Braille Monitor                                                    January 2009

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Tips and Reminders for the Washington Seminar

by Barbara Pierce

group of Federationists stand on the steps of the Capitol For years as president of the Ohio affiliate I wrote a memo to members of my delegation to the Washington Seminar. Some of the topics covered had to do with housekeeping details for our group, but other items dealt with etiquette on the Hill, outdoor and indoor geography, and appropriate preparation for representing the organization in this important activity. In addition to preparing the delegation for their work, I came to the seminar armed with name tags for the delegation including each person’s name and congressional district number. I also brought Ohio materials to add to the folders we always pick up in the reporting room to give to each member of Congress. These documents usually included my business card, our most recent newsletter, the affiliate brochure, the Ohio scholarship form, and a bookmark listing our affiliate Website and the courtesy rules of blindness that we hand out around the state. From time to time people have suggested that it would be useful to gather such information together in an article before the Washington Seminar. In what follows I have tried to do exactly this. With some modifications it is my letter to the Ohio delegation, so that may explain its casual tone.

Those who do not come early for the midwinter student conference (this year scheduled all day Sunday) or other meetings or seminars, will arrive at the Capitol Holiday Inn (550 C Street SW) on Sunday, February 8, 2009. The 5 p.m. briefing Sunday is the real kick-off of the Washington Seminar. Everyone should absolutely plan to be present for that meeting. It is two hours long, and so many people now attend that the main meeting room and an overflow room with sound piped in are usually crowded. If you are new to this event, you would also be well advised to attend the legislative workshop earlier Sunday afternoon, in which the issues are discussed and participants usually have a chance to practice presenting our arguments to senators, played by jaded elder statesmen from the Federation, who have seen and heard it all. I suggest that everyone make an effort to read the print or cassette version of the fact sheets we will be using this year as soon as you arrive at the hotel or that you read them on the NFB Website before departing for Washington. It is easy these days to download the fact sheets to a notetaker to study and even refer to in our meetings.

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are the days when it is essential for all of us to make a good appearance. This means shaving, brushing teeth, keeping hair combed and clean, and wearing pressed coats and ties for men and suits (with skirts or tailored slacks) or dresses for women. We will be doing lots of walking. Do not buy new shoes, planning to break them in on the Hill! If one portion of your body can be permitted to appear less chic than another during the seminar, let it be your feet with comfortable rather than fashionable shoes. Unfortunately, some people do not take these dress requirements seriously. Obviously we will not prevent a person from accompanying the delegation because of dress, but please remember that, if your clothing is casual or soiled or otherwise inappropriate to the statement we are trying to make to people on Capitol Hill about the capacity of blind people to participate appropriately in society, you harm more than yourself. All of us suffer when any of us dresses or behaves inappropriately.

I wish I could promise you lovely weather during our stay in Washington. We have strolled around the city in suit coats, enjoying the sunshine. We have also skated on the ice and wondered if we would make it home again. Your state delegation may walk to the Hill--and it is steep--unless the weather is dreadful or bitterly cold, and the House and Senate office buildings contain miles of marble or tile corridors. So come prepared to walk far and fast.

We divide into small groups for the actual meetings. Each group should have a leader who will set the tone and the pace of the presentation. As you become familiar with the issues and are ready to take part in the discussion, you should feel free to add your bit to the conversation. But no one expects you to make an entire presentation unless and until you are ready to do so. Please make a point to read the “Spotlight on Affiliate Action” in the January 2007 Braille Monitor; it directly addresses the subject of making presentations to members of Congress and their aides. If you are the Federationist charged with guiding the conversation, take into consideration any important committee assignments for our issues that the member may have. You will want to address that issue first and most extensively, being sure, if possible, to have the relevant aide present for the discussion. Even when you are not speaking, you have an important role to play in the discussion. We are trying to communicate the impression that many people with a compelling interest in blindness issues are represented by this delegation. You can help to demonstrate this fact by remaining attentive, looking at the speaker at all times. If you get drowsy or allow yourself to gaze off into the distance, you will communicate a different message.

Remaining alert and looking interested are not always easy to do. You will hear and say the same things over and over again during these presentations. It is hard to marshal attention and enthusiasm for the same presentations six or eight times, but you must do it. It is especially important for those of you with vision to refuse to play eye-contact games with the members or staffers. Some of them will try to catch your eye and communicate silently. If at any time you realize that we have lost the person's attention on a topic, find a way of signaling the speaker that he or she should move on to the next subject. Your data after the meeting are also important to an accurate assessment of our effectiveness.

It is fine, even helpful, if some of you bring cameras. We are now able to include photos in state newsletters, and we always need good pictures of Federationists working on the Hill for the Braille Monitor. But this is not a tourist expedition. We are working. We should all do everything we can to discourage fawning behavior over dog guides by staff members and strangers alike. I also want as strongly as possible to discourage any requests for souvenirs from the various offices. Signing guest books is harmless, and constituents have a little more leeway in their own Representatives' offices, but for the rest, please keep your collecting impulses firmly in check. For the most part these offices do not have supplies of souvenirs to hand out. Offices used to do more of this sort of thing, but our tax dollars are no longer wasted on such items today, and staff members are just embarrassed when they are asked for a pen or postcard.

Several years ago in response to popular demand I developed a hand-out describing the geography of the Capitol Hill area and some important details of the office buildings. We always have these things firmly in mind by the time we leave Washington, but people often complain that I throw out too much information for them to be able to remember it all when we begin. Please read carefully the information below and let me know if you find it helpful.

Capitol Hill Geography
And Useful Bits of Information

To no one’s astonishment, the U.S. Capitol sits on Capitol Hill. It is bounded by Independence Avenue on the south and Constitution on the north and by First Street Southeast on the east and First Street Southwest on the west. Walking east on Independence or Constitution, one goes steeply uphill. The three House Office buildings lie to the south of the Capitol, and the Senate buildings lie to its north, stretching east.

House Side: From west to east, walking up Capitol Hill on the south side of Independence, on the right one comes first to the Rayburn. This is the newest and largest of the House office buildings. Next comes the Longworth, followed by the Cannon at the top of the hill. The Cannon Building is the oldest House building.

Tunnels connect these three buildings to each other. To reach them, go to the basement level of both the Cannon and the Longworth and to the sub-basement of the Rayburn. Both the Rayburn and the Longworth have cafeterias at the basement level. The Longworth also boasts a gift shop and a post office in its basement.

Numbers: By looking at the room number of a House member’s office, you can determine where to find him or her. Rayburn office numbers all have four digits beginning with a two. The second digit identifies the floor number. Longworth office numbers all have four digits and begin with a one. Again the second number indicates the floor. The Cannon room numbers have three digits, with the first indicating the floor number. All phone numbers on the House side share the exchange 225, so we often write the phone number with only four digits. The zip code for the House offices is 20015.

Senate Buildings: On the northwest corner of First and Constitution is the Russell Building. Across First, going east, are the Dirksen and then the newest of the Senate buildings, the Hart. These buildings also connect by tunnel with each other.

Crossing the Capitol: To walk from House to Senate or back again, the only method is to exit the office building on its Capitol side and walk along Independence or Constitution to East First. Cross East First and walk along its east side to the other side of the Capitol and go to the building you want. In doing so, you will pass between the east front of the Capitol and the Supreme Court Building.

Senate Numbers: Room numbers in the Senate buildings do not follow any pattern that indicates the building location. The first digit is the floor number, but you must use the building name in any address. The zip code for the Senate side is 20010, and the phone exchange is 224.

Building Configuration: Both the Longworth and the Cannon are roughly rectangular with the room numbers going clockwise in order beginning at the front of the building. The Rayburn is a law unto itself. Imagine two horseshoes lying back-to-back—one opening to the east, and the other to the west. The horseshoes are connected by parallel bridges, which form a square with the back sides of the two horseshoes. Another way to think of this shape is to picture a square with the east and west sides of it drawn out to form back-to-back letter C’s. The office number 01 on each floor can be found on the Independence Street bridge. The numbering is roughly the same on all the floors, but not exactly. Be careful because the maps, which are plentiful, are sometimes mounted with north at the top and sometimes with south at the top. The best plan is to ask for directions when you get to the floor. People are happy to help, but they always consult the map before telling you how to get where you want to go. One word of caution: do not be seduced into exiting the Rayburn on C Street, which runs along the south side of the building. Because our hotel is on C Street, I once tried to get back by walking west on C, but it can’t be done, or at least it takes a lot longer for some reason.

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