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D.C. Trip This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   Coming from a middle-class family in rural Massachusetts, I will never forget my trip to Washington, D.C. in February, 1992. I was fortunate to raise enough money to attend a week-long political science seminar called "A Presidential Classroom for Young Americans." While there, I got to see all the monuments Washington has to offer, and to meet such dignified leaders as Senator Edward Kennedy and Vice President J. Danforth Quayle. But the dreaminess of this week came to a halt on the fourth day, when something happened which changed my perception of government forever.

I will never forget it. The weatherman had predicted a sunny afternoon, so, of course, it was cloudy, yet pleasantly mild. My group was leaving our hotel to visit Capitol Hill for the day for what seemed like any other ordinary seminar event. We went to the Cannon House Building and the Russell Senate Building before lunch. After lunch we were free to see whatever we wanted. My Texan roommate and I decided to browse the Capitol Building, but we never made it to our destination that day because of one lonely man whose name I did not catch.

We were passing an immensely beautiful fountain on our way when I noticed a man there with a cup in his hand. We walked toward him at my request, although my roommate thought I was crazy. I soon noticed that the man was begging for money. I had seen a few people like this throughout Washington, and had ignored them. This time I was looking for answers.

Even before I reached him, I could smell his soiled clothing. I was thoroughly disgusted until he opened his mouth. The words formed by his impoverished lips were those of an educated man. I was astounded by the fluency of his voice and the sheer desire to be heard. My mind shifted from an interrogative mode to a sympathetic one. I asked him how he got himself into this predicament and he told me he was a musician from California and his partner had gotten them a gig in Washington. The poor man packed his guitar and headed for the capital, only to find loneliness and despair. His partner was nowhere to be found and there had been no gig. Since then, he had sold his guitar to buy food. My next question was obvious, "Why don't you just get a job?" That's when he got upset.

"Do you think I want to do this - beg for money?" he asked. "It's not that simple. No employer will hire me without a legal address. Believe me, I would much rather earn my money than beg for it!"

We had been talking to this man for over an hour when I noticed that my group was leaving. Walking away, I felt a sense of resentment. This was the first time I knew that government was wrong. The people running our country, whom I respected and looked up to, have lost touch with "real America." Sitting up on Capitol Hill all the time, they cannot grasp the severity of these social problems in America.

This is what is wrong with America's system of government, and this is why I chose to become involved in it. I hadn't realized the ignorance of Congress until I met that poor man in Washington, D.C. I don't think he realized what he said would stick with me throughout my life, and I know it will always shape my decisions on social issues to come. n


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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