Hannah Goes Fishing

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RNC Recap

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The Tampa Bay Forum – home of the RNC
(photo credit to Agatha)

I’ve been remiss in posting some photos from the Republican National Convention, so you’ll have to pardon my tardiness.  To be brief, the RNC was two incredible whirlwind weeks of learning, observing, and tongue-biting (in my case).  I’d happily do it again, and would highly recommend attending a national convention of this sort to any and all Americans who are even slightly interested in where the Talking Heads get their material.  Really, a sight to behold.

But first, some deeply owed gratitude:
A big Thank You! to UAF’s Chancellor Brian Rogers for funding my trip and being incredibly progressive and student-oriented so as to think sponsoring opportunities like this one are valuable for UAF and its patronage.  Rest assured that they certainly are.  Also a big thanks to Hope B. who did all the logistics and legwork in organizing our trip.  Finally, a special thank you to The Washington Center staff (particularly Nick L. and Kathleen R.) and my academic advisor, Dr. Talty of UMass Lowell, for their outstanding support and wisdom through otherwise bewildering and frustrating moments.  You all were spectacular and made the program incredibly valuable and rich.

While I have a few observations to share, I also want to let you see it for yourself through the lens of my often-forgotten camera. 

Our program was hosted by The Washington Center, which is a non-partisan academic program that hosts students in a variety of settings to give them firsthand experience in an internship or unique event (such as the RNC).  In our case, we spent the first week of our program attending seminars and lectures presented by faculty and other notable guests from all over the country.  I had two favorites, all of which really enhanced my learning/life experience while in Tampa.

Congressman Mickey Edwards, one of our finest speakers
(Photo credit: The Washington Center)

The first was Congressman Mickey Edwards.  He served 20 years (!) in Congress and retired in 1992.  While an older gentleman, he is still feisty and opinionated with some great insights to share.  I especially appreciated his thoughts on the essential need for interpersonal relationships between the m embers of congress. He argued that Congress has moved further and further right (he himself being a Republican) on the political spectrum while the American people sit pretty steadily in the middle of the road.  He feels that politicians dehumanize one another (as does the system they’re forced to operate in), and so divisive thought and action is given a lot of room to grow while consensus building and bipartisanship is dismissed out of hand.  How refreshing to hear these things!  Especially from such a respected, thoughtful individual who has lived in the trenches, so to speak. 
Another really outstanding professor on the speaking panel was Aaron Brown.  This man reminded me of a much tanner, more masculine version of myself in about 40 years. Irreverent, pragmatic, and fervently dedicated to the ideas he finds to be steeped in the best of humanity and based in justice and what is real, rather than accepted.  Brown is a celebrated (and decorated) journalist, having covered four wars and a vast number of other important events (9/11 amongst them).  He took extra time to meet with me (along with Congressman Edwards) and really inspired me that it is  okay to be exactly who I am, think the way I do, and still desire success and influence through my work and life.  He is a living example of the sort of person I wish to be, and the sort of life I wish to live.

Professor/Journalist Aaron Brown
(Photo credit: The Washington Center)

Most exciting for me was the opportunity Aaron and the Congressman presented to me.  They both are associated with Arizona State University, and encouraged me to contact a faculty member in ASU’s School of Sustainability.  Long story short, I had a great phone interview with this person and am now looking at visiting the school to look at their PhD programs in Sustainability and Law.  Pretty exciting!  I feel very lucky to have met these men and especially the interest they showed in making my academic and life dreams a reality.

Of course, another great experience from the RNC was based in the other students attending.  I had a sensational roommate (Stephanie) who attends Elon University in North Carolina, but originally hails from Pennsylvania.  She was pretty much the complete opposite of me in almost every way, but somehow we got along famously.  I actually came to appreciate her whole way of going about life by the end of the two weeks, and I look forward to a long and humorous friendship with her. 

I frankly was surprised by the political make-up of the student cohort.  I expected a LOT of very conservative students to attend, and certainly there was a healthy representation of such.  However, a considerable portion of the attendees were self-described Libertarians, Independents, or what I like to call Confusitarians.  They really don’t know what to think, but they like to think about it anyway, and really, what more could one ask for?  I certainly appreciate their efforts.  Thinking is so underrated these days.

The second week of our stay in Tampa was spent as an intern for the various media/political/etc. conglomerates that occupy every spare inch of the RNC during the convention week. I was fortunate to intern with the International Republican Institute, a non-profit that brings conservative party leaders from around the world to the USA to observe the American nomination process and how we do democracy (or, sometimes, don’t).  My intern group (which included Stephanie and some other outstanding young people) had the opportunity to follow around a large group of incredibly powerful and influential people and occasionally pester them with questions about their roles in national politics.  Some of them were really great and made time for us, others had other priorities.  Oh well…that’s politics for you.  In the mix, we watched speeches by Senator John McCain(!), Dr. Ron Paul(!!), and Condaleeza Rice (!!!), and a whole host of other lesser-known but equally as interesting people.  It was very powerful for me to listen to these in-depth discussions and panels about what a Romney administration would look like in terms of foreign policy, economic strategy, etc.  

Stephanie and I on the convention floor! Sorry
for the blur-tastic quality.

The benefits of my internship were many, including access all four nights of the convention to the Tampa Bay Forum to see the mainstage and presenting speakers.  I also really enjoyed the many hours spent in panel discussions and listening to presentations about the nature of American politics and this particular election.  It gave me such a better understanding about what’s really being said when someone makes a claim to “strengthen the economy” or “fix America”.  In fact, the rhetoric and story-telling of the convention was truly the most fascinating part.

It’s worth pointing out that at 24, I was the oldest student in the RNC program.  At first, this made me feel really old and crotchety compared to all ‘dem young whipper-snappers (pa-toey!).  It took a few days, but I soon came to appreciate the perspective my extra few years gave me in terms of unpacking the mountains of rhetoric and what I like to call “myth enforcement.”  Myths are stories that cultures have told themselves to help explain their creation, cultural and behavioral norms, and so on. You might think that American society is so advanced that we have no need for myths or stories, but I would respectfully disagree.  Think of the idea of “The American Dream.”  It’s a favorite during campaign season and is, in effect, a story. Yes, America has long been a land where certain society and policy pressures create opportunity above and beyond other nations, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that anyone can achieve just anything.  There are many barriers, both perceived and institutionalized, that prevent people from propelling themselves endlessly upward.  But, we don’t talk about that reality during national conventions.  Instead, we focus our collective attention on re-defining who We are.

And so the question must be asked: who are we? If you were to define it by RNC standards, We (as Americans) are lovers of liberty and freedom, We don’t give up, We don’t quit, and We have an indefinable American spirit that makes us unique and strong and able to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps to walk another hard mile.  Honestly, it’s pretty inspiring.  It was difficult to not get caught up in the many patriotic moments and feel somewhat enamoured with these stories about Ourselves.  The DNC, by all accounts, was similar.  Even our richest and most powerful (our Presidential candidates, for example) came from humble roots and took advantage of the great opportunities our nation, according to these (tall) tales.

Despite my cynicism, I understand why people are drawn to such stories.  As in childhood, tales of familiarity make us feel comfortable and assured of our place in life.  We are so steeped in American rhetoric from early elementary school that these familiar narratives unite us together with patriotic adhesive.  It’s comforting, but it can also be (in my mind) misleading.

Over the course of the week, one overarching theme really stood out to me: youth in America and the future of our nation.  This particular facet was especially intriguing, as I would venture to guess that 90% of the speakers were retiree-aged white men, talking about the needs, wants, and future of our nation’s most diverse generation yet (mine, that is).  Now, I don’t mean to disparage age and wisdom, for it would be a mark against my own discretion to discount the importance of either.  However, I do want to point out that We have long allowed older generations to describe and define the future of the young. In the case of the RNC, I felt that I was being told stories about who I am, and who I will be, and what my future will be like.  Honestly, that kind of story-telling just doesn’t sit well with me. 

The RNC main stage.  Literally the nicest screens money can buy.

I want to be the one to decide my own future.  I don’t want to be spoon fed a story about who We (my generation) are and What our future will hold.  I want to make those decisions for myself.  My parent’s generation had an opportunity to define themselves, but they seem to not be affording that same thing to Us.  It just doesn’t sit well at all.

So, long story summarized, the RNC was an incredible experience that I would highly recommend to anyone interested in how our nation shapes its own image.  I’ve been left with much to consider, and a few Big Ideas to work out (more on this in future posts!).  Until next time, enjoy election season!


One thought on “RNC Recap

  1. I could not agree with you more about how the older generations are trying to define ours. According to what I've read, we seem to be defying expectations (like, we're not scrambling to buy cars–or even get driver's licenses–the way the two generations before ours did) and I really hope that we continue to do that. I hate being defined by someone else, by what they want us to be or what they think we should be.I'm glad it was a fantastic learning experience for you!

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