WCSC Student Blog

Archive for March, 2009

Karissa’s Internship Takes Congress Members on Civil Rights Pilgrimage to Alabama

March 27th, 2009 – by Emily Benner

My internship at The Faith & Politics Institute has been an exciting plunge into the world of Capitol Hill.  Faith & Politics, an interfaith organization, works to bridge the divides in our society by providing opportunities for members of Congress to unite their work with principles of compassion, healing, and forgiveness.

Because of FPI’s relationships with those in the political world, I’ve been able to have experiences like attending the Attorney General’s confirmation hearing and seeing President Obama speak in the Capitol building.  My most meaningful opportunity, however, was when we led a congressional civil rights pilgrimage to Alabama.  With almost 200 guests, including more than two dozen members of Congress, diplomats, media personalities, and others, we traveled to Alabama to visit civil rights historical sites and to hear from those involved in the movement.  I rode on the same bus as Congressman John Lewis, a leader in the civil rights movement, and heard heartbreaking stories of the hate and violence he experienced.  I participated in a role play led by Rev. Jim Lawson, the nonviolent theorist who studied under Gandhi and taught nonviolence to Martin Luther King, Jr. and others involved in the civil rights movement.  I marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma 44 years after hundreds of African-Americans were brutally attacked by state troopers there during a peaceful march for voting rights.

Of all these experiences and others, my favorite moment came in a small church in Selma.  The daughter of former Alabama governor George Wallace, the segregationist who famously tried to stop the desegregation of the University of Alabama, introduced the morning speaker, Attorney General Eric Holder.  Holder, our first black Attorney General, is also the brother-in-law of one of the students Governor Wallace blocked from entering the University of Alabama.  Seeing the reconciliation of these two families and hearing them both express forgiveness and a desire for healing, along with an acknowledgement of the work yet to be done, brought tears to my eyes.  It was a beautiful example of the possibilities for racial reconciliation and reignited my hope that our country can find restoration and healing in other areas of conflict.  I was reminded that faith and politics don’t need to be mutually exclusive, and that the principles that guide my life through faith can and should be related to my opinions about public policy.  I am hopeful that, as a nation, we can learn from the tragic mistakes of our past and move forward in reconciliation and healing.

Karissa Sauder

Inauguration (Janelle Freed)

March 27th, 2009 – by Emily Benner

‘I can’t believe I’m here witnessing a great change in history.’ This quote was spoken from a woman behind me as Obama gave his inaugural address to millions before him.  This quote is not the thought of one, it’s echoed in the minds and hearts of the millions packed in a confining mall on the 20th of January, a Tuesday.  Although the full scope of Obama’s presidency will take years, even decades into the future to comprehend, there seemed to be a dignified solidarity among many Americans and people around the world, all hoping for change.

Growing up in a generation where the gap between negatively recognizing people’s differences, such as the color of their skin, is coming to a close.  Maybe I’m naïve; this could be my optimistic personality seeping through, however I’m recognizing that my generation and those younger than me seem to appreciate what makes each person unique.  Rather than judging based on religious orientation, race, or gender, people are drawing conclusions based on others characteristics.  Clearly nominating and electing an African American President never crossed the minds of my parents or grandparents generation.  A shift, or change if one will, is beginning to take place where the Emancipation Proclamation is finally being fulfilled.

Obama too identifies this change.  In his inaugural address, Obama commented on how the world is changing and we need to change with it.  This I believe on all levels; everyday brings about new challenges and room for growth.

As I reflect on my experience in the bitter cold, waiting nine hours to hear the swearing in of the first African American President, my mind begins to imagine the future.  What other milestones in history will I get the change to witness?

Most importantly, I’m glad that I can forever say I witnessed the swearing in of the first African American President.  As I hope for change, for world peace, and world citizenship, I still question how much I’m willing to change.