I was in Washington, DC Monday through Wednesday of this week, part of a faith leaders delegation through Mennonite Central Committee. We were there to learn about and lobby for just immigration policies, specifically a clean Dream Act. We were a group of mostly pastors, mostly non-white, from around the US. This is most of us, in the basement of the MCC Washington office on Tuesday.
Our time culminated in hill visits Wednesday morning, meeting in pairs with staffers of our Representative and Senators. A write up about the delegation can be found HERE.
I arranged my flights to arrive early Monday and leave late Wednesday in order to have time to enjoy a few of the Smithsonian museums. A conversation with a CMCer before leaving helped me better connect the two very different experiences of museum hopping, and dipping into entrenched national politics. He noted that the Washington, DC that hosts the Smithsonian museums is not the one that makes the news, but is also part of what that city, and our nation are.
And it’s true. On the one hand the 17 of us in the delegation walked right into an immigration debate fueled by fear, misinformation, and not so subtle racism. The immigration policy trajectory is one of tighter borders, intensified militarization, and increased detentions and deportations directed at people deemed unwanted and unlawful. It is characterized by legal, relational, and physical walls, and a politics of selective exclusion.
On the other hand the Smithsonian museums are publicly funded, open to all who enter, monuments of welcome and learning. They exist to enrich, educate, and propagate ideas, including self-critical analysis of how the nation was formed through violence against American Indians and enslaved Africans. They inspire and elevate the mind. They are characterized by the many stories they tell that form the threads that hold us together, a politics of inclusivity.
I was not particularly encouraged after our visits with elected officials. I was inspired by the other faith leaders who shared the experience, and by my time in the museums… which put me into information-saturation mode both Monday and Wednesday. Hurray.
My last stop before taking the Metro back to the airport Wednesday evening was at one of the newer features of the National Mall complex, the MLK memorial. Inscribed on the side of the stone out of which his figure emerges are his words, “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”