LEAP: NLC in DC, Day 1
While we technically arrived Friday night, landing at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport at 11:45pm or so, we started our “Day One” in DC full of hope and anticipation and, despite a short night of sleep, excitement to be in the nation’s capital – a first-time visit for all of us students! We conferred over coffees at the Starbucks just steps away from our hotel, then headed out.
NLC Conference: Conflict Resolution (ME)
LEAPsters are in DC with the opportunity to attend the National League of Cities’ Congressional City Conference (“Advocating for local priorities at the federal level”!) in Washington D.C.
This conference allows elected and appointed local government officials an opportunity to come together and collaboratively discuss issues and solutions that their communities may face. Government officials also attend specialized trainings that allow them to grow leadership skills necessary to lead their communities.
Our preconference session, “Leading Together Bootcamp: Conflict Resolution,” led by President & CEO of The Elim Group, Mike Conduff, and author & founder of “Amazing Cities,” Jim Hurt, navigated the importance of conflict and the best approaches to succeed.
Before the presentation began we were able to speak with Mr. Conduff, who gifted the LEAP Center a copy of his book “Democracy at the Doorstep, Too!,” which features stories from women who are local elected officials and the lessons and challenges they’ve overcome. As all three LEAPsters attending the conference are either interning or working part-time at the City of Huntsville, Texas, it was a real treat to hear from someone with such experience in local government, and from so close to home. To say we each were impressed would be a huge understatement.
When people think about conflict, most tend to shy away from the subject, presumably thinking the worst outcomes. However, great teams and council should embrace conflict. Mr. Conduff explained that diversity embraces differences, and differences can create conflict; however, that conflict breeds and allows opportunities to flourish.
Communities without those opportunities present would be dramatically different. To illustrate his point, Mr. Conduff called on an audience member to participate in a demonstration involving an arm wrestling match. As they struggled against each other, they began to alternate amounts of strength, allowing both to win. This was a representation of how, across City Councils, no one person wins–as a Council, your triumphs and defeats belong to everyone. Success in solving conflict is also interdependent. Utilizing the “dialogic practice” method, Mr. Conduff walked us through some best practices for resolving conflict. Quoting Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” and particularizing that a large part of resolving issues is to “seek first to understand,” he explained that this means taking the time to understand not only the issue at hand but also the person and reasoning behind so. We accomplish this by assuming good intentions and asking for the person’s reasoning behind their decision (or in the case of a Councilmember, their vote).
This also includes watching not only what we say but also how we say it. He shared a communication chart noting that a large part of how people perceive communication is body language and tone, with 10% being the actual words you say. In these situations, it is important to always be kind, and to never blame one another even if it is warranted. While each Council is bound to have disputes, it is important that members remember to “disagree without being disagreeable.” Ensuring that one takes these steps will (hopefully) lead to resolution while also gaining a different perspective.
After our session, Mr. Hurt was gracious to pose with us for a quick picture before we headed to Virginia for a bite to eat before our next stop.
Lunch – Bozzelli’s (ME)
Our choice of restaurant was out of this world…well, at least, the city was. The LEAPsters headed to Virginia to eat at Bozzeli’s, and with their space-themed “vibe” and motto “Make Space for Pizza”…
…we were excited to try a favorite of many “since 1978.” Bozzelli’s offers a variety of pizzas, sandwiches, and salads. Esme tried the “Bizarro,” which featured meatless meatballs, vegan sausage, sun-dried tomatoes, and vegan mozzarella. Maggie and Miranda shared a “MIC MAC,” a combination of macaroni and cheese, mozzarella, and sharp cheddar, with spicy Calabria peppers – on a pizza.
After carbo-loading for the afternoon, we headed to our first president’s home, Mount Vernon.
Mount Vernon (EM)
Mount Vernon, the 18th-century estate of President George and Martha Washington, is one of the most iconic homes among all historic sites. The elegant mansion is located 13 miles south of Washington, D.C. along the Potomac River. Built by Washington’s father in 1734, Augustine Washington, the home was inherited by Washington’s half-brother, Lawrence Washington, and at that time, was known as Little Hunting Creek. Lawrence renamed the home in honor of British Admiral Edward Vernon.
In 1761, George Washington moved into the home after the death of Lawrence’s widow, Ann Fairfax Washington Lee. Washington expanded the 6-bedroom, 2,000-acre estate to an exaggerating 21 bedrooms, with 8,000 acres, 4 gardens, and more than a dozen historic outbuildings. However, Washington’s time at Mount Vernon was limited due to his service in the American Revolution.
For more than 200 years, visitors from all over the world have visited this historic estate. During our tour, we admired the fine furnishings and national treasures. Through the tour guides stationed in various rooms throughout the mansion, we learned interesting facts about the different rooms, their purposes, and occasionally an interesting piece of furniture or gadget from the time — Washington was a “gadget man,” according to the tour guide stationed in his office, pointing out the chair with an attached fan operated with a foot pedal.
We strolled through grounds and the large gardens of trees, flowers, and plants that provided food for the mansion. It was a cold but clear day, and the crowd was light, so we were able to easily wander through and read about many of the estate’s outbuildings as well. And, nestled at the foot of one of the gardens, and facing (what is now) a wooded area, we were able to pay our respects at the tomb holding the final resting place for both George and Martha Washington.
The Mount Vernon site also boasts an education center, museum, and of course, a gift shop. In the education center, we learned several interesting facts about Washington…
…from his adolescence to his role as the Commander of the American Forces during the Revolutionary War…
…and of course, his becoming the new country’s first president. There was also an interesting exhibit in the form of a 4-D theater, with a film focused on the Revolutionary War and Washington’s national achievements.
And of course, any visitor to Mount Vernon has to get a glimpse of Washington’s dentures!
Our trip to Mount Vernon was an educational experience like no other.
As the day drew to a close, we made our way back to D.C. for a fulfilling evening of our first day in the nation’s capital.
National Mall (MD)
Despite the chilly temperature, we decided to burn off some lunch calories by walking the half-mile from our hotel to Union Station. An historic landmark, Union Station opened in 1907 and was an essential stop in the early 1940’s, a “thriving transportation hub.” In 1981, Congress passed the Union Station Redevelopment Act, preserving the history and redeveloping the transportation and railway operations. We took a quick look around the main (retail!) floor and the food court, making note of a few things to explore further, later in the trip, given time.
From Union Station, we headed towards the United States Capitol where we met 2019 SHAIP Intern and current Running Start Fellow, Annie Jamarik. Annie has spent this spring semester working in Congresswoman Kay Granger’s office through the Running Start/Walmart Star Congressional Fellowship program.
After a significant number of pictures and selfies outside of the Capitol…
…we wandered west of the Capitol and across the National Mall to see what we could see…from checking out the location and perspective of Presidential Inaugurations that JF/LEAPsters have had the opportunity to attend, to traversing the (now empty!) Capitol Reflecting Pool, to identifying artists’ works “through the bars” of the then-closed National Gallery of Art – Sculpture Garden. (More on this later, too – although it was rewarding to recognize a number of artists!)
The National Mall stretches over two miles from the US Capitol to Lincoln Memorial. We knew we would not make it through the entire Mall, but we wanted to get started. Our morning cab driver told us the best time to see the Mall was at night, and that advice did not fail. We were drawn to Washington Memorial, a true beacon in the midst of the Mall, passing and taking note of the many Smithsonian galleries and museums and other stops still on our itinerary, and (finally!) we arrived! Lit up in the dark sky and surrounded by American flags fluttering in the cool breeze, the Monument astounded us. Along with many other DC sightings, LEAP Ambassador Miranda Estrada was momentarily speechless upon arrival. (But just momentarily!)
Dinner – District Taco (MD)
After another round of pictures and selfies, we trekked our way back across the Mall in search of a place to eat. District Taco, an Atlantic coast chain of about 13 restaurants featuring Yucatan-style (fast food) cuisine, was not only close enough to walk to, but also received a positive recommendation from Annie who, of course, would recommend fast food.
Over a quick dinner, we caught up with Annie about her Running Start fellowship and responsibilities as a Congressional Intern before parting ways for the evening. It was nice to catch up, and nice to get the up close and personal perspective!