Wednesday, June 13, 2018

2018 National PTA Legislative Conference

One of my many trips during March - May of this year was to Arlington, VA/Washington, D.C. for the National PTA Legislative Conference. The event was held at the Crystal City Gateway Marriott with the Day on the Hill at the Capitol in D.C. Everyone calls this event LegCon - much easier to write about using the nickname.

Charles Scott and I standing in front of the US Capitol
Before I write about my trip and adventures and who I met and more, let me answer this question: what is LegCon? At the core, no matter the level, PTA is an advocacy association--an association working to improve the lives of children and families. Attending LegCon for me was a great way to enhance my advocacy skills, learn and implement new advocacy strategies, talk about PTA priorities to our US representatives and senators, and of course, connecting and networking with other PTA members from across the country. PTAers from every US state was there.
If you are in the PTA, take the opportunity sometime to attend LegCon! It is an experience and training worth having for the rest of your life.
National PTA lines up the speaking points for everyone to base their conversations and chats with their legislators. Our two main asking points were Support Bipartisan Gun Safety and Violence Prevention and Invest in Safe and Supportive Schools. One of the bills we were supporting for Gun Safety and Violence was approved by the House on the very same day as our Day on the Hill!

Now to my travel and walking notes! I had a weird flight schedule flying out of Chattanooga on Delta but flying back into Chattanooga on American. I flew in from Atlanta to Reagan National, took the hotel shuttle to Crystal City Gateway Marriott, and checked in. What a beautiful hotel - I had a view of the indoor pool plus there was a huge underground mall connected to the hotel with all kinds of restaurants, subway stop, and other stores. Very cool -- worth visiting just for the entertainment value!

On my first day, I attended several workshops that got my Tennessee PTA friends and me ready to go for Wednesday's Day on the Hill. The workshops were very informative in preparing strategies, in preparing talking points, and in preparing how to pace yourself.  Good stuff.  And I got to meet PTA members from different states as they paired state delegations with other delegations at different workshops. I met people from Florida, Arizona, Washington state, and much more. And a met a new PTA friend from Tennessee. I love meeting new PTA colleagues!

We decided at our planning session workshop to forego the subway at morning rush hour and pay for taxis out of our pockets. That was a good decision because Wednesday morning was cold and windy!

Tennessee PTA waiting in line at the Rayburn Office Building
We arrived as a group, taking two taxis, at the Rayburn Office Building. There was already a line! Woo - I was glad our stay out in the cold wind wasn't too long. As the acting federal legislative chair for Tennessee PTA on this trip, I had set up a visitation schedule two weeks earlier. Everyone really liked my schedule!

Once into the Rayburn building, Cheryl, Anita, and Charles went to the first appointment with Rep. Steve Cohen (Memphis) while Betsy, Kim, and I visited several other offices as unannounced visitors. We visited four other offices and came back to Rep. Cohen's office. Our group was still sitting in the foyer waiting room, so we joined them to make one big Tennessee group to visit Rep. Cohen. What a great meeting we had and possible future involvement at the local district office with PTA!
Tennessee PTA delegation with Rep. Steve Cohen
We took a lunch break at the Rayburn Office Building cafe area. It was crowded. Rep. Cohen greeted us as he walking by with his lunch - very cool. The serving lines were really long so I decided on a sandwich and Coke. Let me tell you, I had the best PB&J sandwich ever. That's saying a lot since I'm not a PB&J fan.

Well, we decided to split the group for the rest of the day. This gave one group extra time to cross over to the Senate side and get into Dirksen Senate Office Building. That left Charles Scott and me to visit one more representative and then hoof it over to Dirksen for our next appointment.

We had a great conversation with Rep. Marsha Blackburn. We saw a picture of her when she was young with big beehive hairstyle. That was cool to see. She said she had heard of PTA before so that was good joke to break the ice. Always good to make everyone comfortable.

Charles and I standing with Rep. Blackburn
I'm sure my wife would not have approved of my color coordination, but I decided to go with a camel brown suit jacket, purple shirt and tie, black pants and shoes. I thought I looked pretty debonair with all of those colors blending! Of course, I'm always looking good.

After meeting with Rep. Blackburn, Charles and I started walking over to Dirksen. When we walked in front of the Capitol, we got lucky with our picture as there was no one in the background at all. I took pictures of the Capitol and of course the Library of Congress. I spent many hours in that library when I was college student in D.C. Yep, I had returned back to my old college stomping grounds a few decades older and several pounds heavier! When I was a student here, I visited so many US legislators that I no longer have any idea who they were. Well except, Sen. Richard Lugar - he was larger than life in the early 80s.


The Library of all Libraries

We had a short wait to get past security to get into Dirksen. Again, the strategy of conquer and divide was working as the one group was meeting with Sen. Lamar Alexander while Charles and I met with a staff member from Sen. Bob Corker's office. Both groups had really good meetings -- so exciting to the do the work of PTA, that is, advocating for every child with one voice!

Group One meeting with Sen. Lamar Alexander

After the National PTA reception in the Dirksen building (where three of Sen. Alexander's staff showed up to mingle with PTAers), I headed back to the hotel to explore Crystal City mall. That is a great place. I had a great meal at King Street Blues, wow, just excellent.

The next day was debriefing. The best speaker of the entire conference spoke that morning - Bradford Fitch from CMG. He gave us great advice and tips to continue the advocacy work we started here and bring it home. After his speech, we sat down with our Arizona PTA friends and planned a strategy of what we were doing when we got back to Tennessee.

After that workshop planning, I caught ride on the hotel shuttle to the airport and flew home to Chattanooga via Charlotte.  I had a great PTA learning and advocacy time. I learned a lot, I reminisced about my college days in DC, I met new PTA people, I conversed with US reps and senators. All in all, LegCon was just a great experience!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Town Time Forgot: Cairo, Illinois

Cairo, Illinois. | Is a dead town. | We drove through it twice in May 2018.

Our first trip through Cairo we saw one person. One person drinking a Bud Light.  Ironic, we traveled from Cairo to Future City and neither seemed to have a future. Eerily empty.

Cairo, pronounced CARE-o, became a tinderbox of racial unrest and the city never survived it. The Ohio and Mississippi rivers confluence is not very far. Cairo like its Egyptian counterpart is surrounded by water.

Lynching happened in Cairo. The racial unrest probably was around for years but 1900 started the ball down the slippery slope and never recovered. In 1900, Cairo had a population of 13,000 and 5,000 of that 13,000 were African-Americans. A traditional white heritage town had the largest percentage per capita of African-Americans, nearly 40 percent.

Railroads slowly reduced steamboat and ferry traffic that supplied Cairo’s economy. When the local economy sours, it’s easy to find scapegoats. More racial tensions.

Major highway bridges were built to the south of town and contributed even more to economic decline as automobile traffic took off from Illinois into Missouri.

A riot protesting the death of black soldier in the Cairo jail turned Cairo into a Rome is burning town. I remember watching Walter Cronkite on CBS news showing images of the National Guard trying to get order restored. But it was too late – the black residents held a 10-year quarantine of white-owned businesses. The white population created a militia called the White Hats. Eerily KKK. And probably not much different.

A city divided cannot stand. A lack of inclusion and government diversity does not create a foundation. Cairo’s racial divide doomed so many economic opportunities.

When the Interstate bypassed the city in the late 70s, more businesses closed, more people left, the hospital closed, but yet high racial tension remained. Now the business district is virtually boarded up or decrepit.

On our second trip back through town heading to Chattanooga, we saw three people out on the streets. Nobody seems to give a damn about Cairo, Illinois.

An easy way to get rid of racial tension – have no population left to be angrily divided. More like, despair and depression rules the day now in downtown Cairo.

Cairo is, simply, no more.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Point Roberts - land enclave, US exclave, witness protection

I enjoy maps - looking at maps, creating maps, exploring maps. When I was younger and we went on family vacations, I had the Rand McNally Atlas in my hands looking at highway routes. One of my favorite classes in grad school at UTK was GIS map making.

So one day, I was exploring the Canada-US border with Google maps and I noticed something a little weird. I found a part of Washington state surrounded by Canadian land (a land enclave) and US-controlled waters between the land enclave and the main body of land (exclave).

This specific point is called Point Roberts. Point Roberts, Washington.

Point Roberts was created when the 49th was used west of Minnesota until the Vancouver Bay. The five square mile land is at the tip of British Columbia. So when I used street view in Google Maps, I found houses on the Canadian side built up right onto the border. I mean like the US border is part of the lawn border!

Here are some pictures from one of the streets in Canada looking into Point Roberts. Notice the simple yellow painted curb. This is looking from Canada into the United States.

On both sides of this street are houses. Across the road is the start of a recreational area. There is one point of entry for cars and trucks.

So what is Point Roberts economy and education? Children K - 3 attend the elementary school on the point. From fourth grade onward, they must take a 40-minute bus ride through British Columbia to reach Blaine, Washington to go to school.

Economically, Point Roberts has five shipping and receiving companies. Why? Online retail shipping into Canada is costly. Shipping to Point Roberts and trucking it into Canada is much less expensive. Groceries are 30% cheaper and gas a dollar a gallon cheaper than across the border.

During the summer months, Point Roberts doubles in population as Americans come to spend the summer yachting by using the superb harbors and waters.

And with the crossing border and exclave properties of Point Roberts - it has served another useful purpose. A large population of people in the US Marshal's Witness Protection Program live there too.

Google map link to Point Roberts: