Part of my Capitol Hill internship is giving tours of the Capitol Building. I take tour groups through the Senate Brumidi Corridors, the Old Senate Rotunda, the Crypt, a hall on the House side, the Old Supreme Court Chamber, the Senate Gallery (if it’s open), the Rotunda, Statuary Hall, and a staircase outside Statuary Hall. I’ve memorized much of the building’s history and have a wealth of political and historical knowledge to rely on – we all have our hobbies – for talking points along the way. It may not be important, but I enjoy it, and when we get back to the office building, if it was a middle or high school student group, I always end on this note:
"You guys have been a great tour group, pretty good at sticking together and very engaged. Thank you. Now, I don’t want to patronize you or lecture you, so I apologize if this feels like a lecture, but there’s just something I’ve got to say.
This stuff matters. This is one heck of a democracy. Yes, it has problems – if you’re on the left you say it’s these problems; if you’re on the right you can say it’s those problems, but we all agree, our country isn’t perfect. But, for all its warts and faults, I’ll tell you this: it is still the freest country on the face of the earth. You can compare us to Britain, Spain, any of the old European nations, and we’ve got them all beat. Not only that, we are the freest country in the history of the world. Even when you think about Rome, or the constrictions on Athenian democracy, we win. Think about that – you are the freest people in the history of mankind. No one who has ever lived on this planet had more liberty than you, not a one.
What that means is that democratic participation is not a privilege, but a responsibility. This is especially true for the women in this group, and the minorities. In the 1910s, there was a group of women that came out here from (the state I work for) and tied themselves to the rafters of a Congressional meeting room to protest their lack of the right to vote. They had to fight for what should have been their natural-born rights, as did African Americans, Native Americans, and once upon a time, even white men. These rights are precious, so I hope that you will always, ALWAYS be able to name your two senators, your Congressman, and your Governor, and that you will always write letters to the editor. I would never ask you to obsess about it like I do, but please, stay involved.
Now, I’m sorry if that felt like a lecture, and I do apologize, but this stuff matters. It is among my core values, and it’s just something I have to share."
One teacher told me “That wasn’t patronizing, and I wouldn’t care if it was – as long as they hear it from someone!”