Filmed and edited by Devin Kumar.
Interviews with Layli Miller-Muro, Amy O’Neill Richard, and Laura Liswood
Layli Miller Muro is the Founder & Executive Director of the Tahirih Justice Center
Our first interview today was at Vital Voices With Layli Miller-Muro. I was excited for this interview because Miller-Muro is a follower of the Baha’i faith, which was the topic of my final essay for World Religions. Once the interview started, it was overwhelmingly apparent how the Baha’i faith has influenced her political views. The most basic premise of the Baha’i faith is finding the oneness in all religions. Baha’i’s believe that every religion and its prophets were sent to us by the same God and for the same purpose. These prophets are sent every thousand years or so and carry the knowledge that humanity is ready to receive at the current time.
Miller-Muro’s organization, the Tahirih Justice Center is dedicated to supporting women who have experienced extreme trauma in their lives relating to gender crimes. She spoke to us about the value of allowing women to find their power for the sake of a stronger society. She mentioned a Baha’i metaphor that describes humanity as a bird. One of the bird’s wings represents men, and the other represents women. If the bird’s wings are not of equal strength then the bird cannot fly. In both this interview and the others regarding women’s issues, a large theme was that women and men have vast differences and yet equality can absolutely be achieved between two groups even if they are different. A point that was emphasized was how treating women and men as the same is ineffective, and it is in fact our differences that make us so valuable when we join together in power structures. The more diversity a body of leadership gains, the stronger it is.
Another aspect of the interview with Miller-Muro that struck me was her ocean analogy. The essential nature of the analogy is that all of us are in individual boats floating on an endless ocean that we have no control over. Not all of our boats are the same, as some are far more advantaged than others and just run differently. What we are able to choose is the directions our boats are going and improvements on our own boat, and we must acknowledge the ocean as a force beyond our control. We will always be subject to change, adversity, and anything else the storm manifests around us. Overall, the interview today with Layli Miller-Muro affirmed many of the themes we have been absorbing so far on the trip, as well as provided new and unique perspective on the human experience as a whole.
In our last day of interviews on the DC trip, we radically ended with a bang! After our relaxing trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains, we all started to lose energy and drive, and the majority of the group was yearning to go home. However our last two days of interviews on Monday and today reassured us about why we are delighted to be here experiencing everything before heading home.
Layli Miller-Muro had a huge impact and shined her light on us. I was personally looking forward to her interview because of my preliminary research on her. I’m struck by these preliminary interviews because it’s fascinating when all you have is a photo and some information about an influencing person, and then you get to actually meet them up close and discover that they are a familiar face on the exact same level as you are. Layli practices the faith of Baha’i, which is a very unique and profound religion. She emphasized the “oneness” that Baha’i holds, oneness of all the gods and oneness of all the people under their eyes. Layli is exceptional because she is able to hold strong connections to her faith and weave it into her work in her organization Tahirih Justice Center. She holds a very striking view on growth. She said, “There’s a human tendency to not grow unless we’re uncomfortable.” Therefore she emphasized that we need to embrace the uncomfortable and look at it as a chance to grow and take on opportunity.
Another thing that stuck out to me was her ability to use metaphor and allegories to clearly show her points. She said that our civilization is like a bird, the right wing is the men and the left is the women, and the left wing is injured and unequal to the right wing; in order for the bird of “civilization” to fly well, the left wing needs to be just as strong as the right.
The other use of metaphor that stuck with me was when she said, “Hoist your sails and set a course, but be open to the wind and current.” This piece of advice I will bring with me into my young adulthood because it reminds me to be a dreamer and to maintain discipline—a wild card and a wise man.
Amy O’Neill Richard is a Senior Advisor at the State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Amy O’Neill Richard knew from a young age that she wanted to work on an issue that benefited humanity on a global scale, and now she is the Senior Advisor to the Director in the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Along the way she was not afraid to question the people who told her no. When interviewing for a position in her current department, she got pretty far before she was told she might be better suited in a different area. Instead of giving up her dream, she followed that lead in pursuit of her goal, and eventually, through an entirely different doorway, she got the job. This evolved to be the job that she is still so dedicated and passionate about many years later. She made me realize I could be better at speaking my mind and standing up for my own abilities, especially when others doubt me.
A common theme I have seen here in DC is how all these people we’ve been interviewing are so passionate about their work. The level of commitment and research is what led them to become such successful people. Amy O’Neill Richard said, “You’ll be good at what you love because you’ll seek to learn more about it and have more opportunities and risks related to it.” So now I can just hope that I find something that I really care about and am brave enough to pursue fully.
Today was our last day of interviews in Washington DC, and we had the opportunity to interview many extraordinary women. My personal favorite was Amy O’Neill Richard. Before this interview I didn’t know much about her except that she is the Senior Advisor to the Director in the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Upon meeting her, I could definitely feel her passion and care for this issue pouring out of every word. Amy O’Neill Richard is bright, answered our questions thoroughly, and is extremely well-spoken.
I got the opportunity to be the first one to ask her a question. It was nice asking my question first because I could enjoy the rest of the interview and not be nervous thinking about how I was going to ask my question. I asked her if she could talk more about how she became so interested and driven towards the issue of human trafficking. She gave a long answer about her background and history and how she got to where she is today, but then she said something that really struck me and that I will definitely take home with me. She said to do what you feel deeply passionate about in life, but don’t limit yourself and close off other opportunities. This is definitely an important thought I will keep with me as I enter senior year and get closer to college. Today was a great day of interviews with a great group of women, a strong ending to our trip.
Laura Liswood is the Secretary General of the Council of Women World Leaders
I am thrilled to have ended our time in DC with an energetic and insightful interview with Laura Liswood. I had the privilege to sit right next to her where I truly felt her cheerful and thoughtful nature, as well as the connection and investment she held in our conversation. She was very personable as she made sure everyone introduced themselves before speaking, and then repeated their name back in a playful manner. She used humor throughout the interview with analogies that made her messages meaningful. I found her to be very knowledgeable in the way in which she conveyed her answers.
One thing that struck me was her insight about the different ways in which women and men process feedback that holds both positive and negative aspects. She said, “Failure is the best way to learn.” Although I have heard this before, hearing this from someone so inspiring and intelligent really put it in perspective for me that I am not the only one who holds this standard that failure promotes growth. She explained that women generally focus on the bad feedback and brush off the positive comments, while men tend to brush off the negative feedback and immerse themselves in the positive feedback.
I asked her a question that illuminated how men have an easier time being accepted for their mistakes and often move up the ladder, while women are only allowed to fail a certain amount of times before being labeled as useless. While exploring these discrepancies, she pointed out that women are often put in a leadership position when the country is in the middle of a crisis. This is because the country finally opens up to new alternatives only when it has no other options. Because of this and the bias society holds toward women, it is harder for women to prove themselves as useful and gifted when they are pressured by these expectations.
Laura Liswood talked about all of the traits that I want to possess. She is the Secretary General of the Council of Women World Leaders, which is composed of women presidents, prime ministers, and heads of government. She is funny, powerful, aware, and strong. I am very interested in how to be a leader, more specifically a woman leader. My junior year of varsity volleyball we lost six seniors, so I was the oldest and most experienced girl on varsity. For some reason I stepped up. I created a summer workout plan and schedule. I took on the responsibilities of captain and ever since, I have a hunger for leadership. Our experiences in DC have provided a surprising amount of tips on being a good leader. Interestingly, the majority of leadership advice that I absorbed came from the women we interviewed, and so much of what I’ve learned about leadership on this trip came from Laura Liswood.
Leadership Skills: You should have curiosity, trust, strong ideas, and be able to express them; you need the ability to energize others, possess good humor, thick skin, direction, a “true north” and set of values, a willingness to challenge authority, the experience and willingness to travel to other people’s perspectives, the ability to take critical feedback and to take on the traits of the dominant and the non-dominant groups; you need to recognize where there is need and adapt skill sets to meet that need. She also spoke about the difference between an instinctual leader—one who is good until their familiar experience changes—and a conscious leader, one who has the natural ability to learn and adapt to govern regardless of circumstances. I am an instinctual leader. My only leadership experience has been in volleyball. I am a good sports captain, but I have noticed I struggle with wanting to step up when put in other situations.
I will be putting this advice into effect immediately and start experimenting how each trait can function best through my personality, so I can learn to be a more conscious leader.
We’re nearing the end of our trip and the interview process that we’ve been engaged with has become familiar and special. We’ve been working so hard to learn as much as we possibly can from all of these people who have done a great deal of meaningful work. Today we had our last interview with a woman who tied almost every single theme we’ve heard on this trip together. Laura Liswood is a powerful woman leader whose presence cannot be described in words. This woman was one of the most amazing and inspiring people I’ve ever met because of her ability to effectively and efficiently communicate. She had the most amazing way of interacting with us through her humor and her engagement with each and every one of us. She explained her ideas through a series of different terms and analogies that she had coined for different issues relating to diversity, leadership, gender roles, hyper-vigilance, and citizenship. She explained that she has developed her effective communication skills through her experience in law school and the thousands of opportunities that she has had to speak publically.
During this interview she explained that doing your job in the best way that you can, will lead you towards having experiences that can further develop your intuition. An important realization I took away from our time with Laura Liswood was the value that pursuing higher education and particularly graduate school could have in terms of acquiring communication skills. In almost every single interview there has been a realization that I’ve had that has expanded my mind in ways that I never thought to be imaginable. I know that these meaningful realizations will help me find my best self when I choose to reflect on them and choose to further my understanding of concepts and lessons that we’ve learned.
While walking back to the Pilgrimage in a wild rainstorm after our last interview, I felt a sense of responsibility and accomplishment. The torrential rain was getting all of us wet, and the few umbrellas we carried were not nearly enough to keep the water off of our suits and dresses. Yet all around me there was positive energy and a solid feeling that we had collectively achieved an experience of mind-expanding learning that would lead to a lifetime of purposeful living. This experience that I have been privileged to have wouldn’t be possible without the investment that our teacher Ward has put into his students and program over a course of 30+ years. Returning to the Pilgrimage a few days ago after a long day Ward explained the importance of reflection as we move forward. This trip has inspired me a lot more then I ever thought it could, and I am incredibly grateful to have been a part of this and to continue my journey with these memories and reflections.
Ezra Levin is the founder of Indivisible
Ezra Levin, the founder of Indivisible National, came to talk to us about his organization and how we can participate in a democracy in order to make sure our voices are heard. He stressed the point of understanding that people hold the power, and they can incite change, no matter how small of a voice they think they have. Indivisible’s main focus is getting people heard and making it easier for them to participate in the political process. One thing he said that struck me was that it’s hard to ignore people if you’re face to face with them, which I found very interesting in regards to the fact that congress can ignore their constituents when they are not being vocal about what they want. He also talked about the importance of using media to your advantage. He talked about how it is easy to ignore people, but when they have a camera behind them, it is harder to ignore them.
The vision of Indivisible is one that I am connected to very personally as well; my mother and father started the Indivisible chapter in Santa Cruz, and I have seen their passion for politics grow and both of them bloom into powerful and effective leaders in our community. I think the community that Indivisible has created is a very important one; it is giving voices to people who haven’t engaged in the political conversation before, people who didn’t think they were activists but now are rising up because they see that things they care about are being threatened. The last thing that Ezra said really struck me. He talked about how it is scary but also liberating to know we have the power. He said, “It isn’t going to be okay. It isn’t going to be okay unless we make it okay. There is no one who is going to make it okay besides us.”
Going into our interview with Ezra Levin, founder of Indivisible, I was curious about the nature of his organization. Whereas many movements are structured around a specific cause or with direct leadership from the top, Indivisible employs a bottom-up, grassroots-style of government. He stressed the importance of staying away from policy agendas and focusing on the causes that can unite people. Indivisible’s agenda is to resist the excesses of the current administration. This is so broad that it encompasses a huge range of ideologies and political beliefs, and, because of this, it has exploded.
The ideas of an individual in a state are not necessarily congruous with those of others in the Indivisible movement, but overall they can agree on a few overarching principles that allow the organization to stick together without fragmentation. To achieve this it is necessary to grant local autonomy to individual groups and leaders on the ground level. Not only does this allow for a unity of belief, it allows for diversity of strategy and principle, i.e. adaptability. The snowflake structure of Indivisible has allowed for a more efficient method of harnessing the brainpower of a large mass of people. There are of course disadvantages to this method, but aspects of this structure may be useful in other organizations or institutions to create a more efficient method of collaboration.
Today we interviewed Ezra Levin, the founder of Indivisible National, a progressive movement that began in 2016 as a reaction to Donald Trump’s election. We interviewed him in the church upstairs from where we are staying. We started asking him questions, and not only was it clear to see, but he also voiced how impressed he was with our research and thoughtful questions. With every question asked, he seemed more impressed. He answered our questions very thoroughly, and even after answering, he’d ask us if what he said was a fulfilling response.
One of my favorite things he talked about was how important it is for representatives to remember they aren’t working to represent the administration, but rather their constituents. I thought it was good that he emphasized this important note. He also, in humor, talked about how he never expected the Indivisible guidelines document to become so viral so quickly (and on that note, that if he knew, he’d fix all the typos he made). I noticed I was very comfortable asking him my question because of how friendly and approachable he was. He is young, but also very smart in how he thinks about the political world and how well he articulates his thoughts. Interviewing him was a great way to end the day and he even inspired me to learn how to personally get involved with Indivisible.
Interview with Cokie Roberts: journalist, author, and commentator
Today we had the amazing opportunity to speak with Cokie Roberts, a journalist, author, and news commentator, currently at ABC, as well as a grandmother, and extremely confident and intelligent woman. I was really excited to interview her from the second we started researching because of her extensive career. She is such a important public figure and she is in the public eye on a regular basis. This made me curious about the most difficult thing that comes with being in her position.
One of the biggest things I took away from our interview was her response to this question. She said a difficult part of being a public figure is the constant judgment of everything she does: her opinions, what she looks like, and even her age. When asking the question, I related it to my interest in acting as well as my plan to make it my career, and I loved her answer. She was positive and encouraging, and said that it was a great idea. Not only that, but she stated that I could use my art to help spread my views and make a difference. This stuck out to me because I never really thought of art to be a way to spread awareness of societal problems, and I found this extremely eye-opening.
The empowerment of women has been a strong theme throughout this whole trip, especially because of the current political climate. Cokie spoke about the strength of the “Founding Mothers,” which she discovered while doing research for her book. She addressed the issue that history often doesn’t account for half the population, which is really disheartening. Cokie told us about the importance of her female friendships and her relationship with her mother and how the women in her life, including the nuns of her early education, have been foundational in her success and well-being.
After our break from interviews in the mountains, I was ready to come back and excited to meet Cokie Roberts. Back in DC, I was nervous to conduct this interview in the ABC headquarters, but so excited to meet such an acclaimed public figure and hear what she had to say. After decades of work in journalism, Roberts is not short on experience. She has worked as a reporter and analyst for NPR and ABC, and now holds the title political commentator, meaning she can voice her thoughts about political events.
One of the reasons that I was so excited for this particular interview was because of her profession. Historically, the press and media has had a negative reputation which has rapidly worsened in the recent years. Roberts was able to convey the extent of this issue, and explain that the difficult relationship between the press and the people has to be continuously addressed, as the “fourth branch of government” the press plays such a vital role in politics and government. It is a check against the other branches and is protected by the Constitution. In her work Roberts remains nonpartisan and maintains her role as a non-biased informer of the people.
I also really like what Cokie Roberts said about the founding mothers which was the title of her book. She talked about how the women of that era were so politically involved, and told us stories about the humorous and sometimes ironic comments they made about what their husbands were doing. Their letters shed light on the other half of the population that history does not recognize. The wives did not see their husbands as the bronze statues that are in the halls of the capitol building, but as the real human being that suffer from the excess and frailties to which everyone is subject.
Roberts had such a great sense of humor and answered our questions happily, smiling, and often with a well placed anecdote or joke. She was a clear public speaker and so interesting to hear. What struck me most was the clarity of her principles. She said that she taught her grandchildren the golden rule, and when we asked her about what the most important family values are, she simply said respect. She said that it didn’t matter what position or motivation you have (religious, humanistic, etc), but you have to respect people and try to be kind to all people. While this seems so obvious, respect for everyone is clearly lacking in the public sphere, especially between the political parties. This theme of respect is something many of our interviews have stirred, and something very important, both in D.C. and back home.
Today we interviewed journalist and author Cokie Roberts. Roberts is a very intelligent and motivated woman, who is highly articulate and kind. She is extremely sharp and has very insightful opinions and deep understanding of diverse topics. However, Roberts was particularly passionate about the new generations to come, and how young people can make a huge difference despite their age. She shared that she has five grandchildren, and watching them grow up and interact gives her hope due to the candid ways they talk and view the world. No one is born homophobic, racist, or sexist, and this truly is evident when speaking with kids. The topic of young people making change has been brought up and explored in depth by many people we’ve interviewed, which has been really inspiring.
“You can’t leave out half the population.” Cokie Roberts emphasized this point when speaking on the issue of women’s rights. As several people we interviewed have stated: women’s rights are human rights. I believe all humans should be concerned about human rights because the only thing everyone on this earth shares is our humanity. Hearing Cokie talk about women’s influence in politics and how underrepresented we are has truly opened my eyes to the unequal opportunities women face, particularly in high positions. It is a very positive thing for me to interact with so many strong women in places of power, and it gives me hope there will be more like them in the future. We need more women in leadership because the more diversity there is, the more new ideas are sure to present themselves, which will ultimately benefit everyone, and hopefully people’s biases will shift toward a smarter and more inclusive world.
Interview with Alyse Nelson, President and CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership
Coming into the interview with Alyse Nelson, I was expecting a solid interview with some interesting insights into life and politics, and a fair amount of parallels with the other interviews we’ve done on this trip. What we ended up with was one of the most interesting and quotable interviews of them all, and a ton of fresh ideas that gave me a newfound energy for the last couple days of this trip.
I have a lot written down, so I’ll whittle it down to the things she said that impacted me the most. She’s the president and CEO (and cofounder) of Vital Voices, an organization that helps empower women worldwide and give them a platform to speak out about what they believe in. Of course, this is an extremely important and noble cause, but what I’ve found most interesting from the interviews we’ve done is the life advice we’ve gotten for the future and advice in running a business and/or managing people. One quote from her that really struck me was this: “You can’t be a leader unless you bring solutions.” It sounds obvious, but I started thinking back to all the times I’ve forced myself into some sort of position of leadership, and I realized how often I do it just so I can be a leader, not because I’m really trying to fix any specific thing. Too often I do it for myself, and not for the people I’m working with. That relates to another thing she said: “You have to support a team of people to create change.” Again, makes sense, but I don’t do that nearly enough. I’m hoping that from now on, when I find myself in a leadership position, I’ll remember this interview.
A lasting idea she gave us was that we all need to find our driving force, a.k.a. the goal that you keep in mind that pushes you to work hard. Once you find your driving force, you need to stick to it in all the work you do. I thought about my driving force for this trip. It hasn’t been easy, with all the work we’ve put in, and the sleepless nights that led to long days that we’ve spent trying to stay awake, but it’s all been so we can open our minds to not just the world of politics, but to the advice of people who have led (and continue to lead) successful, meaningful lives. Like our trip to South Africa, I came to DC not knowing what I would learn from the experience, and I’m leaving with more knowledge in so many different areas and aspects of life. That’s what pushed me through all the work, and it’s been worth it.
Today I was very excited because I would finally reach the interview that I was looking forward to most of all. Alyse Nelson’s energy, passion, and intelligence poured out into the room as she spoke to us. I found her to be truly inspiring because she is very passionate about her job, and she is both easy to talk to and extremely intelligent and driven. Her energy encompassed all the attributes of a powerful leader.
A couple months before this trip to DC, I, along with a few other girls in my class, read Alyse Nelson’s book, Vital Voices. What truly inspired me about her book was how she was able to tie in common themes of many diverse women around the world by connecting them to the core attributes of a powerful leader. One of the main commonalities between all the women represented in her book was the immense presence of a personal driving force. Nelson heavily emphasized that a driving force, which is the “fire in the belly” found in all of us, is crucial for everyone to discover. She said that this passion can be ignited by either good or bad experiences, and then by channeling the experience into a positive power, and a sense of centered purpose is formed.
She then explained how her own driving force was “to seek the power to empower others” by acting as a “voice for the voiceless,” especially for women in countries where their rights are limited, and they are struggling to break out and excel. The passion and energy Nelson held in her responses to our questions truly radiated with inspiration, and showed how motivated she is by her driving force.
Another impactful piece of advice that struck me was her statement, “You don’t make sacrifices; you make choices.” I found this to be interesting because it often seems as if people blame their situation or decision on a “sacrifice” they made, while in reality it was actually a choice they made. This is because, although making a decision or change often means giving up something, calling it a “sacrifice” seems to promote self-victimization, as it transforms into a setback rather than a progression. Nelson also talked about how that by giving power to the doubt you carry, you begin to doubt your power. This power of intention branches out with the attributes that should motivate us to get out of bed every day: curiosity, passion, and challenge.
We heard Alyse Nelson’s name fairly frequently throughout the trip—not only because she was one of our interviewees, but because she was the reason we had landed many of our interviews in the first place. As we entered the elevator we knew this interview needed to be a good one because Alyse has made so much of this trip possible for us and classes that came before.
She met us with handshakes and animated exaltations. Her passion for her job, despite having run Vital Voices for so long, was evident and sparked hope in my heart. Often, kids like me are told by our well-meaning parents that our lives will work out “as long as you are happy.” As a generally jaded teen, I worry about finding a career that I love, or that I will follow the things I love, and end up poor and miserable regardless.
Alyse shared with us that she had found her passion for amplifying the voices of other women after hearing Hillary Clinton speak at a conference in Beijing when she was in her early twenties. For the past two decades, she has been working with women to challenge gender-based injustices across the world, and still manages be excited about it when talking to us.
At the end of our time with Alyse, she quoted French novelist Honore de Balzac, saying, “When you doubt your power, you give power to your doubt.” Seeing Alyse speak with such unabashed enthusiasm about her work was a much-needed reminder that you can pursue your passions, find fulfillment, and make a meaningful impact on the world around you through hard work and perseverance.
Interview with Shalanda Young: Democratic Staff Director, House Committee on Appropriations
Today we interviewed Shalanda Young, the Democratic Staff Director of the House Committee on Appropriations. Her job has been said to be the “toughest job in congress.” Going into the interview I didn’t really know what to expect. I didn’t fully understand what her job was, and I definitely didn’t understand what a person with this type of job would be like.
The first thing I noticed about her was her cheerful spirit. She was funny and very engaging. I never once got bored during the whole interview. As she talked about the long hours and conflicts that came along with her position, I realized that she was the perfect person to do it. She never once talked about it in a bad way. She was full of confidence and passion, and you could tell just how much she loved it. This was very inspiring for me to hear. I have always assumed that jobs like this are the ones most people would avoid. To see that she loved it so much despite its difficulties gives me more motivation to go on a difficult path in college. It shows me that I don’t need to worry about something that will take a lot of effort because if I truly enjoy it then it will be worth it. It shows me that I can still be happy and have fun as long as I do what I love.
Like Young said, of course there will be hard times but that doesn’t mean I should ever give up. She never gives up, and she always comes back to her job. This just proves how incredible she is. You have to be a very strong person to be able to be so happy about a job where you are working so hard. I hope that one day I have as much passion towards my career as she does. I know now that I should never back away from something just because it seems difficult. I just need to find the right path, find something that I love doing, and then I won’t mind putting in the effort it takes to succeed.
Being on camera crew entails looking through a viewfinder for half of each interview in order to make sure each shot is up to par. The first impression I had of Shalanda Young was through the viewfinder of the camera when she entered the room. Even on that 2” by 4” screen, I could see her charisma, intelligence, and humor. Our interview with Congressman Tom Cole was just ending when she entered, so we ended up just seguing from the Tom Cole interview to Ms. Young’s. From the first question, she melded eloquence, prowess, and humor into each response, which made her easy to listen to and made me want to hear what she had to say.
The part of the interview that impacted me the most was her response to my question. I asked her, “Given that you are the first woman of color in a job that has been traditionally held by white men, what, if any, struggles have you experienced in handling this position?”
Her response? “Not that many actually.” I was very surprised considering I asked the question hoping to gain insight pertaining to the types of racism she experienced with a White House tainted by a leader who has repeatedly made racist remarks and given license to those who do the same. So when she spoke about not really experiencing any racism, I was surprised. She went on to speak more about how while she did experience some racist remarks along with a variety of sexist policies and comments, she believed that those were insignificant.
She looked me in the eyes and spoke to me about finding personal identity as a minority in a place of mostly white people. Her words resonated with me as this was something I constantly struggle with. Her approach was to find one’s worth as a person, regardless of race or gender, and to bring this to any situation. If one experiences discrimination or ostracism because of physical differences, it cannot become a defining part of one’s personality. I took this message to heart and was inspired to see how this type of mindset has elevated Ms. Young to such a position.
I walked out of the interview feeling fulfilled, and had an extremely satisfying and meaningful conversation with some of my classmates about the subject of racism and its subtleties and manifestations in our society. Today has been enlightening. I feel as if I have gained a good sense of how I want to conduct myself, and the philosophy I want to follow as a Black man, and more importantly, as a person.
After our interview with Congressman Tom Cole, we took a picture with him, and we heard a voice from behind us exclaiming, “Wow, I have to go after that?” (implying how well the interview with Tom Cole went). I realized the voice came from the one and only Shalanda Young. Immediately she made a great impression on us and was very friendly. As we were settling down to interview her, she kept smiling and making jokes with us. We got right to asking questions, and I noticed she answered questions very thoroughly. She had so much passion for her job. Her points were very insightful and struck a lot of us, including me. She spoke about being the first woman of color in her position and about the strength of moving past people’s opinions about her, which was something many instantly related to, as we are still growing up and learning to accept ourselves. She also spoke about the importance of building good relationships with coworkers and bosses, and how opportunities present themselves in ways that we may never know. She was young, but still wise in so many ways. She consistently used humor and jokes in her answers and related on a personal level to our lives by simply sharing her passion, struggles, and stories about her job.
She was so kind, and I’m so glad she gave us the opportunity to interview her. Having three interviews today, I was also glad she was our last one, as it felt like a good way to end a long day. She inspired me to keep myself open to new opportunities, and I hope Mount Madonna left a good enough impression on her, so that she is willing to be interviewed again by future MMS groups who travel to DC.
Interview with Congressman Jimmy Panetta
“Do not let the grass grow under your feet, always keep moving forward,” said Congressmen Jimmy Panetta as we all sat around the table listening intently. He was our first interview of the day, and I couldn’t wait to get the show on the road. Congressman Panetta represents our district in California, and it was fun to see him again in Washington DC. I was ready for something even more powerful than what he brought to our classroom last year and of course, he delivered. Panetta speaks with conviction and confidence, and he works hard at everything he does. He acts as a role model and serves his constituents’ needs.
I was inspired by Panetta’s life path that brought him to where he is today. He didn’t know where he was going or what to expect. Panetta took advantage of every opportunity that called out to him and decided to start saying YES. That impacted me because I have been told to do that my whole life and haven’t started taking advantage of that until just recently. I think it is very important to attack an opportunity because most likely it will lead to success. Panetta said, “To find a great mentor, look for the person who is willing to work their hardest.” Being the powerful man that he has become, we could all see that he followed a path of hard-working mentors and was inspired by their success and intelligence. I think that Jimmy Panetta showed us that it is okay to not know your path because eventually you will find the right path and passion. I don’t know where I will end up, just like Panetta, but I will keep moving forward and not let the grass grow.
It was an extremely rewarding experience meeting with Congressman Jimmy Panetta today. He came to us so eager to emphasize that he wanted us to connect with our community and give back to the public. Congressman Panetta explained the path that got him to where he is now, and he explained some of the most important values he learned throughout his long journey. He put a lot of emphasis on the idea that we should always be taking opportunities that are presented to us and that we should “never let the grass grow under our feet.” This message meant a lot to me because I know that wherever my life may take me, I want to always strive to keep moving forward.
Jimmy Panetta is a powerful role model and a man who has dedicated himself to serving the public. The DC trip has greatly expanded my mind and inspired a lot of creative thought. Our interview today with Panetta was a key part of this journey. He had an infectious energy that he brought into the room, and he expressed very serious commitment to represent us on a personal level. He walked with a bounce in his step and spoke to us with a twinkle in his eye. He was so effective in getting his message across because he had clearly lived his life following a set of strong values. He explained the importance of doing the job that you’re doing fully, and he also highlighted the need for public service in order to be an engaged citizen. But most importantly, Panetta emphasized over and over again the power that your word holds. The most critical piece of being in politics and being in the workplace is maintaining a reputation for hard work and dedication.
Interview with Congressman Tom Cole
Our second interview today was with Congressman Tom Cole. Tom Cole is a Republican and represents a fairly large district in Oklahoma. I was especially excited for this interview due to the fact that he is the only Republican we have interviewed so far. While almost all of my social views lean very much to the left, I was interested to see the contrasting opinions of someone who is equally as intelligent but on the other end of the political spectrum. I was intrigued by how Cole’s fiscal policy aligns with my own conservative values regarding fiscal policy. When we began our interview I was initially shocked when Cole decided to go directly to answering our questions instead of giving us opening remarks like the other people we had interviewed.
The first thing that fascinated me was how much he believed in the power of collaboration with his colleagues, the democratic congressman. This theme of collaboration has been prevalent in all of our congressional interviews so far as bipartisan cooperation has been so lacking in Washington recently. I was reassured to hear how the Republicans are also working to mend the gap between Democrats and Republicans. The way Tom Cole described this was that in the past the most conservative Democrats would be more conservative than the most liberal Republicans and vice versa. This created a sort of political overlap that made collaboration far easier since both parties shared some of the same moderate views. Cole went on to say that nowadays, there is barely any overlap at all. This really struck me because ever since the current cooperation issues have been so dramatized by the media, I have been wondering just why this actually was. Another key part of the interview was when Cole told us that opportunity shows itself in ambiguous ways. The concept of unexpected opportunity has been a huge theme in all of our interviews so far, and I found it fitting that it was highlighted in our interview with Cole.
As the trip unfolds, it seems to me that every interview is weaving together one fabric of wisdom. Almost all of the key points made by each person connect to one another in a sort of autotrophic way that begins to grow exponentially as connections manifest. As our first week of interviews comes to an end, I am really seeing the value of so many diverse and wisdom-filled interviews, and I am extremely curious as to how next week’s interviews will finish weaving the fabric of wisdom.
Congressman Cole is the first interview we have had thus far with a Republican politician. At this point in our interviewing process, we have been able to notice patterns and recurring themes. Because of this, we ask each person we are interviewing about their opinions on these themes. The most important one to me, and most of the rest of the senior class, is the need to stay open to options that come our way. Every person we have interviewed brought up, in some way or another, that they would never have had their current position if not for a butterfly effect of convenient situations and unexpected opportunities that came their way. In particular, Congressman Cole would never have been elected to his position if not for a promise he made to his mother to be her campaign manager for a local race.
Another common theme expressed by nearly every politician, which I thought I would never hear given how the media portrays the political process, is the need for bipartisanship. He expressed very strongly his opinion that making progress towards common goals is far more important than “winning the day,” meaning it is better to compromise than achieve nothing. Like I said earlier, this was quite shocking. When I arrived here, I fully expected the politicians to be self-serving. I am happy to discover that the vast majority of the time politicians want to work for what their constituencies believe in. They are hampered by those who would rather “win the day.” The media then blows their disagreements vastly out of proportion for what I can only assume to be the revenue because from what I have seen of these people I cannot, in good conscience, believe half of the things the media says about our political process. I will take this belief with me after this trip, and I have seriously began to consider a life of public service after seeing the caliber of human beings involved in the system.
Interview with Congressman Earl Blumenauer
Today we interviewed Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon’s 3rd Congressional District. The interview was conducted in the Cannon House Office Building, a massive, five-story-tall marble structure containing many congressional offices and even more stairs. Since I will be a constituent of Representative Blumenauer when I go to Reed College next fall, I volunteered to be a part of the group that researched and wrote questions for the interview.
As with all other interviews I’ve participated in, the time leading up to the question I had been assigned was somewhat tense as I continuously repeated the question in my head in an effort to perfectly memorize each word. Before long, it was my turn to speak (a moment which came as a bit of a surprise due to a last minute rearrangement of questions). Fighting my anxiety, I tried my best to speak slowly and articulately. My question was specifically concerned with political biases and how we can overcome them to be more receptive to new ideas. After I asked it, there was a brief and terrifying silence, which was broken with Blumenauer saying that it was a difficult question. He proceeded to talk about the differences between humans in terms of who we are and the things we experience over the course of our lives, and how these differences can cause emotional biases. Much of what he talked about reminded me of a book by Jonathan Haidt called The Righteous Mind, which we read this year as part of our Values curriculum.
Overall, I definitely enjoyed the interview. Blumenauer spoke very eloquently. He provided a lot of insight into many relevant issues, and it was abundantly clear that he not only knew a lot about them, but also was very passionate about resolving them. I found Earl Blumenauer to be one of the most interesting and engaging people we have interviewed so far, and, if given the chance, I would strongly consider voting for him.
In addition to the exposure to numerous ideas, the interviews of this trip have offered an interesting insight into the personality and characteristics of our representatives. Today we interviewed Congressman Blumenauer. The moment he entered the room you could tell that his way of thinking was different from that of the others we’d interviewed. Politics tend to attract charismatic, relatable, well-spoken people. Blumenauer possessed these characteristics as well as a very rational, concise way of dealing with issues. He is a counterexample to what the media would have us believe. The media portrays the politician as a greedy, shallow shell who has nothing more than the gift of attracting attention.
Blumenauer has ethics, of course, but he also implements them. He responded to our questions with statistics and scientific data, and well-founded, logical conclusions. He not only reads and listens to studies, but understands them and makes decisions based on them. He acknowledges that his way may not be the best way, but it is what he believes, and he is open to receiving new input. At the end of the interview he asked us if there was anything we didn’t agree with him on, I think partly to give us a chance to express ourselves, and partly because it is in his nature to allow for new ideas. As an added bonus, he is a bicyclist. He believes bikes to be the best form of transportation, and gave us bike pins in support of an organization trying to provide bikes to people in need all around the world.
Representative Blumenauer was amazing. When he walked into the room, I knew it was going to be an amazing interview. He took his seat, sat quietly, and took a moment to look around the room at all of us, smiling at us and acknowledging us. He introduced himself and cheerfully told us how eager he was to have a meaningful conversation with us. This first impression made a huge impact on me, and I instantly knew how much this really mattered to him. You could tell from the moment he broke the silence that this man was clearly here because he wanted to be with us. He spoke precisely and passionately, and he answered our questions so honestly and thoughtfully. Blumenauer paused before every sentence he spoke and thought about what he was going to say. When he spoke, whether it was on a policy question or whether he was giving us advice, he gave careful consideration to the complex questions we asked. Representative Blumenauer was so real, engaged, and offered us his full attention.
Representative Blumenauer embodies sincerity; he sincerely cares for the people and the issues he spoke with us about. Blumenauer is a representative for a district that encompasses Portland, and he stands for those people so passionately. He is selfless, his dedication is unprecedented, and he was able to answer our questions genuinely. Blumenauer is a really beautiful example of what it means to be a dedicated American citizen. He gave us meaningful advice about encouraging political action, and I personally saw him as the most inspiring public figure we’ve talked with. Solid in his philosophy and so eloquently spoken, Blumenauer explained the importance of problem-solving as it pertains to political activism. The most important things I deduced from this interview are the power of selflessness and using a meaningful cause to motivate meaningful change.
Interview with Nancy Lindborg, President of the United States Institute of Peace
Yesterday we got to sit in on a debate and vote in the House chamber over the Farm Bill. Looking around the room during the debate, I could have counted the women in the room on my two hands. The majority in the room were middle to old-age white men. I couldn’t help but notice how many people were not being represented.
Today we had the pleasure of interviewing Nancy Lindborg, President of the United States Institute of Peace, “an independent institution founded by Congress to provide practical solutions for preventing and resolving violent conflict around the world” (as stated in her page on the USIP website). Despite the depressing picture the media harps on, she believes peace is possible. Change can always happen because of the power of the people within a community. She had planned to become an English professor after earning two literature degrees at Stanford, but she went on a trip to Nepal and never looked back. She said she was living there like a peacemaker before her career as one had even begun. She advised we find what we are really passionate about, find our voices, and let go of the anxiety going into college.
I have never met a prominent female involved in politics whose primary mission was not gender equality and women’s rights. Nancy Lindborg was inspiring to me because I realized that women in politics can work on a variety of issues. She was smart, precise with her answers to our questions, and strong. I felt that we had her full attention, and she was giving us her entire self. I felt a lot of respect and awe on both sides of the interview. Lindborg was a genuinely cool person. She is a strong woman with the courage to share vulnerability. I was inspired by her position and the organization she governs. I felt represented while speaking to her. I hope one day to be able to go back to a voting session like the one that we attended in the House and feel confident that there are strong and capable leaders of diverse backgrounds and genders.
Our interview with Nancy Lindborg, President of the United States Institute of Peace, was one of my favorite on this trip so far. From the moment she walked in, I was immediately intrigued by her and her alluring presence. Normally I am quite nervous to ask a question, but this time I felt completely calm to ask my question about the leadership skills she had learned from her time working with Mercy Corps. After I finished asking my question she smiled and quickly complimented my question, which instantly made me feel confident. Something I found interesting is when she said the key to being a good leader is listening. This was compelling to me because normally I think of a leader as someone who tells everyone else what to do. It was refreshing to hear that other people’s opinions and ideas can be a key to leadership. Throughout the entire interview she made the room feel very comfortable, while engaging and making comments about how prepared we were, which only made us feel like what we were doing was important and respected by the people in DC.
Something else that stood out to me was when she stated that there can still be conflict even in a place of peace. Normally most people associate peace with no conflict, but that just isn’t going to happen; she said, “If there are two people together there is going to be conflict. If there is one person there will probably be conflict.” Conflict is a natural part of human nature, but the presence of conflict does not mean the absence of peace. Overall meeting Nancy Lindborg was one of the main highlights of the trip for me so far, and it was very inspiring to see a powerful woman as president of such an important organization.