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D.C.: The Democratic Capitol

The couthouse where the Articles were drafted
I am flipping a quarter around in my hand. I wish you all could see it. Then again, it's an ordinary coin, with a head side and a tails side: a good ole' American coin. The tails side of the quarter kind of reminds me of my latest Trekker trip or expedition. I went on a tour of the Capitol (which houses the Senate and House of Representatives) and the Supreme Court. "Sir, please place your keys in the tray and step through the metal detectors. He's clear!" Those were the first words I heard upon entering the Capitol. Whew! Hey, US Trek followers, I barely made it through the guards. Good thing they were fooled by my key ring that doubles as a secret agent spyglass, which allows me to see and hear through walls. Finally, I am inside the Capitol, the Capitolster, the Cap-meister! This is the place where all the laws are drafted and put into effect.

Aw shucks, here goes another security checkpoint. They wanted everything that had batteries. Good thing I did not have a hearing aid! The Capitol officials confiscated all of my electronic devices, but I had my two best Odyssey friends- my pen and pad. I ran back to reach for them and the pretty young lady at the desk informed me that even my pen and pad were prohibited in the House of Representatives and the Senate galleries. I assumed they wanted us to be well versed on the issues. What better time to learn than when taking a trip to the Capitol? If I wanted to know the agenda I had to visit their website, (www.majoritywhip.house.gov). What is this madness? I am in the one place where taking notes would be essential to my experience, and I was literally stripped of all my Odyssey weapons: my notebook of words and my pen of thoughts. I had better dash in before they try to snatch my memory away as well! I put up quite a fight with the last cantaloupe head that tried that. At last, I walked into this building whose first cornerstone was laid on September 18, 1793 by George Washington.

During the time of George Washington, it certainly was not this difficult to check into the Capitol, at least for those who had official business. In 1775, the 13 colonies were operating separately, each with their own constitution and ruled by the king of England. The rebellion against English rule soon began. First, a central organization had to be created to orchestrate this new bold venture known as the Revolutionary War. Enter the Continental Congress; it was formed in Philadelphia in 1777. Philadelphia soon fell to the British so delegates left and headed to York, Pennsylvania. On September 30, 1777 the Continental Congress met in York and it became the seat of government. On November 15, 1777 Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation. These articles gave the country the name the United States of America, yet did not resolve all of the issues at hand. These articles reflected the fears of the people about a centralized government. Political candidates complain about big government to this day- see Presidential candidate George Bush.

Article 2 provided that each state retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence and every power and right which is not by the confederation expressly delegated to the United States. In short if the power was not specifically that of the federal government it was for the state to decide. This article maintained the independence of the states. The Union of States was created to present a united front against foreign aggressors, namely England. One of the weaknesses of these articles was that they did not give the power to tax. The articles were strong in that they stated in Article 9 that the union must be perpetual.

Inside the courthouse, a place of history
Out of these first articles grew the Constitution. You remember: "We the People in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility", etc. The first 10 Amendments of the Constitution are referred to as the Bill of Rights. This is the part of the Constitution that most clearly protects individual freedom in the American political system. Many delegates felt that the Bill of Rights was unnecessary, but because of America's troubled past with Britain, it was added. The two parts of Congress decide decisions on federal matters: the House and the Senate. The Senate has 100 members, two from each state. You must be 30 years old, and be a citizen of the United States, to be eligible. The House of Representative's size is based on the populations of the separate states, but is limited to 435 members total. Every state must have at least one representative. The Senate and the House vote on bills; those that pass are made into laws.

The people who make these laws are housed inside these decorative walls. They sit, stand, and sometimes if you watch C-SPAN enough, you can even see them sleep through long Congressional meetings. Some even filibuster an argument, which is a continuous speech by one party on a subject that can sometimes last for days! This is done in hopes that they can postpone a vote on an unfavorable bill. I suppose if you come here often enough the flowers on the ceiling, which are painted in 24 karat gold, are not enough to keep you awake. Gold covered ceramic flowers on the ceiling seem useless when most people spend their time looking straight ahead. The video I was allowed to shoot at the Supreme Court show that the courtroom and lounges have a similarly expensive decor. The justices of the Supreme Court are not even in the courtroom most of the year, so I found it odd that the courtroom was so fancy. What was even more interesting was that the building was built during the Great Depression, and cost $9.7 million. In the video I briefly spoke to a man from Louisiana who felt the same way. He wonders if the government could be spending money on something better than melted down gold chains covering the ceiling.

We're friends, right? Well as a friend let me be honest with you. I was plumb mad when I saw all of the unchecked opulence of the facilities of our nation's law making compound. Ahhh...but every quarter has a flip side. Turning this coin over in my hand to the heads side, I did venture to meet my Congressional representative. Congresswoman Maxine Waters raised her kids in the same area in which my parents currently reside. Her arresting and inviting aura made me comfortable. I was able to speak to her Legislative Assistant Counsel Veronique Pluviose-Fenton. Pluviose-Fenton's background is in Civil Rights law, but more recently she worked on the impeachment trial for President Clinton, trying to prove in what ways impeachment would have been unconstitutional. She views the Bill of Rights as a clear articulation of the tenets of a basic democracy. It defines the role of government as it relates to the individual. Originally she is from Haiti; so Veronique knows the effects of an unchecked government.

This is what is most important to take away from this dispatch. Congress is the place where people who you do not even know make laws that affect all of our daily lives. Do you know who your federal representatives are? Do you know who your local representatives are? If not, dad or mom should know. When you are not satisfied with something, you have the right to redress it or make your complaint known. This is something that we should be thankful and appreciative for. In many places around the world do not have this freedom. Yet freedom is like a flower: beautiful and able to be enjoyed by everyone. However when it is not nurtured, like anything living, it will die. When is the last time you watered your flower?


Please email me at: kevin1@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Teddy - Rebels on a Roll!
Becky - When politicians wore guns …
Daphne - Just what were they fighting for?
Making A Difference - One nation under…corporate control?
Team - How constitutional is the Constitution?
Teddy - "President for Life" and other Constitutional Convention bloopers …