The American Heathen Goes to Washington Pt. 1
(The following post is Part 1 of a multi-part series on RJ Evans’ visit to Washington, DC as part of the Internet Radio Fairness Coalition efforts to lobby for the Internet Radio Fairness Act. The bill will be re-introduced in this year’s 113th Congress)
Many of you might remember the classic 1939 film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” starring Jimmy Stewart as the head of the Boy Rangers – turned Senator of an unnamed western state. Stewart’s character was supposed to be buffoonish, inept, and thoroughly clueless about the mechanisms that drive the political arena. But “Mr. Smith”, as it turns out, is far too grounded in his integrity, honor, and loyalty to the people of his state, and the principles of his country, to fold under the pressures of a corrupt legislative system. The story is a masterpiece, revealing the undercurrent of corruption in politics, and how easy it is for corruption to infiltrate it. But, the story is also a powerful proclamation that determination and hope of the common man can facilitate positive change and deliver justice. Enter… me.
I’m not capable of delivering the kind of stellar performance that the late Jimmy Stewart was capable of as the somewhat clueless Mr. Smith. I am naturally that way. Although I’ve done a lot of reading in my 51 years and I’ve examined the processes of government, the ins and outs of the legislative modus operandi , and have been an astute student of the political process as seen through the dusty goggles of the average Joe Schmo… I’m still pretty clueless as to how everything actually goes down. So, when I was asked to be a participant in the Internet Radio Fairness Coalition and travel to Washington, DC to lobby on behalf of the Internet Radio Fairness Act, I was more than excited. I practically shit my drawers! I gratefully accepted the invitation and made the necessary arrangements. The American Heathen was going to Washington!
“WTF?” Probably the first words in the mind of my host.
Not surprisingly, I’m an idealist. So was “Mr. Smith”. And not surprisingly, my favorite movie of all time is “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”. So, I was prepared. Well, at least movie prepared. My host contact for this DC adventure was Harvey, a talented PR specialist in DC. Harvey has worked in DC political circles for some well known Republican political figures in the past, and is well versed in the steps of the Washington waltz. Harvey was also a tad nervous that he had unknowingly contacted “America’s Angriest Atheist” to be an ally in the legislative battle for reasonable Internet Radio royalty rates. In our initial phone conversation, I was very upfront and open with Harvey about being an outspoken critic of the political system from the atheist perspective. I also warned him that my physical appearance could be easily perceived as intimidating and very out-of-place due to the wealth of tattoos that adorned my arms and neck. I suggested that he thoroughly vet me before committing to including me in the coalition, and I pointed Harvey to various web sites for photographs, videos, and articles that would give him a clearer idea of who and what I’m all about. A couple of days later Harvey called me back and told me he still wanted me to be a part of the coalition. I was surprised, but also very honored, after voluntarily putting my head on the chopping block of the political guillotine. Somehow I had survived round one. But, Harvey did have a few questions for me. “Will your atheism be an issue for you when meeting with certain Republican congressional members and staffers?” and “You’ll be able to get through security right?” I laughed. I assured Harvey that I would be professional, on topic, and that I’d leave my Dawkins & Hitchens books, and guns at home. I was pretty sure I heard Harvey sigh in relief.
OMG! Who the fuck is this guy?
Harvey picked me up at the airport on Tuesday afternoon. It was an unusually warm day in DC for mid-February. Apparently unusually warm days in DC aren’t the result of global warming, but merely a blessing from god for keeping America safe from heathen’s like me. As so many Republicans might like to tell you. God should have checked the South West airlines passenger manifest that day. The rain and cold would hold off until the next day. The day I was scheduled to leave, and around the actual time I left. Punishment?
Harvey is a year younger than I. His receding hairline, sharply pressed suit, and his demeanor, contrasted vividly with his early millennial Japanese 4 door sedan with a baby seat in the back, and his pleasantness. As we drove to the hotel through the insane ‘u-turn anywhere’ DC traffic, Harvey and I chatted a bit. It turns out that Harvey’s a Republican, an ACTUAL Republican, one that believes in the word “compromise” and thinks that the system is currently broken by gridlock. He’s a catholic, with many members of his family serving their lord as priests and nuns. Our discussions were cordial, relaxed, courteous and friendly. In fact, time passed very quickly during the drive from Reagan to the Holiday Inn Capitol. I was a bit saddened overall that time was not on our side during my trip. I would have really enjoyed getting to know Harvey better. Harvey, for all the differences we have politically and religiously, really appeared to be the kind of guy I could truly get along well with, AND have some really knock down, drag out debates with in the process. I also truly believe that after the battles, we’d still walk away as friends. The true spirit of the American ideal.
I clicked on the television in my hotel room. The old LG flat screen was showing its abuse and age, much like the hotel. The screen flickered to life, but created a strange color mosaic more suited to a bad 60′s acid trip. After about ten minutes the screen detoxed and all was well. While the room was clean and crisp, the décor was dated, and the wear and tear of use was taking its toll. The hotel was only a few blocks from “The Hill”, the Capitol Dome visible from a block walk away from the front door. I decided to take a walk over to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, a place that I had never experienced before. The museum holds a very special place in my heart. It inspired my wife to pursue her life’s passion of electrical engineering in the field of commercial flight and air defense. I cherish my wife’s dreams and aspirations. Always have. So, I was more than moved, overwhelmed actually, when I toured this monument to flight and human endeavor and suddenly discovered an Airbus A320 cockpit on display. My wife, Sherry, was responsible for a significant portion of the A320′s FMS (Flight Management System), and the A320 was the first “fly-by-wire” commercial passenger aircraft. My pride soared as I stood there looking at the technology my wife had contributed to the development of. Displayed prominently in the Smithsonian, my wife’s efforts are now a part of the phenomenal history of flight! It took all the inner strength I could muster to hold back the intense emotional force of the moment. My tears still managed to seep from the corners of my eyes. I share in Sherry’s dreams. I know, first hand, just how much the A320 project meant to her, her early career development, and her level of personal confidence.
I got back to the hotel a couple of hours before the 6pm dinner meeting with the coalition. The meeting was designed to bring the group up to speed on the legislative process and the dos and don’t s of working the halls of Congress. There were about 22 coalition members attending that night and we were to be seated at four tables broken up into teams. Large and small web casters forming the coalition would descend on Congressional buildings, armed with facts, and ready to answer questions about Internet Radio Fairness. As members of the coalition arrived at the designated conference room location within the hotel, it was evident that I was most definitely the “black sheep” bad boy of the group. Suits, ties, some semi casual, walked through the door and ordered up a variety of refreshments from the open bar. I wore a black muscle polo, leather vest, and jeans. My arms are sleeved with tattoos, primarily skulls. I looked like I was stopping by for a visit with my parole officer. As I nursed a Diet Coke I was cordially greeted by each attendee. We exchanged business cards, introduced ourselves, and then made small talk while waiting for the event to get underway. As I interacted with my colleagues, my inner dialog was laughing at me. I could also hear my colleagues inner voices saying… “OMG! Who the fuck is this guy?”