Today, September 17th, is both Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, which has been observed annually since 2005. This day commemorates two things, the signing of the Constitution of the United States on September 17, 1787 and all who, by coming of age or by naturalization (this includes my father), have become US citizens. Knowing the significance of this day, Kim and I figured it would be the perfect day to visit the Capitol Building and view an actual session of the 111th Congress of the United States of America in action. There is, however, a caveat here. As Popeye the Sailor Man used to say, “Youse don’t just goes to the show, youse needs a ticket.”
Fortunately, we learned about "the ticket" when we went to visit our Congressman here in Washington. As a courtesy, we’d each been given one, which, our Congressman explained, was now required to enter the House Gallery and observe the House in session. We were told to arrive around noon, as nothing much would be done in the morning and all of the voting would happen from noon on. So, armed with this advise and two tickets, we hopped on the Circulator and headed for the Capitol Building.
We arrived at the East side of the Capitol at 12:05 pm and made for the Security Checkpoint. Since we’d been there three days earlier, we figured we knew the drill as to what was allowed to pass through Security. Additionally, we’d been advised that nothing could be taken into the Galleries other than articles of clothing and handbags and that there were lockers provided for all other "touristy" items. So, we entered the Capitol and prepared to passed through Security.
We walked up to the portal, put our change, wallets, keys, cameras, watches, belts, backpack and handbag into tubs and passed them through the X-ray unit. Then we walked through the Metal detector and, of course, set them off, so we were scanned by a guard with an airport style, magic wand (she found nothing.) Well, the first thing that happened was, the guards at the X-ray machine confiscated Kim’s NEW bottle of water. Now it didn’t matter that three days earlier, we’d been passed through with three (Yes I said THREE) bottles of water. Today, however, it was no water allowed (we were told this had been the rules for years, but we knew better.) So, I had to take the water outside, throw it in a trash can about 25 yards from the door and come back through Security and be rescanned. Total elapsed time, 12 minutes.
From Security, we followed the signs to the main exhibit hall and presented our tickets to a volunteer worker. We were directed up a flight of stairs, down a hallway and into a cue, which led us to a door where our tickets were inspected. We were then passed into a room where we had to surrender my backpack and everything electronic; camera, phones, keys with electric door lock fobs, pagers, etc. Anything that transmitted an electrical signal was forfeit and, after surrendering everything contraband, we were given a claim check for our surrendered possessions.
From the “Confiscation Room,” we were sent up an elevator to the House Gallery Hallway. Kim and I were thinking, “Whew, we’ve made it” but we’d celebrated a bit too early. As we rounded the corner into the hallway, we realized there was a sizable line ahead of us. The reason for the line was another metal detector and another security checkpoint. Once again, we took off belts, change, wallets, watches, keys and our one handbag. Through the metal detector again (Oh yeah! It buzzed again), through the magic wand inspection (still nothing) put everything back on again, only to wait in another cue to enter the Gallery.
The Gallery, which overlooks the House Floor, has seating for about 800 people. The Capitol Police, however, in their infinite wisdom, only open up about 200 of the available seats. Consequentially, you have to wait until someone comes out of the Gallery before you can enter. This took about ten more minutes, so finally, after a 47-minute waltz through the Capitol’s version of Homeland Security, we were seated in the Gallery of the U. S. House of Representatives at 12:49 pm.
The scene below us was nothing like we expected. The terms chaos, pandemonium and disorganized all came to mind simultaneously. There was some poor guy standing at the podium, banging with a gavel and trying to call the House to order, but the Representatives pretty much ignored his banging and continued to walk around the floor while laughing, talking loudly, shaking hands and slapping backs. The whole time this was going on, people were standing at the two lecterns on the floor, reading prepared speeches or making comment on the legislation up for discussion. There was such a din from the floor, however, that you couldn’t understand a word being spoken by the people at the lecterns.
The whole floorshow took about three hours. Then, as if a switch had been flipped, everyone began leaving the room without anything being said about adjournment. In less than five minutes, everyone was gone except for 6 congressmen, two court recorders and three people up on the dais, who acted as officers of the House. Between the remaining six, they all got up and spoke puff pieces, recognizing good citizens from their home States, and then they also left. From our vantage point, the entire spectacle didn’t meet our expectations for the law makes of the most powerful nation on earth. Rather, it was closer to an Alabama Mardi Gras street party with lots of good ole’ boys and bull crap, but minus the beads and beer bottles (well…..as far as we could tell.) It was very disappointing.
So, with our visit over, we reversed our path, reclaimed our possessions from the “Confiscation Room,” vacated the Capitol grounds and headed back to the boat. On the way home, we both agreed that, based on our experiences here with the whole political scene, the best thing that could happen to our government, is term limits for all of the members of Congress. Maybe it would stop a lot of the good ole’ boy, self serving, special interest crap and get our Representatives to focus their attention where it really needs to be; on the interests of “we the people.”
By the way, the included pictures are from the internet. You see, you're not allowed to take pictures, read any material, write any notes or make any record of what you see and hear while observing the House in session. 1st Ammendment what???