Reflections on Citizenship: Lift Up Your Voice

Posted on August 9, 2011

us-capitol.jpgus-capitol.jpgCyrus Daniel Napolitano
Education Unit, Fountain House

July 1976. America’s Bicentennial celebration.A young 15-year old boy, naïve and idealistic, travels to Washington D.C. to get a behind-the-scenes look at how our federal government works. The 4-day trip, part of a non-profit, civic education organization called Close Up broughttogether students from around the country who share a common interest, a common hope, faith in our country, its institutions and in its people.
 
Flash forward thirty-five years. July 2011. An historic time in our country’s history. A not-so-young 50-year old man, no longer naïve, cynical and despairing at the state of his nation and its place in the world, travels yet once again to the capital, this time, to be an active participant in representative government, joining over 500 people from all across the country at the National Council’s 7th Annual Hill Day Conference. The goal was simple. Meet and greet your Congressional Representatives and Senators and their respective staffs on Capitol Hill to advocate on behalf of those who face daily challenges due to mental illness and addictions.
 
The two-day event was both exciting and inspiring to this writer. The first day was jam-packed with speakers from various mental health & substance abuse programs, as well as prominent politicians and the media. The conference started out with a bang, noting the importance of our common interest and common purpose, at this most precarious time.
 
The second day was even more intense than the first, starting off with a rousing speech by former Congressman David Obey which was soon followed by a standing ovation from the entire audience. A moving moment, touched by experience and hope, motivated the crowd to begin the day’s business at hand, the meet and greet.
Off we went, battling 100-degree temperatures and a stifling humidity. Walking down the long corridors of the Senate and Congressional buildings, passing by offices of our representatives, state flags hung high in the halls. Back and forth, from one office and building to another we went, throughout the entire day, receiving a moment-by-moment update from staff about the changing course of the ongoing budget battle debate. The ins-and-outs of government’s inner workings were on display for all to see, both on the Hill, and at the Conference.
 
At the end, we were exhausted and tired. Weary from the heat and humidity, we gathered together for the day’s final event. Wine and good food, along with camaraderie, we shared our stories, our hopes, and our fears. Were we successful advocates for those who don’t have a voice? Did we make a lasting impression on those who make the nation’s laws? Could we stem the tide of cuts to programs that benefit the poor, the homeless, the sick, and the old?
 
Maybe.Perhaps.We shall see. Or, shall I see and feel young and idealistic yet once again? Shall I dream again of the shining city-on-the-hill? Will people come together who share a common cause and a common hope? Will we lift up our voices and be heard? I hope so.
 
 

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