Left Justified: What I did on my summer vacation

I went to Washington, D.C. for my summer vacation and attended a United Methodist conference called “Holy Boldness on the Hill.” It refers to Paul’s exhortations for us to be holy (do good things) and be bold by going into the public arena. “On the Hill,” of course, is Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., where our senators and congressmen make decisions and we have to be bold.

It was a three-day conference held in a downtown hotel, and more than 300 United Methodists from around the country attended. Most were from urban settings like Los Angeles, Denver, Boston, and then me from: Rockford.

We learned how to push issues before our elected officials: in a nutshell, keep it short, one topic at a time (politicians are easily confused); be polite; ask them directly: “How are you going to vote on this issue?” and then wait for an answer. We were asked to support an affordable housing bill before the House that the United Methodists wanted. I made an appointment with my congressman’s office for “the person who deals with housing.”

I found Don Manzullo’s office after a short walk around the Capitol. He’d moved up since the last time I had been to D.C. That time I’d brought him a pair of shoes worn by a handgun victim.

First thing to do when visiting a congressman’s office: sign in. I didn’t have to wait long, but I noticed the aide had other things on his mind. (I found out later that he was getting married in a week.) Suddenly our congressman, Donald Manzullo, whisked out of his office, saw me and said, “Want to watch me vote?”

He took me down a special elevator to a special corridor where the special train took him to the special spot under the Capitol, and we whisked through security like they weren’t even there (he said to me, “You’re not a terrorist.”)

In the next two hours, in between running in and out of the House chambers where he had to vote on “stupid Democratic resolutions,” Congressman Don Manzullo showed me the Capitol Rotunda and the large pictures where there were hidden Christian messages. He took me to the Speaker’s house and introduced me to Dennis Hastert himself as he was rushing by (“Not now, Don”). Then he showed me the Speaker’s office and introduced me to the Speaker’s personal guards, and we went out and sat on the Speaker’s patio overlooking the Speaker’s view of the Washington Monument. While sitting there, Don took a call from WNTA’s Chuck Diamond. “I’m here with Stanley Campbell,” said Mr. Manzullo.

I talked to Don about many issues: thanking him for voting against the School of the Americas; asking him why he changed his vote on sending military aid to Colombia (“‘cause the Speaker of the House asked me to”). And I, of course, asked him to support affordable housing for Rockford.

We were joined by a fellow Republican Nebraska congressman. I looked at the two representatives and asked, “Are we going to war with the whole of the Muslim nations?” While Don waxed philosophical, the congressman from Nebraska, with a gleeful little smile, shook his head “yes.” That sent shivers down my spine even with the summer heat on the Speaker’s patio.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

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