when pigs fly … expect the unbelievable

Archive for January 2009

Although this should not have been an epiphany to me, I must admit that, in some ways, it was.

While celebrating the Obama Inaugural, I was met at every hand with references to the ’50s and ’60s struggle for civil rights, the physical violence, the arrests, the unfair treatment, the inequality of conditions between the black and white races in America. Most of us know a bit, if not a great deal, about that struggle.

While not diminishing the civil rights movement in America, it was actually the second movement designed to obtain civil rights in this country — the first being the Suffragist Movement. While not as violent, this movement was just as difficult and may not have come, to date, quite as far.

In the Victorian Age in America, when women had distinctly prescribed places in society, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the first “women’s rights” convention in Seneca Falls, New York. (1848). The aim of the convention was to teach women to take a stand: to listen to those who discussed rationales for women’s rights, to learn these rationales and how to articulate and apply them, and to act upon them. They did, and shortly thereafter they began to take to the streets — first in small bunches, then in large bands. This was not “appropriate” activity for Victorian women, and they were reviled: shouted at, cursed, gossiped about, spat upon, pelted with rocks and threatened with violence, which occasionally occurred. They were also occasionally jailed.

In the late 1860s, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton organized the National Women Suffrage Association (now the League of Women Voters) and petitioned Congress for a federal suffrage amendment. This amendment was regularly introduced in Congress for the next 50+ years, but it was never adopted.

In fact, news outlets of the time called the conventions and the legislation the women’s wrong (as opposed to rights) conventions, gatherings of “unsexed” women, and “an interesting phase in the comic history of the nineteenth century.” Some objectionists alleged that “sex appeal was flagrant and the dominant note” in the Suffragist Movement. During World War I, the movement grew more militant, and the male population more defiant. Before the State of Tennessee became the state which ratified the amendment, making it effective in August 1920, over 500 women had been arrested, with 160 of them sentenced to prison terms ranging from a few days to 7 months.

It took the majority sex in America until 1920 to obtain the right to vote. This is more than 200 years from the founding colonies, where all free and landed men had voting rights, and over 50 years after black men had obtained the vote. Why am I surprised? There was a black man in the U. S. Senate and House before a woman was there. There was a black man on the U. S. Supreme Court before a woman was there. And there is a black man in the White House. Need I say more?

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I am settling down from the trip. And remembering things that I have not previously mentioned. One of those was my experience with the cabbie from Turpstra Associates to the Monacle on Wednesday afternoon. Mr. Orlando Pittman drove us, and he was adorable. Mr. Pittman was originally from South Carolina; his wife of many, many years was originally from around Newton, MS.

Mr. Pittman moved to DC in 1939 because he thought there must be a better way to make a living than picking cotton by hand and following a plow and a mule. He was drafted in 1942, along with three of his other brothers, and he served in Italy. He told us terrific war stories, in the truest sense of the word. He and his older brother came home; the younger two did not.

When he returned to the USA, he returned to DC and has stayed there ever since.

Mr. Pittman is an absolute encyclopedia of WWII and DC, and was a delightful individual to spend a nasty afternoon cab ride with. He told war stories with clarity and gave a sort of DC tour in between the questions about his WWII that Jim and I were bombarding him with.

Mr. Pittman is 88 years old. I didn’t believe him; he showed me his driver’s license. He is, indeed, 88. I asked him what his secret was — pomogranite juice, yoga, a vegetarian diet? He said he had no secret; he was lucky to come back from WWII and he loved life. It is certainly obvious. This young 88 year old is sharp as a tack and was a delightful companion on the rush hour drive.

Thank you, Mr. Pittman, for sharing your life story with us.

This morning I woke up to attend the investiture of the Northern District’s new Supreme Court Justice, David A. Chandler, of Ackerman. I have known Justice Chandler for a long time and I am delighted that he was elected. Judge King, who administered the oath, noted in his remarks that Justice Thurgood Marshall once said that (I paraphrase) the only thing that a judge has to trade on is his good name. Justice Chandler has a good name and a good reputation to trade on.

I was looking on the web to get the precise quote that Judge King stated, but I could not find it. I did, however, find a quote that is attributed to Justice Marshall that I simply love: “I have a lifetime appointment and I intend to serve it. I expect to die at 110, shot by a jealous husband.” While this sounds a little cavalier, I have always heard that Justice Marshall was “real” and if that is true, I have no doubt that this quote is correctly attributed. And isn’t that a wonderful way to approach the years that move on relentlessly?

I am sure that I will think of other post scripts, and I will share them. But next week I will resume posts on women, politics and policy.

Our journey is over. We had a small delay getting out of Reagan, but the length of the layover in Atlanta made it possible for us to make our plane to GTR on time. I was delighted to walk off the plane with our first students and see a WCBI news team there to interview the students.

That was really great, since the bus that was supposed to meet them at the airport and take them back to MSU was LATE! (Fortunately, my “ride”, my dear friend Lynn Spruill and her trusty Escalade, SPM 1, was on time!)

I think we all are very tired, but it is a “good” tired. It was a remarkable 5 days for us. We all have Obama-Biden paraphanalia — tee-shirts, caps, pins, socks, sweatshirts, refrigerator magnets, bumper stickers (well, and there are a couple of bumper stickers that we brought home that say “don’t blame me — I voted for McCain-Palin”), etc. (The bumper sticker that I bought last spring remains on my Crossfire — “Women make great leaders — you’re following one now. I bought that in March of ’08 during last year’s trip, along with 3 sets of playing cards (McCain, Hillary and Obama).

I’m going to turn in for the night.

My friend, Deanne Mosley, a lawyer in Jackson, is coming up tomorrow and we are going to the Investiture of Justice David A. Chandler tomorrow afternoon at MSU’s Lee Hall Auditorium. Justice Chandler will make a great addition to the Mississippi Supreme Court!

Before I sign off for tonight, I would be remiss not to say thank you — thank you Entergy, Entergy Mississippi, and BULLY-BLOC for doing so much for us.

Within a week, we’ll have photos up on the Stennis-Montgomery website. http://www.sma.msstate.edu (I think — if I’m wrong I’ll correct it here.)

Back to blogging about women, politics and policy…

Good morning. It’s 7 a.m. in DC. Jim is flying back to Jackson and he left the hotel about 30 minutes ago. I had the luxury of having one of our students who is driving take my HUGE and HEAVY suitcase, so I don’t have to wrestle with it all day. I have my handbag and a small computer rolling bag, so it will be a wonderful flight! Thank you, Matt Laird!

Matt is an econ major from around the Columbia area. He’s graduating in May and is interested in working on the Hill. Last night at the terrific reception for MSU Alums on the Hill (Thank you Haley Fisackerly and BULLY-BLOC!!) Matt was able to make connections with some congressional staffers who may help him find a way into DC. He has also connected with Cindy Stevens, an MSU alum who is originally from Louisville, Winston County, who is VP for Governmental Affairs at Deloitte & Touche; Cindy, of course, is involved with the financial world, and is a good contact for an econ major.

A short interruption here…remember when I told you that the Chief Justice’s nerves got the best of him. Obama took the presidential oath OVER AGAIN last night — per White House counsel Greg Craig — out of an “overabundance of caution.” As a lawyer, I definitely agree with Craig. While form is form and substance is substance, the Oath of Office is both official, required and prescribed. What Chief Justice Roberts said simply wasn’t it; thus, the President-elect followed in the Chief Justice’s mis-steps. Frankly, it is probably a terrific opportunity for two men from opposite ends of the political spectrum to have a laugh and make a personal connection and our nation will be better for it!

Now, back to Matt Laird. Matt has had a good time on this trip. He’s a little older than most of our students (I think he told me 26). He had a personal tragedy during his college career and dropped out for a bit, but he’s back full force! I think his age made us bond — he has a smidge of maturity lacking in some of our students. His personal tragedy (the death of his mother) probably contributed to that maturity as well, but he and his dad have made it out of the black hole in which they found themselves. If you feel, as I do, that the saints are around us, then I know Matt’s mother is very proud of him and she has enjoyed watching over us on this trip. Matt is a kid to be proud of, and Matt, THANK YOU for taking that BIG ole suitcase with you! Godspeed.

Neisha Johnson was having a good time at the reception last night. When I arrived she was sitting in a chair like a wall-flower. I immediately went over to check in with her, but she was not “wall-flowering”. She was being practical. We were early and her feet hurt and she was just saving up for the serious “working the room” time after all the alums arrived. Later I saw her up on those feet, connecting with our alums and having a wonderful time. Neisha, with Chris, got down to the Mall, and as a result of a barrier which “fell down” (Chris swears that he and Neisha had nothing to do with that — but they did take an opportunity when they saw one) ended up very close to the Inauguration itself and their photos of Vice-President Biden and President Obama taking their oaths would lead you to believe that they were close personal friends because the photos are up close and personal. For Neisha, it was the “greatest opportunity” to be in this historic time and place. She summed it up as a “terrific trip”.

Megan Walters and Valerye Windham had the unfortunate luck to have their purses filched during one of our receptions. They left them for a very quick photo op, and when they returned: GONE! While initially these two young women were upset (as I would have been!), I want you to know they handled this bit of bad luck with aplomb. I was so proud of them. They called their families to help with the credit card issues; I loaned them some cash; Congressman Thompson’s staff began to work on getting them on the plane this morning without ID, and by the time of the alumni reception sponsored by BULLY-BLOC, at the historic Monacle, they had taken a deep breath, put it behind them as much as possible, and they both had determined that this incident would not detract from their trip! The rest of us were clutching our handbags more closely, however.

While this was truly an unfortunate event for us, in the grand scheme of things it was only a minor drama that these young women handled with poise and good humor. Worse could have happened, and we all have our health and good spirits as we head home today. Thank you, Megan and Valerye, for being such troopers!

The winner of the Second Annual Dean Frances N. Coleman SMA Research & Writing Award went to Daniel Fisher, a freshman, of Aberdeen. Daniel, a civil engineering major who graduated from Oak Hill Academy in West Point, wrote a terrific paper about Senator Stennis and his influence on the space program. And I think he snagged an internship on the Hill last night for summer 2010! Congratulations, Daniel, on both accomplishments!

By the way, competition was fierce for the slots on this trip, so we had about 30 students enter the research and writing competition. We decided that there were so many really good papers, that we are going to put not only Daniel’s paper, but the other 9 top papers, on the SIG and SMA websites. We didn’t announce the authors of the other 9 best papers because we didn’t want to diminish Daniel’s accomplishment, but we did inform the students that 9 of them would be hearing from Dr. Markham and myself within about a week and would be given about 10 days to edit their papers once again — if they wanted to — before they were posted.

Another thing worthy of mention on this type of personal blog — we had an unofficial “best hair” contest and I want to report the winners: Whitney Alford and Mary Jordan Kirkland. I did my own “best shoes” contest and I think the winners were: Whitney Holliday, Patricia Shouse and Jemmye Carroll (Jemmye had on some cute boots at the meeting with Nick and Sally yesterday a.m.)

Suffice to say that we had a group of well groomed and coiffed ladies and gentlemen with us and they made Mississippi proud!

Our plane back to Atlanta and ultimately GTR leaves at noon; we are checking out of the hotel by 9 a.m. in hopes of having all of our students at the airport by 10 a.m. Grace Terpstra’s staff kindly allowed me to print out Jim and my boarding passes yesterday afternoon, so I will be able to dash through and be able to do a headcount at the boarding gate.

All in all, this has been a terrific trip.

More from Reagan and Atlanta…

After a delightful reception in our hotel, the students are walking to the US Capitol for our annual MS Delegation Luncheon. I’ve taken a short break to blog and will rejoin them in a few.

I have had the opportunity to chat with a few more of our students. Here’s what they have had to say:

Mary Margaret Cockroft, a senior accountancy major from Kosciusko (and daughter of the Mayor), who has been on the trip before (although never to an Inauguration) and who interned for the Adams and Reece, LLC office in DC last year, and who was the winner of the First Annual Dean Frances N. Coleman SMA Research and Writing Award (topic: Sonny Montgomery and the GI BIll), marveled at the “difference” between being on the Hill on a regular business day and being on the Hill for an Inauguration — in fact, the Inauguration who drew the most individuals into DC for the event in the history of the nation, more individuals than flocked to the Johnson Inauguration, which held the record until yesterday.

“It’s a different feeling” — and that is for sure. “More tourists” and less “determined worker-bees” walking rapidly along the sidewalk with a definite “mission”. Indeed, there are tourists here — like us — and we seem to be able to strike up a conversation at any opportunity and meet people from many areas of the country. The amazing folks are the folks who just WANTED to be here; I must admit, however, that seeing Carol King checking out of the PPH this a.m. was a thrill for me!

Mary Margaret, not necessarily a Democrat, admitted to being emotionally touched with the process and the once again civil and non-violent transfer of power in this, the greatest nation in the world. She also noted, as I have earlier, the lack of rancor, imprudent action, or brawling that one might have experienced within this horde of people who appeared for the Inauguration. While there were expectations of 4 or 4.5 million folks in the District on Monday and Tuesday, best estimates of those present at the Inauguration, per se, were merely 1.4 million of the President’s closest friends and supporters! And yet, everything has been extremely calm, apparently safe, and certainly joyous.

Katie Allen, a junior Political Science major from Jackson, has certainly enjoyed herself! And this morning, she asked Nick a telling question — how do you handle it when you have a job that ends? (E.g., the campaign is over, the administration that hired you is no longer in power, etc.) Nick reminded us all that sometimes you CAN go home again — to substitute teach for a while, for instance — and regroup. He reminded us that everyone who moves to the Hill for the excitement and drama knows going in that jobs end with certainty and flexibility is not only a positive characteristic but a necessity when working on the Hill.

Marianna Prather inquired of Sally Atwater whether the GOP would return to traditional conservative values or remain true to the Reagan Right? Would it seek to enlarge it’s tent in an effort to defeat the inroads that the Democrats are making into the GOP gains in the South? Sally was not sure, reminding us that the GOP will elect its national chairman next week, and his or her positions and policies will herald the intention of the GOP going forward.

Better hurry to the luncheon. More later…

As I told you last evening, our first speakers this a.m. were Nicholas Breeding and Sally Atwater. Both of these individuals were very inspiring and great in the way they connected with our students (and me!)

Nick is young — 8 years out of college — and was able to communicate very effectively to the students that they, TOO, could work on the Hill or become active in political campaigns at a local, state or federal level. He answered practical questions and explained his approach to the diversity in the jobs that he has held to date — moving from campaign to administrative position to campaign, etc. Leaving the Bush administration, he took a new job 2 weeks ago. (He doesn’t even have cards yet!). While his resume and experiences are impressive, he is a “real” guy who made his experiences seem “approachable” and “do-able” for our students, and I think he really energized them to take the chance! Thank you, Nick!

Sally Atwater is one of those women who has taken her light out from under that bushel basket! While she has always been active in GOP politics, her background is in mental health and special education. Her husband died when she was 39; fortunately, decisions that they had made allowed her to remain in DC and raise her children (the youngest was 11 months when Lee Atwater died). She worked hard for the GOP and supported her husband and raised her children. Now, with kids grown and years of valuable experience in the public and private sector, she joined government, becoming President George W. Bush’s Executive Director of the President’s Committee on Mental Retardation, now known as the Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities. This committee, initiated under the Johnson Administration, as a result, among others, of Eunice Shriver’s lobbying efforts on behalf of mentally challenged Americans, has, through its members, white papers, and influence with a series of Presidents, provided over 4 decades of service to the Executive Branch on behalf of individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Sally Atwater encouraged our students to (1) depend on themselves, and not be reliant on others; (2) live within their economic means; (3) be active citizens in a political world by remaining informed on the issues, whatever their professional path; and, perhaps most importantly, (4) to take a chance — to throw their hats and applications into the ring of public service.

Walking back to the PPH for the Elesion Group Reception, I interviewed Chis Walton, a Milwaukee, WI, native and the President of the MSU Young Democrats, on his feelings about the trip. Chris is an African American student who wanted to go to college out of state and had relatives in Mississippi. He is a sophomore majoring in Political Science and History.

Chris was one of our students to was able to obtain a Mall ticket, and this mornning I asked him how it was on the Mall yesterday morning. His response: “It was beautiful!” Chris shared with me some of his personal thoughts. He was unsure until the Jefferson Jackson Day Dinner in Iowa in 2007 whether he would support Obama or Clinton. He was a big fan of President Clinton and believed that Senator Clinton would make a good President. But after listening to the rhetoric at the Jefferson Jackson Day Dinner, he said that he realized that Senator Obama had incredible “leadership” potential and further, per Chris: “he looks like me!” Chris is desirous of a career on the Hill.

Going back to his feelings on the Inauguration, he said that he watched his efforts in South Carolina (where he worked as an Obama volunteer this summer) and his efforts on the MSU campus come to fruition with President Obama’s inauguration. He felt “pride” to have had a part and delighted and “rewarded” that his efforts paid off.

I teased Chris when he said of the President — “he looks like me” — reminding him that the President was as black as Chris and as white as me. “That’s the secret”, he said; “he’s one of all of us!”

More later…

After our meeting with Sally Atwater and Nicholas Breeding, The Eleison Group has provided a reception for our students at our hotel. Burns Strider, the founder, is a Mississippi native and formerly Senior Adviser and Director of Faith Based Outreach for Senator Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. Strider describes his Eleison Group as “a full service firm focusing on faith and values in terms of communications, message development, targeting, strategic planning, clergy and faith group relations, developing relationships and advancing policy that speaks to the common good.” Formerly, he has served as an adviser to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, directed the U.S. House Democratic Faith Working Group and Rural Working Group, worked on 15 campaigns (directing 5 of them), and spent two years in Hong Kong as a missionary with the Southern Baptist Convention where he served as a youth minister. In 2007, Religion News Service named him one of the “12 most influential Democrats in the nation on faith and values politics and issues.”

At noon we have our annual MS Delegation Luncheon at the U. S. Capitol, where we are joined by members of our Congressional delegation and their staff members. This luncheon is followed by a tour of the Capitol which is annually given by Congressman Ron Sarasin, (GOP Conn.) Congressman Sarasin is the president of the U. S. Capitol Historical Society.

Later in the afternoon, our students attend a Lobbyist Panel, hosted by Terpstra Associates on Connecticut Avenue. In addition to Grace Terpstra, the panel will include Jeff Brooks, of Louisiana, who serves as Practice Group Leader for the Special Business Services practice team and Partner in Charge of the Washington DC office of Adams and Reese LLP, and MSU graduate Cindy M. Stevens, Director of Governmental Relations at Deloitte & Touche USA.

The Lobbyist Panel will be followed by the MSU Alumni Reception at the Monacle. Again, lasting thanks to Entergy, Mississippi, for their contributions to the reception. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we anticipate 150 MSU alums employed on the Hill to visit with our students and each other, affirming Mississippi contacts and offering opportunities for connections between our students and our alums.

More later…


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