’t get to meet him.
I also stopped by the offices of two of the other Representatives from Missouri, Vicky Hartzler (R) and Sam Graves (R).
Time for the reception had finally come, and so did the best part of the entire trip.
I waited with bated breath as I stuffed my face with stuffed grape leaves and other fancy foods and listened to a few people talk about the World Bank. I don’t know much about the World Bank. I don’t really care about the World Bank (though I realize that I probably should), but if Auntie Maxine was gone be there to give a speech about it, then my whole life would be about the World Bank.
I had just gotten a drink and started to head back to my chair as she walked in.
I tried really hard not to be so obvious and fangirly, but I was also obvious and fangirly. Where I was sitting was right beside where she was. I could almost reach out and touch her.
When she got up to the podium, she told us that she would have to keep her remarks brief because she had to be at a meeting related to the impeachment inquiry. She talked about World Bank and offered some critical remarks about it and ended her speech saying that she loves World Bank and so she said what she said because she wants to see it do better. So clearly they need to get their poop in a group because Auntie Maxine told them so.
As she was leaving, Zach and I made a beeline for the door to try to catch her on the way out. Zach said that he would take my picture with her. The other black woman in our group had the same idea. When Congresswoman Waters came out of the room, she looked like a woman on a mission. I tried to get a picture with her, and she said, “No. I’ve got to GO,” and she and the young gentleman who was escorting her hurried down the corridor.
The other black woman shouted, “We love you Auntie Maxine!”
“You’re my hero,” I shouted. “Go get ’em, Auntie.”
I am so thankful for the opportunity that I had to be on Capitol Hill, and I hope that I get more opportunities related to more issues that I care about. I am also happy that I got to be in the same space as one of my heroes. It totally made changing my plans worth it. And to know that I have a small, tangental, insignificant connection to what is sure to be a historical event (the impeachment inquiry) and to a historical figure, is awesome.
Maybe one day I will have the chance to sit down with Congresswoman Waters. I wonder what she will teach me.