Well I'm back from the Capitol of the United States and what a weekend it was. I don't think I have walked so much in a long time. The weather was picture perfect with blue skies and sunshine, even if it was a little cold and windy!
Clodagh and I arrived in Washington on Thursday morning and went to the house where we were staying. The National Lawyers Guild who were hosting the conference had organised low cost housing for all the students who were coming over for the conference and we had been allocated to stay with a lady for free in Maryland, about 25 minutes from the conference centre. Her name was Karen and her house was very nice, and she had 2 kitten who we played with all weekend. She is a lawyer in Washington and was very kind to us all weekend.
We made it out to drop off our bags and then heading back into the city to get our bearings. The hotel were the conference was on was right beside Capitol hill and we could see Capitol building from it. We had a quick wander round the outside of the building and down the Mall and found a really nice restaurant for dinner before the keynote speaker that evening.
The conference itself was a really eye opening experience for both of us. I have been to the US before and although I knew it wasn't perfect I had assumed that in the land of the free injustice was a rare occurrence. What I learnt was that this was incredibly far from the truth. There is systematic abuse of human rights, particularly if you are a young black male, if you are mentally or physically challenged, if you fought for your country in previous wars, if you are currently a soldier, if you are a woman, if you are colored, the list is endless. The National Lawyers guild was set up 75 years ago and was the first bar association to allow black members and the first to have a woman president. They have challenged injustice from the beginning and still do today.
Some of the most interesting discussions I attended were on Quantanamo bay detention center, the Jena 6 and the war on Iraq. The people attending the conference believe vehemently in what they are doing and they were not afraid to tell you all about it!
Outside the conference I spent my time walking around the monuments which were absolutely fascinating. There were monuments to both world wars, the Korean war, the Vietnam war, the civil war, Iwo Jima, the women in the war as well as Presidents Lincoln, Washington, Roosevelt and Jefferson. They are all made of marble and are in such a small amount of space it really blows your mind. The Roosevelt memorial was fascinating with waterfalls, quotations, statues and other beautiful markers of both FDR and his wife. It was so different to the enormous marble tributes to Lincoln and Roosevelt. Most of the monuments had a number of passages inscribed in the marble, famous quotations and statements made by the people they were there to commemorate.
I also went to the Supreme Court and took a tour of the chambers and was impressed by the beauty of the place, but it was so small in comparison to the EU courts. The White House was similar, I had thought it would be bigger, but then again we were behind gates etc. In fact just after we left the white house they shut all the roads and we spotted snipers on the roofs of the surrounding buildings. Then a formation of helicopters flew over head and one landed in the grounds, we assume it was the President!! It was very exciting!
On Sunday I took a trip out to Arlington national cemetery, which is the most well known of the military cemeteries. There are 290000 servicemen and women and their families buried there and the sheer scale of the place is unimaginable. Just seeing the small white stones that are regulation issue stretching out over such a vast amount of land is so sobering and makes the memorials so much more poignant when you realise that they are commemorating the people lying in the cemetery. I went to the tomb of the lost soldier and saw the changing of the guard. The tomb is situated on the top of a hill and it looks down over Washington DC and is so magical, it is easy to forget that although there are a lot of grave stones, this tomb is to remember those who never made it back. I made it to JFK's memorial which is an eternal flame burning above his and his wifes graves.
Sunday was Clodagh's 21st birthday and we had a really nice lunch at a Tapas bar in the city and had free Sangria from our waiter!
I absolutely loved Washington. The city was beautiful and so small in comparison to Chicago. Even the buildings are all so small, with the Washington memorial at 555 ft dwarfing many of the surrounding buildings. The streets were so wide and there was so much greenery it seemed so relaxed.