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Trip to Washington opens eyes on how country is run

By Janet Kubat Willette
jkubat@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 03/20/2013 9:06 AM

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Washington, D.C., is a world away from my farmstead in southeast Minnesota.

The stars shine brightly in the night sky when I walk outdoors at home. In Washington, street lights illuminate the night, hiding the stars. The steady hum of traffic from Highway 14 and the occasional whistle from a passing train is replaced in Washington by the honk-honk-honking of drivers who seem to use their horns instead of turn signals. In Washington, we walked, rode the Metro or took a cab to get where we needed to go. At home, I jump in the car to get to where I need to be.

Yet, there are connections between the two. Policies crafted in the U.S. Capitol influence what's grown in the fields around my home. Policies decided there set the speed vehicles travel on Highway 14. The federal taxes we pay are divvied up according to decisions made in the Senate and House.

MARL Class VII spent Feb. 24 through March 1 in Washington for its fourth seminar. We were tasked to understand the historical, political and international significance of Washington, analyze the current political conditions and examine the importance of ethics in leadership.

In doing that, I learned more about my own strengths and areas for improvement and realized that most everyone has a smartphone.

After a 4:30 a.m. arrival at the Humphrey Terminal, we arrived in Washington around lunchtime. After classroom time and a lesson on using the Metro, we spent the evening touring monuments.

Our tour guide was an immigrant from Egypt with degrees in ancient history, international management and a doctorate in mass communications. He founded his own tour company in Washington in 1989.

As he drove through the confusing maze that is Washington, he told stories of his adopted home. He told of how Robert Kennedy and J. Edgar Hoover didn't like one another when they were alive, but now buildings that bear their names face each other along Pennsylvania Avenue. The FBI building is named for Hoover and the Department of Justice building for Kennedy.

The city was built on a swamp and Constitution Avenue used to be a canal.

And it appears that the federal government has had financial trials for a long time. Back in 1853, construction stopped on the Washington Monument because there was no money to continue. In 1878, Congress appropriated funds for the project.

As I walked through the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, I reflected on the similarities between the Depression and the Great Recession and the skills of Roosevelt as he led the country forward.

Several of the quotes etched in stone tugged my brain into motion, with two sticking in my mind. They read, "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." and "No country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources. Demoralization caused by vast unemployment is our greatest extravagance. Morally, it is the greatest menace to our social order."

There were many other moments throughout our trip that forced me to stop and make a mental note.

One came during a meeting with a lobbyist with the Renewable Fuels Association. "Nobody does anything alone in this town," she said.

Another came during a Congressional Insight Exercise, led by the American Farm Bureau Federation, in which our class divided into teams and became a freshman lawmaker with a lone goal of being re-elected.

Every decision our team made had ramifications. We offended some people and made others happy. Raising money was key so we could fend off challengers.

The difficulty of balancing interests was further reinforced in a meeting with National Farmers Union. The farm bill was the topic of discussion. It takes all parts of the country and members from all parties to pass legislation, the NFU speaker said.

Sit with that for a time.

Think about the diversity from the table-flat fields of northwest Minnesota to the rolling hills of the southeast. From the trees of the northeast to the fields of the southwest. It's difficult to balance the interests within a state. Throw in 49 other states and the challenge of passing a farm bill comes into focus.

What's best for Idaho isn't what farmers want in Georgia.

One of our last assignments was to visit a memorial or museum and reflect on the leadership of those featured there.

Our group toured the National Archives, where I spent time reading the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights and admiring the penmanship of our country's founders.

I thought about their sacrifices and the sacrifices their families made "in order to form a more perfect union."

What sacrifices will I and my generation make to carry on their ambitious goal?