It feels somewhat surreal to have finally arrived in Washington D.C. To put it bluntly I don’t think I’ll ever get used to my shirt sticking to me in the humid heat, I’m extremely jetlagged (I write this blog at 06.00, when my alarm shouldn’t have gone off until 08.30), I am now firmly settled into my new position as Eason family member #34 and I get to walk past the White House on my way to work (well not quite, but almost)!
It’s been said that the Irish are famous for their hospitality (amongst other things) but the Americans may pip us to the post in this area! Since I’ve arrived in Washington D.C., I’ve been made to feel nothing but welcome, from arriving at Dave & Terry’s house to the famous host family BBQ at Kurt and Deb’s, it gives me the feeling that this is going to be a great summer!
We had little time to get used to the bright lights and big city before being faced with a packed schedule (WIP Management Team, this isn’t a complaint)! On Monday morning we arrived at the WIP Offices somewhat bleary eyed and maybe bushy tailed, excited about the summer ahead of us. There was a number of impressive speakers scheduled for our first day, Assistant Chief Police Commissioner Pat Burke, Congressman Jim Walsh, EJ Dionne (PBS News) and the two people who I took the most away from, Mark Shields (Washington Post) & Kevin Sullivan (Chair of the WIP Board of Directors).
It’s easy sometimes to see the glass as half empty, rather than full. Admittedly on a bad day & maybe even some “good” days, I think I’m being realistic but in fact it’s pessimism which is directing my outlook. I speak of this attitude because it’s an approach to leadership that Shields spoke of; he indicated that American politics was not dictated by ideologues as is often the case presented to us across the pond but rather by optimism. Everyone knows the famous Ronald Reagan phrase its “Its morning in America again,” well it would seem that the President wasn’t just stating the obvious but trying to lift the spirits of a nation, the same could be said of President Bill Clinton, Shields said.
EJ Dionne also pointed to the 2012 US Election as the most important in our lifetime, for me it has a lot more significance than what’s going on here in Washington D.C. Apart from in my life, a lot has happened in the six months, events such as the abandoned Shared Future talks make me worry that the NI Peace Process is coming to a halt & the agreement we see between politicians at Stormont is not being equated into integration on the ground. Congressman Walsh argued that this is a gradual process, of course, but how long should we be prepared to wait before a real effort is made by those with power to start up the engine that turns the wheels of reconciliation?
If anything yesterday (Monday) has made me wake up and smell the coffee, it’s made me realize more what I hope to get out of this summer and its demonstrated to me that in order to bring about positive change in Northern Ireland, I need to approach the situation there and any work I do with a positive attitude. I don’t mean to not give those involved in the peace process their full credit but we need not wait for the parties at Stormont to attack the issues head on, everyone knows we could be waiting years. I suppose my approach to segregation and other issues in Northern Ireland has been to often think, what can I really do and what real affect is any work I’ve done going to have, I’m 21?! However Kevin Sullivan pointed to us yesterday that our age shouldn’t stop us, he said “you don’t have to wait your turn.”
For me as an individual, 2012 is about much more than the race for the White House. To steal Tony Blair’s gaffe at the time of the Good Friday Agreement and claim it as my own cringe worthy phrase in my usual dramatic style, “A day like today is not a day for sound bites, really. But I feel the hand of history upon our shoulders.” From that session alone I’ve taken away two ideas, optimism and opportunity, goodness knows how I’ll feel by the end of today!