My colleagues were meeting with their senators, and I texted an unnamed friend to report that I had even unable to contact either of them. Within five minutes my phone was ringing to set up a meeting with our newly appointed Senator Walsh! An hour after that, the Missouri Teacher of the Year Jamie Manker and I were on our way to his office in the Hart building. It was pouring rain and I was without raincoat or umbrella, but I didn't care!
A delightful education policy adviser named Katie took us to the basement and gave us passes that read "United States Senate Official Business Visitor." We rode a secret train from the Hart building to the Capitol (maybe it's not so secret, since lots of people were around, but I didn't know it existed...did you?) Then, between votes, the a Senator met us in his "hideaway," a meeting room in the Capitol. That's actually what they call it.
We talked about the driving rain (and how Montanans don't use umbrellas) and about the Common Core. Senator Walsh is clearly a proponent of education and not only mentioned his priorities at the federal level, but also echoed Gov. Bullock's initiatives in Montana, namely early childhood education. Our discussion was punctuated by the voting alerts ringing throughout the building indicating that a vote was on the floor. I shared my feather with a Senator Walsh and he held it for our photo together, and then put it in his notebook.
After we parted ways outside the gallery, we were escorted into the Senate Gallery family area - not the tourist area - where we had the opportunity to watch a vote on the floor. We noted Senator Al Franken and Senator John McCain as well as Missouri's Claire McCaskill. When Senator Walsh walked onto the floor, he waved to us and we could see the feather hanging out of his book.
Then Jamie and I headed to the Library of Congress through yet another underground tunnel. This, in my opinion, is the most beautiful building in Washington, DC. I used to do research in this building when I was in college! But you need a reader's card to go into the stunning reading room. So I decided to try my luck and approached a desk in the lower level. "Would we be able to see the reading room without a reader's card? We're the Montana and Missouri Teachers of the Year!" With no hesitation, the woman said "Of course. I'm the manager and I love teachers!" She told the guards we were VIPs and let us walk all around and take pictures.
Think this is beyond a regular library? Right! It is amazingly beautiful. And...wrong! There was a teenaged reader asleep at his desk. Then she took us through a secret Hobbit door in the center of the reading room and down a tiny ancient staircase into the control room. This is where the book requests are received and fulfilled and it is full of defunct dumb waiters and conveyor systems.
Jamie and I went different directions afterward and I walked through more driving rain, without coat or umbrella, five blocks to the National Museum of the American Indian. About halfway there, two women caught up with me very distressed about my wet self and the rain falling directly into my purse. They grabbed my arm and insisted on covering me nearly all the way to the museum, where they turned and one of them gave me her umbrella.
The NMAI was a beautiful building with a interesting combination of historical and modern art and exhibits by and about tribes throughout the Americas. I was disappointed there was nothing about the Salish or Kootenai in the museum, but it was a lovely building nevertheless. And it wasn't raining in there.
All the kindnesses we experienced offset the negative connotation of "Capitol intrigue," but I'll always remember this as the day I learned some secrets in Washington.