The sun has gone down over Washington D.C., leaving the 11 members of the trip enjoying a quiet night in the hostel. Today was a full day - we started out with a 3 hour shift at the DC Central Kitchen - an organization that makes over 4,200 meals a day. The shifts varied - chopping, scooping, packing, etc., and we all enjoyed a wonderful morning meeting other volunteers and staff members. In addition to making thousands of meals, DC Central Kitchen is also devoted to helping homeless people turn their lives around. They offer classes to teach them how to work and serve, and every 8 weeks a class celebrates their graduation. From what we have seen, the act of turning a person's life around is just as important, if not more so, than making sure they have a bed for the night or a meal for the day.
Our group was then introduced to the second world of D.C., as we walked three blocks and were at the front doors of the Capitol building. Though as we have learned, there is in fact not front or back to either the White House or the Capitol. Silly D.C. After being shuffled through security (which is necessary to go through when meeting with any government official as well) we began our tour of this historic building. In the end, we found it was awe inspiring on many different levels; 1. The incredible history of our country that this building represents, 2. The different levels of democracy, and 3. How our democracy discounts the many people that sit on the streets, perhaps out of earshot, but within sight.
We then had our first experience speaking with Minnesota representatives, starting with John Kline of the 2nd Minnesota District. Only one of our group is one of his constituents, but we were able to speak with one of his aides. It was a quick meeting, and one typical of a busy House member - we explained our purpose, and gave him our information. We have two more meetings to go, one with Senator Amy Klobuchar and another with 4th district Representative Betty McCollum. Plus any other offices we decide to walk into, which vary greatly with the different members of our group.
For some people it was their first experience with the political process - a process that they found surprisingly easily accessible. If there was one thing worth sharing for today, it's that every citizen of this country has the right to be represented in our democratic government, and to be represented is to be involved. Your congressperson cannot help achieve your goals for your community if you don't express them - believe it or not, those people are there because of you, and for you. Don't complain about them, take advantage of them.
Our experience with homelessness is becoming more and more complex as we discuss different ways that homeless people are viewed. It's a problem with many questions and many answers and none that are clearly "correct." Let's see what questions are asked and answered tomorrow.
Until then, goodnight from N Street in D.C., and sleep well in yours beds.