In D.C., we got to see several of the Smithsonian museums and memorials. One day, we were able to see the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which just opened last year. In the portion of the museum dedicated to the period of slavery, South Carolina came up a lot. This reminded me of the See the Stripes movement at Clemson that promotes acknowledgement of Clemson’s history of slavery. We also saw several memorials I had never been to, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial. Near the end of the trip, the Cherry Blossom Festival was occurring. It was very pretty, and without seeing it I would not have known what a big deal the festival was.
While in Washington DC for spring break we had the opportunity to work at Charlie's Place and Martha's Table and also partake in a Poverty Simulation. Charlie's Place is a soup kitchen for people experiencing homelessness and they also give them some clothing. Working here was a very unique experience because we got to talk to the people who were experiencing homelessness there and hear their story, their interests, it definitely gave a different perspective on what I personally knew and thought about people experiencing homelessness. Martha's Table was a emergency food preparedness center, so when we went there we chopped giant containers of vegetables and potatoes. I chopped kale with 2 people from the community, which is what I will take away most from my experience: that there are more people than just those in church groups like ours that want to help out. The last thing I will tell you about is a Poverty Simulation that we did with 2 other schools that were there, we were put into "families" each having a pre-set life, my character had a job as the only source of income and was fired after day 1. We had 15 minute days which were mostly sent frantically going around to wait in lines and pay bills. This simulation really put into perspective the unease that not being financially stable can bring, whether it being not finding a job, being fired for uncontrollable reasons, or even natural disaster. Not knowing if you can pay your bills for the month is terrifying in the simulation and puts you into a frenzy. These were just a few of the interaction we had with people experiencing homelessness and they were each educational in their own way.
We had the opportunity to take part in advocacy work at the Capitol during one day in D.C. That morning we departed from Luther Place and headed to the ELCA Advocacy Center for a lesson from Nathan Detweiler on the role of the ELCA in policymaking. Nathan highlighted the depth of the ELCA’s stance on advocacy, as its lobbying efforts are based on specific church doctrines that have undergone years of construction and review before their approval. After the discussion, the group headed to meet with our elected representatives. At Sen. Lindsay Graham’s office, we had the opportunity to meet with the Senator and then an aide to discuss issues sensitive to many of us in the group. After a tour of the Capitol building, we also met with aides to Senator Tim Scott. At each meeting we addressed critical issues such as healthcare, military spending, education, and CDC funding, all of which will be faced by the current Congress. Though we did not alter policy by ourselves, I believe the meetings were important in bringing constituents’ issues to the Senators’ offices. It was apparent from the issues raised that federal policy directly impacts many of our lives as students even before graduation. Research funding and job security were two recurring topics, along with national security and health. The opportunity to participate in advocacy on behalf of the ELCA allowed us to take part in policymaking and make a small drive for change for the betterment of our world.
On our last day in Washington D.C., we attended Friday Prayers at a mosque attended by a Clemson graduate who was active in Clemson’s intercultural dialogue club. As someone who has no experience or knowledge of the Islamic faith, I really enjoyed this visit and the dialogue we had with our hosts. The mosque we attended had Turkish and English in their service. It also had Arabic because many of the parts of the service were required to be in Arabic. Before the service started, I was looking through a copy of the Quran and I saw many names that I recognized. We share many of the same prophets. It was a very uniting experience to worship the same God but with new friends. After the service, we had a small meal. I later understood that it was mostly because their main service of the week was Friday Prayers which meant that many people had used their lunch break from work to attend service. I loved learning more about and experiencing a new religion which I feel is very misunderstood in our society.