A Trip To D.C.

This week, I spent a few days in Washington D.C. I was there to attend a conference focused on our country’s ongoing battle to combat mosquitoes – particularly those that carry West Nile Virus, Zika and other nasty diseases. On Sunday, although I wasn’t there to sight see, I had a free afternoon. So, I took the Metro to the Smithsonian stop, walked across the Mall, soaking up the feel of that grand expanse, and then paid a visit to the National Museum of American History.

If you have never been to that particular D.C. museum or haven’t visited it recently, I think you’ll find it interesting. The exhibits, graphic presentations, narrations etc. are quite modern, unlike those dusty old museums from another era. Its three floors vividly cover our nation’s history from pre-Revolution to virtually the present day. The rooms also include displays covering the history of specific facets of our American society such as money, inventions, industry etc.

One aspect of the museum that was especially interesting to me was the choices made in selecting key events to tell America’s story. Whoever made those decisions didn’t shy away from some of the darker moments in our nation’s past. Slavery, unnecessary wars, stripping away of selected citizens’ rights each received varying levels of coverage. However I did feel that the wording of some of the narratives was careful not to upset certain American visitors who remain comfortable living with some level of denial.

Even so, I know that designing a museum’s narrative for presentation to an audience of 320 million assorted Americans is no simple task. You won’t walk out of the Museum of American History with a deep and thoroughly objective knowledge of our nation’s past, but you will come away with a stronger appreciation of the things that have made our United States so remarkable. And if you’re in D.C. with children grade school age or above, I think you’ll all enjoy many of the exhibits the museum has created.

Visiting a place dedicated to presenting America’s unique story was a fitting start for my D.C. conference experience. The next two days offered repeated examples of our country’s diversity and its distinctive approach to operating a complex society with a mix of large and small government, private enterprise, local oversight and volunteerism. It also gave me a taste of how our representative government “of the people, by the people and for the people” is designed to work.

The men and women attending our gathering were from a range of American backgrounds and regions. There were scientists, administrators, industry reps, abatement district workers, and volunteers like me. We were from urban areas, rural farmlands, the western plains, the sub-tropical south. But with all of our varied profiles we were there to focus on one common mission: to protect the public from mosquito borne diseases. As a longtime volunteer on our local mosquito abatement district’s board of trustees I’ve had conversations with mosquito abatement professionals from across the United States. Their widely different perspectives and experiences have been valuable tools in the banking of knowledge aimed at saving lives.

Of course, diversity has always been one of American society’s biggest strengths. In times when we’ve recognized its value and taken advantage of its potential, our country has enjoyed its greatest success. – A gathering like our mosquito confab is one more way I’m reminded of that truth.

During the second day of our D.C. activities our time was spent on Capitol Hill visiting the offices of our Illinois legislators in the U.S. House and Senate. Although most of those legislators were just returning from their districts at the time of our visits, we were able to speak with key members of their staffs.

One of our biggest goals was to present facts encouraging more sufficient funding of the CDC’s (Center for Disease Control) efforts to combat mosquito borne disease at the local level. Especially in emergency cases, such as the recent arrival of Zika in the U.S. that found some local facilities unprepared for immediate action.

The reception we received in each office was respectful and it seemed to me sincerely engaged. As I walked down the long hallways of the congressional office buildings, I passed other Americans of almost every description headed toward their legislators’ offices with their individual petitions. I felt I was witnessing America’s representative government at its theoretical best.

Late today, I came home from my D.C. trip with a reinforced appreciation of the public’s strength in numbers. We have a democratic republic structured to encourage that. I also came home with a reinforced belief that big things can get done if enough individuals, however diverse, work together in pursuit of a common goal. Even if the big thing they’re after is something as tiny as a dead mosquito.

Nels Howard
NTDO member since 1973