12th grade, AP Government and Economics
Location: Upstate, NY
My teacher was a huge fan of Hilary Clinton. I mean huge. And NY was in the middle of a Senate race. We watched those debates. We had our own mock debates, and we heard all the things our teacher loved about Hilary Clinton. I was not a huge Clinton fan, and we all kind of thought our teacher was a little crazy, (how could you teach high school and not be a little crazy, says the teacher in me now) but still…. I ATE IT UP.
Or rather, my child self’s quest for utopia ate it up. This would be the same child that once said, “Mom, why do we even have money? Why doesn’t everybody just keep doing their job and as people get older the government will give them a job and then everybody can just go to a store and get what they want? No more homeless people. No more hungry people.” Her response, “Yeah……they call that communism. “
Back to that government class, one fateful day. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was the video of the day, and we watched as Mr. Smith took out his iconic thermos and apple and the room buzzed, “filibuster!” At that moment, our teacher stood up and paused the tape. She looked at us, and spoke with the passion she usually reserved for Clinton debates with the right leaning teacher next door. Her eyes got misty, begging us to understand this one thing, even if we ignored everything else she ever tried to show us.
One single man (or woman as the case may be) could stand up and hold up the entire corrupt machine if he or she deemed it worth foregoing sleep, food, and bathroom breaks, and could continue this for as long as he could stand.
She spoke of the courage such an individual would have. She spoke of the brilliance our founding fathers had, knowing that man is greedy and easily corrupt. She spoke of all the little fail safes they put into the founding documents, so that even if one single person dared to stand up to the government machine, there was hope. There was hope that such a person could stand up and use their speech to convince other senators not accept the corruption. There was hope that such a person could convince a nation of citizens who would contact their elected senate representatives and say “No more!”
After all, who would stand for 20 something hours if they did not truly in their heart believe in the cause? Who could go an entire day without using the bathroom to fight for pork, or for plans to scratch someone else’s back, or for a bill which makes the moment better but the long term worse? Who could talk for 20 something hours about a topic, if they had anything to hide about it?
A filibuster provides a chance to get the discussion back on track, a chance to reveal manipulation and corruption. Discussion!! Congress was never meant to be a figurehead body by which the President’s ideas get thrown into bill form and passed merrily along. It was to be a place where legislation was born. Where it was hammered out by discussion! Not by magic, but by debating, by arguing, by PASSION. It was the way our founding fathers protected US from a tyrannical government. It was the way our freedoms could be safe.
And now here I sit 12 years later, most definitely not liberal leaning. And Ms. Fallis’ lesson fits better than ever. Those folks in Congress right now, whom currently 81% of Americans don’t approve of, they’re fighting for you. (Well, some of them are.) They’re fighting to protect US, to protect our rights and freedom. They’re fighting to protect our country by fixing the economy. They’re debating elements of government to be funded by a budget bill. That is their job, but we’re berating them for it! Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, we should be thankful this debate is happening. We should be thankful the fail safes our founding fathers gave us are working. No one is rolling over and saying “Oh well, we have to get this passed so we don’t tick someone off, or because the man in the big white house on Pennslyvania Avenue says we have to. Who cares what’s in it!”
We should be looking at those folks standing and speaking for nearly an entire day and saying “Damn! I could not hold it that long!” And then it should dawn on us, that person must have something pretty important to say. We should be questioning whose words hold more value; the person standing all night, risking urinating on the Senate floor, or the person who couldn’t even be bothered to be there, who is at home in a nice, cushy bed.
Instead, the floor is dropping out from under Congress’ approval rating, when perhaps for the first time in almost a decade, they are actually doing their job. We’re yelling at them to stop the shutdown. Telling them to sit down and get the job done. What we’re really yelling is “Give up!” “Make this stop, either way.” Then we’ll yell at them again when the economy tanks and we’ll say “Why didn’t you do something about this.” They are finally doing that, ladies and gentlemen. Finally.
(If anyone’s approval rating should be tanking, it should be the President’s, but I’ll skip going into the handling of this shutdown. Parks and businesses which have no federal expense closed? Amber alert, really? But keep collecting your pay check… Really?)
Now it’s time for you to get involved. Call your senators and representatives offices; write them, facebook them. Let them know how you feel. Then, when the government “reopens,” don’t lose interest just because what’s going on doesn’t directly affect you in the moment. All of this is happening because of the culmination of elements that didn’t directly affect us at the time.
And don’t dismiss a person filibustering just because you don’t think you agree with them or someone tells you they’re crazy and insignificant; just wasting people’s time. After all, you’re the one sitting down with a coffee, scone and potty down the hall.