The Braille Monitor                                                                                                  March 2005

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Washington in Winter

by Barbara Pierce

The renovated lobby of the Holiday Inn Capitol, filled with Federationists checking in for the 2005 Washington Seminar.
The renovated lobby of the Holiday Inn Capitol, filled with Federationists checking in for the 2005 Washington Seminar

The last weekend of January brought snow, slush, and freezing rain to the nation's capital. It also brought well over four hundred blind people to attend seminars, workshops, and committee meetings and to tour the National Center for the Blind and the NFB Jernigan Institute. Some even found time to do a bit of sightseeing before settling down to visit every Senate and House office on Capitol Hill to discuss the issues of concern to blind people this year. In other words, the NFB 2005 Washington Seminar began Sunday, January 30, and ended Thursday, February 3.

We pushed the Washington Seminar back a day this year in hopes of seeing more actual members of Congress by
making appointments on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. This meant that the students could meet on Sunday, and almost two hundred Federationists could tour the Institute on Monday. At the same time those who remained at the Holiday Inn Capitol, on Monday could attend workshops on mentoring blind children or orientation and mobility as a career. Lawyers enjoyed a stimulating seminar, as did merchants and seniors. Those who wanted an advanced look at the issues for discussion with Congress spent a couple of hours talking with Jim McCarthy, NFB director of governmental affairs, early Monday afternoon.

In short, by the time the gathering-in meeting was called to order at 5:00 Monday afternoon, January 31, everyone had already put in a very full day. President Maurer and Dr. Zaborowski reported on recent activities in the Federation and at the Jernigan Institute, and the two Jims (Gashel and McCarthy) discussed legislative and logistical matters for the week.

Some of us can remember all the way back to a time before the appointment schedule and visit reports were computerized. In those days we picked up our fact sheets from the Mercury Room and then wandered off, sometimes to begin calling for appointments once we were actually on the Hill. For us the structured and purposeful activity of Sandy Halverson and her team of volunteers in the Mercury Room never fails to delight. On one side fact sheets and other materials available for preparing Capitol Hill folders are laid out on a long table. Affiliates supplement these with additional brochures, newsletters, scholarship forms, and other state material that their congressional delegations should have. By the time the folders are assembled, we have a significant amount of material to hand over to legislators.

The opposite side of the Mercury Room also sports a long table. This one has several volunteers seated behind it, waiting to take down appointment lists or write reports in Braille. On the side opposite the entrance are the computer station and the files for the cards on which the reports are written. Phones ring incessantly, and the staff member in charge makes frequent announcements asking people who are finished with their business to move on so that those who are still working can hear themselves think.

This year people found plenty to do elsewhere. The hotel restaurant had again ordered in peanut butter pie. The deli again had Krispy Kreme doughnuts in addition to the sandwiches, salads, and bagels one would expect. The bar (now called the Twenty-First Amendment), which also serves food till midnight, has been expanded in the recent lobby renovation. By the time we return in 2006, a Starbucks will be open in the corner of the lobby. But the only excitement the Starbucks caused this year was a small fire on Tuesday morning that brought out six fire trucks and a lot of police. Happily, it was so quickly contained that hotel guests did not have to be evacuated.

The weather for Washington Seminar this year fell far short of spring-like temperatures, but by Monday the sun was shining, and it continued to shine until we left town. Now that the dust is settling and the House and Senate security guards can again point their directions to visitors instead of putting them into words, we are getting down to the long, slow business of maintaining contact with legislative staff members responsible for the bills in which we are interested. Jim McCarthy will keep us posted throughout the year about what more has to be done. Immediately following this article are the 2005 fact sheets.

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