Henry V at Washington, or a Letter to the Resolve Fifteen

This is an open letter to my fellow advocates and dear friends with whom I spent a lot of time (and at the same time not enough) in DC. It’s on this blog instead of an e-mail because what I experienced this weekend really should be on the record. If you want to know why we were there, click here. If you want to see what I did with my own time, click here.

To Whom Advocating for Peace is the Most Paramount Task,

In Lawrence Weschler’s Vermeer in Bosnia, he uses a scene of human rights abuse in Shakespeare’s Henry V to analyze the massacre at Srebrenica. Since we were all in DC as a part of our advocacy against mass atrocities, I thought it was fitting that I thought of a wholly different part of the same play. What we learn from Shakespeare is that, on St. Crispen’s Day, Westmoreland wished they had more troops to fight, to which the King responded – at length – that he would rather die with those who were around him: “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”

There were only a few of us that were able to make the trek to Washington this weekend. I boarded my plane knowing two friends would be there, alongside a few who I only knew over the phone, and a handful of strangers. I left with over a dozen friends with whom I can share this experience. And it’s not just an experience of being able to say “I got to see David Plouffe speak” or “Holy crap I just saw Bo in the hallway,” it’s much more than that.

Half of the gang on Pennsylvania Avenue

It’s the fact that I can say that not only did most of us meet for the first time at State Place & 17th Street in the early morning on Friday – and proceed to spend almost all of the next 48 hours together – but that we made true friends and learned a lot from one another during that time. It was with this group of new friends that I learned about the Fourth Estate (which I sadly missed and sounds inspiring) and shared my thoughts on America’s LRA strategy (thanks for listening, Adam). I experienced my first poetry slam at Busboys and ate the greatest sweet potato fries. I met four people whom I could never thank enough for helping me over the years via phone calls and e-mails, and I had three people bear witness to the hostel at which I stayed.

Eugene tells a story. Laughter ensues.

More than learning about USAID’s programs around the world and seeing the White House’s outreach efforts first hand, I got soaked in rain with friends – twice – and got in more than one conversation about the attractiveness of a certain former Director of African Affairs at the NSC. I talked about the ICC, heard about conflicts in the CAR, and learned about crisis mapping in the DRC. But I also learned how not to use Camden Yards as a slip’n’slide, was compared to the sorcerer Jafar, and laughed uncontrollably at somebody saying “K as in knitting.”

I am truly humbled by having the chance to meet you this weekend. We all traveled to DC, some of us flying across the Great Plains while others took buses up from the South, to hear what the White House had to say and learn from it. I have been involved with this cause for a long time in my life, but I got involved my senior year of high school. I am only 21 years old and I just barely finished my undergrad, and yet I wasn’t out of place. Some of you are still in high school and are already raising thousands of dollars and lobbying your senators and representatives for this. Some of you have been done with school and are already forging ahead into the real world, blazing the trail for advocates. You all are superstars.

While we were able to raise our concerns with several officials (spitting fire while we did it), we did even more. We solidified our place as advocates with more than just an issue or a cause, but with a passion. As I told some of you, I’m at sort of an impasse in my life where I’ve stopped cheering for Enough and I haven’t fundraised as much for IC as I used to, but I can’t stop, won’t stop, advocating for peace and justice through Resolve.

To each and every one of you who joined me in any of these escapades, thank you. We raised our voices and delivered letters, we definitely made a difference. But I sure as hell made some great friends too.

A Day at the Executive Mansion

This post is the political and analytic post about the DC trip. For the general trip run-down, click here.

Friday was the big day, and in the morning I took a stroll down F St. to the White House gate, and started meeting all sorts of great fellow advocates. Once we all got together, we went through security and headed into the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, one of two office buildings that flank the White House on the premise. We filed in and took our seats in a small auditorium, and listened to the following and surprisingly long list of speakers.

  • Gayle Smith (Director of the NSC) and co-founder of the Enough Project,  talked about America’s transition from a unilateral actor to a multilateral actor in development and international affairs, and emphasized the importance of security, economics, and values in humanitarian aid. She talked a lot about long-term solutions and referenced some advancements in the aid sector.
  • Erin Mazursky (Youth Advisor, USAID), formerly of STAND fame, talked about the link between youth advocacy and conflicts, emphasizing the importance of the younger generation to be involved. Herself a product of that, it was great to hear her talk about her work for USAID in helping youth around the world, and she said that many in the development sector see advocacy as “the wind in our sails,” which is always uplifting to hear.
  • Andrew Sweet (from the Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation at USAID), who used to be at the Enough Project, talked a lot about OCMM’s work in producing alert lists of countries at risk of falling into conflict. He also made several references to conflict assessment and contributions to local reconciliation efforts to prevent conflicts in post-conflict zones. In response to some questions, he also referenced that the U.S. was going beyond MDGs in a lot of developing countries, with other goals such as legitimate political systems, justice, and security.
  • Brooke Anderson (Chief of Staff of National Security Council) took a lot of questions and tried very hard to understand where all of us advocates were coming from. In the course of answering questions, she referenced the importance of crisis mapping and that problems in the DRC needed to be addressed, but our group did not get any LRA questions in really.
  • Esther Brimmer (Assistant Secretary for International Organizations at the State Department) talked primarily about the UN, saying that the U.S. needed to not just support peacekeeping mandates but also to ensure they had viable plans. She referenced the UN’s role in Côte d’Ivoire and the Human Rights Council. She dodged a question about the LRA, probably because it wasn’t really in her job description. However, she did say that witness protection was a priority, which it definitely needs to be. When asked how to face opponents to UN funds, she reiterated the importance of sharing the burden of peacekeeping around the world.

Originally, myself and two others were supposed to meet with Jon Carson, the director of OPE, to express a little bit of urgency about the President’s LRA Strategy. That got cancelled at the last minute, and I ended up joining everyone for a self-guided tour through the East Wing! From there we split up for lunch before reconvening, and then the following people spoke:

  • Mark Doms (Chief Economist, Department of Commerce) gave a prolonged talk about the current recession, replete with pretty graphs and humorous interludes. Talking points included European debt problems, international uncertainties in the global market, and dependence on foreign fuel.

    Plouffe taking questions

  • David Plouffe (Senior Advisor to the President), also former campaign manager for the Big O, talked a lot about how to move forwards, shifting between calling himself a progressive but also mentioning the importance of balancing budgets. He took questions for a long time, and when asked what President Obama wanted his foreign policy legacy to be, he speculated that it would be ending the war in Iraq, giving AfPak the attention it needed, reestablishing the U.S. leadership role, and non-proliferation (a la START). In short, a “cleaner and safer planet.”
  • Alexia Kelley (Director, Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships) talked about her office’s work across the country and ways to partner with the government in communities. It’s also worth noting that during this segment I slipped out to use the restroom and upon my return I passed the First Dog, Bo. It was pretty legit.
  • Brad Cooper (Director, Joining Forces) talked about the launch of his program, which is a support system for military families and is definitely going to be getting bigger.
  • Anne Filipic (Deputy Director, OPE) emphasized the importance of taking our experiences home and spreading the word about the White House’s outreach programs. OPE is holding all sorts of round tables and focus groups across the country to get a better idea of what exactly people are wanting to see from the presidency, which is a pretty great effort. She also referenced ways to connect with the White House via technology.

    Carson taking questions

  • Jon Carson (Director, OPE) didn’t meet with me privately, but instead came to talk to everyone, which was pretty cool. Referencing the small size of OPE, he called on individuals to act as conduits for making sure people in the communities’ voices were heard. When asked about the LRA by one of our own, he said that building networks was an imperative, and called on involving diaspora groups (which I have always been on the fence about, given a majority of them’s contempt for Museveni). When we challenged him to get a strategy going, though, he seemed to take to heart that advocates like us really want to see the Executive Branch give a little and get some skin in the game. He later referenced that, when it came to cuts in the budget, community activism was the key to keeping money where it was needed the most.

As the White House event closed up, one of my fellow advocates – a child psychologist in Kentucky that works in Uganda rehabilitating former child soldiers through art – presented Jon Carson with letters and a drawing made my children addressed to President Obama. Carson assured her that he would pass them along, which is great news.

In the aftermath of the event, we congregated outside the White House and a few of us did interviews with Ricky from Discover the Journey, who was filming a short segment on Resolve’s work at the White House. I did my little part, and also hung out with some great people by the gate.

And that was my day at the White House. It was a pretty neat experience, and it was great to be surrounded by such a great group of advocates. Not all of the speakers were great, but the briefing overall was wonderful. Thanks go to Resolve for the invite and to Citizens for Global Solutions were setting up the briefing in the first place and for hosting a neat workshop the following day at their offices.

There and Back Again

This is a short post about my trip to DC this weekend, highlighting museums and meals with friends. To see why I was going to DC, click here.

I’m home from an extended weekend in DC. It has been truly one of the most amazing weekends spent with some great, great new friends – if not family. The Resolve invited me and a small group of advocates to Washington for a mixed bag of great events. What was supposed to be the pinnacle of the itinerary was the mother of all reasons to go to DC – an invitation to the White House.

The Allen Lee, my home for the weekend

The Office of Public Engagement was holding a Community Leaders Briefing – part of an ongoing series – and this one was specific to foreign policy, particularly related to conflict and development. And so I went to DC, and was received in open arms by the Resolve crew.

Upon arriving, I checked into the shadiest building ever, in a pretty area central to everything (Foggy Bottom). From there I wandered the Mall and had lunch at the Old Ebbitt Grill (which is older than the Civil War, what?!) and visited the Museum of National History before meeting up with Adam for dinner at a tall and narrow restaurant called Matchbox. It was really nice to catch up and chat, and I got to see what DC calls Chinatown.

The next day was a long and thorough walk through the permanent exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The exhibit is huge and well worth the three and a half hours I spent there, and I also perused the other exhibits before heading for lunch at the USDA. From there I trekked across town to the Resolve office, where I met old friends and made new ones. It was great to see everyone a day early and hang out in the office. I was able to finally put faces to names and voices and also got to chat with some great people. From there I left for a rendezvous with Caitlin, a fellow advocate that was – like me – flying in with little to do. We went to a cafe near Dupont and hung out for a while before departing.

Friday was the big day at the White House, which I’ll write about later. After that I wandered the Mall with a few people before we headed to Busboys & Poets, a cafe/book shop that had slam poetry that night. It was my first slam, or whatever

WTC antenna, with 9/12 headlines in the background

you want to call it, and it was a lot of fun. Saturday we went to a workshop in East Market hosted by Citizens for Global Solutions which was pretty neat. During the lunch break I wandered the market with a few friends and ended up doused by a rain cloud. After the workshop I ended up wandering with some friends to pick up flowers, go to a coffee shop, and then a wonderful BBQ at the house of one of Resolve’s staff.

The very last day, I wandered with Caitlin past a few memorials before dashing through the rain for brunch back at Old Ebbitt. It was the weirdest meal ever, with french toast stuffed with ham and wrapped in bacon and drizzled in syrup. So, if I die of a cardiac arrest anytime soon, that’s why. From there, we walked a bit before saying final goodbyes and I went to the Newseum, which is a really neat museum whose facade has the first amendment in giant letters. Running short on time until my flight, I made a quick tour through today’s front pages and saw a piece of the Berlin Wall, a fallen statue of Lenin, and the antenna from the World Trade Center. The whole museum was really interesting and had some great exhibits on lots of things, from terrorism through the ages to natural disasters like Katrina. I ended up rushing off through a sculpture garden on my way to the airport, where….

I waited forever for the train to the airport, checked in and went through security and got to my gate with 40 minutes to spare. Grabbed lunch and sat, and then saw the plane arrive. As we got really close to departure time, I got word that it wouldn’t be leaving for Newark for another 75 minutes because of storms there – and I’d miss my connecting flight. So I went through the long process of trying to get a plane, then had to go back to the ticketing counter and ended up having to go back through security and ended up on a tiny regional plane. It was the first time I ever set foot on a tarmac, and I took a bus across the runway to a small plane and boarded it and read on a 20 minute flight to Philadelphia before rushing to my next plane to Phoenix. Made it home and slept, and here I am now. Trip: over’d.