“Zip up your jacket before you go into the gallery! Your t-shirt can’t be seen in there.” This was the third time I’d been admonished this way by security, as we made our way into the U.S. Senate gallery. THE THIRD TIME.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
Honey, I got us tickets to D.C. for our anniversary this spring! My well-meaning husband waited patiently for my enthusiastic response, but I sat frozen and conflicted. Why can’t I jump up and gratefully throw my arms around him? The last time I was there as a tourist was in 1973, the cherry blossoms would be in bloom, and he got an amazing deal on our two tickets, but visit Washington, D.C. now?
We lived abroad for most of the Obama presidency. I dreamed of visiting our nation’s capitol then, when everything seemed possible. I imagined the city alive with good will, inclusiveness, and optimism. During President Obama’s eight years in office, Americans were the envy of many across the globe, including most of our friends in Costa Rica.
My 17 year-old daughter and I were in DC for 1 1/2 days for the 2017 Women’s March on Washington. At the time, we were focussed on the march and the message we hoped to send, so we only saw the landmarks, from a distance. I promised her we’d return someday and play tourist, but this was a “couples trip,” so she’ll have to wait a while longer.
The outrageous behavior of the current president and administration, consumed far too much of my mental and emotional bandwidth as it was, I wasn’t sure I could handle seeing the train wreck up close. This would be my husband’s first visit to the city though, and I decided to commit to making our time there special, regardless of who was in office.
PACK YOUR BAG, WE’RE HEADED TO D.C.!
To visit the U.S. Capitol building, or the Whitehouse, you have to contact one of your state’s elected representatives and request a tour in advance. We’re living in Tennessee, so I chose the lesser of our representative evils, and made my request to Senator Bob Corker’s office.
There were no Whitehouse tours available while we’d be in town (sad, not sad about hitting that particular brick wall) but we made arrangements to meet one of Senator Corker’s interns for a tour of the Capitol building.
Our first morning in town, Senator Corker’s intern (and recent UT graduate) met us at the Capitol Visitor Center. We then joined the multitudes of other tour groups flowing through the different areas of interest in the Capitol building.
I thanked our guide for taking the time to show us around, and she said it was a welcome break from answering phone calls all day. Apparently the current flood of calls coming in from constituents about protecting (or not protecting) Robert Mueller from firing, were exasperatingly constant. When asked if she logged in what each caller said and then shared it with the senator, she confirmed that daily call log was given to him at the end of each day. Encouraging news, even if the senator just reads the summation, at least his constituents are ‘being heard.’
As we wandered from room to room, our guide shared the tour information spiel she’d been taught. Unfortunately, she couldn’t answer any of my questions, about the rooms, history, or current activity in the building. So, we were left with “Um, I don’t really know…” responses and shoulder shrugs. Her lack of curiosity about this momentous workplace, was face palm worthy.
Once our brief tour ended, the two of us headed upstairs to visit the House and Senate galleries upstairs.
WHAT NOT TO WEAR IN TRUMP’S D.C.
The Senate was currently in session, so we handed over our electronic devices and took the elevator up to the gallery entrance area. We joined the cue with other excited tourists in the stately hallways. To remind visitors of the historical import of the place, photos of past senators and presidents interacting unofficially with each other lined the walls. We slowly moved ahead, as tourists who’d already sat in, exited.
Drawing closer to the gallery doors, security personnel said, that once we’re inside, we are to be quiet and not display any reactions to what was happening on the floor. There were three different security checkpoints and two gentlemen in suits in charge of opening and closing the chamber doors. All of them made note of the shirt I had on under my jacket, and told me if I wanted to go into the gallery, I’d have cover it up.
Many of the other tourists in line, even those donning slogan t-shirts of their own, narrowed their eyes at me disapprovingly after hearing the guards’ repeated admonishments. Gosh, and I thought our connection as line buddies was pretty strong, sad face.
I was inwardly outraged, but also supremely satisfied, that this mild-mannered 58 year old’s t-shirt (commemorating an historical event) raised so many hackles. Feeling like I had the upper hand, I assured the guards that I understood the rules, stuck out my chest even further, and held off zipping up my jacket until the last minute.
Once inside, a lone Republican senator, John Cornyn of Texas, stood on the floor droning on about how he, his fellow Republicans, and the president, were the only sane people working on behalf of the American people these days. He spoke with import to the unknown fellow sitting behind Mitch McConnell’s desk, the handful of distracted pages, stenographers, and anyone who might be tuning in to CSPAN. Every desk in the chamber was empty, as all the other senators were in multiple hearings going on elsewhere that day.
He’d occasionally glance up at us, desperately seeking a live audience. Unable to shake my head in disapproval, I willed my facial expression to clearly display the majority of America’s citizens opinion of he and his cronies.
We could only take so much of this one man show, and quietly exited so others in line could catch a glimpse of democracy in action (assuming they’re dressed appropriately.)
As I left the building, I wondered how visitors wearing MAGA t-shirts and ball caps are told to cover up, as they attempt to enter the galleries? I’ve not found any official dress code rules for tourists visiting the Capitol building, or Whitehouse, but the topic is discussed, in this recently updated Denver Post article entitled, “Washington’s Dress Code Doesn’t Apply To Tourists”
According to the article, “Employees are expected to be in suits and ties and professional skirts and blouses. But no one really watches — or cares — what the kids or the families don while traipsing through the typical tour.
One woman last week had a black T-shirt with a picture of Snoopy ringing a bell that read ‘Let Freedom Ring!'”
“Freedom…” yeah, not so much Trump’s D.C.
This presidency can’t end soon enough.
Pura vida, Penny