Written by Mary Hookham, Janesville, WI
Leadership Wisconsin Group XVII Fellows recently spent a week in Washington, D.C. for their National Policy seminar. Fellows were met with many different perspectives on important issues and enjoyed the immersion into the culture and society of the city.
The seminar’s focus was to take a look at policy-making at the national level, both as a large group and in separate, smaller issue-based groups. This examination was meant to expand Fellows’ knowledge from the State Policy seminar held earlier this year in Madison. Fellows were expected to study public policy and grassroots organizing while also honing their skills dealing with community organizing and communications.
Fellows got practice in communicating with someone with a very extreme perspective early during their week in D.C. when their first official meeting was with William Johnson, a Harvard-educated lawyer and longtime member of the American Freedom Party. For several decades, Johnson has worked with the American Freedom Party as a very vocal supporter of the party’s extremist views.
“I am opposed to multiculturalism and diversity and would like to end all immigration, both legal and illegal,” Johnson said.
His only request when speaking to Fellows was that they all sit patiently and listen to his message without leaving the room. He shared history and information about his party and, while he wasn’t forceful with his opinions, he was very direct and clear with them. However, when faced with questions at the end of his presentation, Johnson struggled to answer some of them, causing Fellows to feel a bit frustrated.
Other highlights later that day included a visit with Elizabeth Mann at Brookings Institution and the Brown Center on Education Policy, and a lunch discussion with Jenifer Buckley with the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Fellows also participated in their smaller group work studying agriculture and natural resources, economic development and water issues.
A performance of Ragtime at Ford’s Theatre wrapped up the first official evening as a group in Washington. The musical, based on the 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow, explored the American experience at the turn of the twentieth century and showcased how immigrants and African Americans handled prejudices, poverty and violence in their pursuit of the American Dream.
More small group, issue-based meetings occurred the next morning. Individual groups traveled to various pre-scheduled appointments before reconvening as a large group at the Embassy of Croatia on Massachusetts Avenue to learn about the destination of their International Travel Seminar. Josip Babic, a Croatian native, welcomed Fellows to an upstairs room where refreshments were served and he visited with the group about his home country. Fellows learned there are over 1,000 islands making up the country of Croatia.
Group XVII at the Embassy of Croatia
From there Fellows had a very brief visit with Senator Ron Johnson before heading to NETWORK. Meg Olson, grassroots mobilization coordinator with NETWORK, talked to Fellows about grassroots organizing and leadership qualities. The organization, which has 30,000 members nationwide, is a Catholic leader in the global movement for justice and peace.
Fellows visited with Denise Desiderio, policy director at the National Congress of American Indians. Desiderio shared information about her work with Native American policy, and she said there are 562 tribal nations in North America, 229 of which are in Alaska.
Legislative visits with representatives were next on the agenda for Fellows. Congressmen representing Group XVII Fellows include Glenn Grothman, Paul Ryan, Mark Pocan, Ron Kind and Sean Duffy.
On the last full day in Washington, Fellows were given an opportunity to practice their persuasive presentation skills when they were asked to give oral presentations in front of their peers. Most Fellows’ presentations centered on their passions they spent the week exploring in Washington.
Later that afternoon, Fellows walked to a nearby movie theater where they saw the film I Am Not Your Negro. This film examined historical, contemporary and artistic themes surrounding race and culture in the United States. Fellows were asked to consider their own views on race, culture, slavery, segregation and the American Dream.
After a week of intensive leadership and issue-based training, Group XVII returned home to Wisconsin. Fellows are now preparing for their final year in the Signature Program with their next seminar to be in July.