Since I’ve become a Political Science major, my desire to visit Washington, D.C. has increased by monumental (see what I did there?) proportions. It’s always seemed like a really cool, interesting city. Well, guess what? It totally is!
I was contacted by the regional director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby back in May to see if I would like to attend their annual international conference in D.C. They wanted someone to represent my district in Texas and they were willing to cover my plane ticket and hostel. Not only would I get to attend a conference with lots of seminars and workshops that discussed all sorts of environmental topics, but I would also get to lobby on Capitol Hill!
I said yes, and I’m so glad that I did because it was really fun and a great experience. I can’t wait to go back to D.C., and in the meantime, here are some highlights of my trip!
I arrived in D.C. right before dark. It had just rained and was still drizzling when my Uber picked me up. I flew into Dulles International Airport, which is technically in Virginia. I had come from Houston, and before that, a tiny little plane that took off from Harlingen, a small city in the Rio Grande Valley. On the first plane ride, I saw a double rainbow, which I took as a lucky sign! Driving down the highway to D.C., I loved how green it was. Trees everywhere!
Within a couple days of being there, I would realize just how small D.C. actually is, but it’s made up of several little neighborhoods. The one I stayed in is called Adams Morgan, located in the northwest part of the city. Before I arrived that day, they had just had their Pride parade, and there were still remnants of the festivities that went on.
I lugged my bags up the staircase of the HighRoad Hostel and found my room, which I was sharing with three other conference goers from out of state. They weren’t in the room, and I was starving, so I decided to take an Uber to a vegan restaurant I had found while researching the neighborhood beforehand.
I made it to NuVegan Cafe not long before they closed for the day, so they were kind of wiped out on food, but I was just happy to be eating delicious vegan food in D.C.! NuVegan serves soul food in their three locations (D.C., Maryland, and Viriginia) and is family owned. You can order off the menu or choose from the prepared food that is more cafeteria-style. That’s what I did. I decided on their drummies (vegan chicken drumsticks, their most popular “meat” option) with potato salad and mac & cheese. It was excellent, especially the drummies and mac & cheese!
It was really cool because there was definitely a community atmosphere. I could tell some of the customers there were regulars, or friends of the establishment, including one man who wasn’t vegan. People were still coming and going after the official close time and the music continued to play, contributing to the relaxed atmosphere. Next time I find my way back to D.C., I’ll definitely be making a trip back to NuVegan. They have tons of items on their menu, like barbecue roast, vegan fried steak, crab cake sandwich, a slew of comfort food side dishes, baked goods, as well as healthier options like salads and fresh squeezed juices. Yum!
The reason so many conference goers stay at the HighRoad is because it’s not super expensive and is an enjoyable 15 minute walk to the hotel that houses the Citizens’ Climate Lobby Conference. I was shown a back route by one of the conference goers that took us through the historic Kalorama Triangle, which is made up of the most colorful, diverse, adorable houses ever ? Apparently the neighboring Sheridan-Kalorama district is where all the ritzy people in D.C. live, including the Obamas post-White House and the CEO of Amazon.
On my way out of the neighborhood, I walked through a teensy little garden that contained some really beautiful flowers. It was early morning, still foggy out, and the flowers had morning dew stuck to their petals.
There’s a lot of bridges in D.C., thanks to the creeks that stem off from the Potomac River. After crossing Rock Creek I found myself on the edges of the Lanier Heights and Woodley Park districts.
When I stepped inside the Omni Shoreham Hotel for the first day of the conference, I felt like I was in a city in itself. The hotel was huge! The lobby alone was the size of a small hotel. There was so much hustle and bustle, conference goers, business people, families, groups, employees everywhere. There was basically an entire wing of the hotel dedicated to our conference. As I walked to the restroom (which was bigger than my entire house), I saw people lined up in front of the hotel’s cafe to purchase coffee, pastries, sandwiches, newspapers. Across from it was the gift shop.
I went through the restaurant and out to the back patio to meet with one of my lobby groups. I was beginning to see why this historic hotel has been used for every presidential inaugural ball since Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The first day of the conference they were set up for a wedding in the back garden area, and the next day were the remnants, including lots of beautiful flower petals. The garden backs up to the edge of Rock Creek, with a couple of scenic overlooks that look out into a forest of trees.
The conference was massive. I had no idea so many people would be there. I think the total tally was somewhere between 1200-1400 attendees! I was a little worried that I would be one of the only younger people there, because from my previous experience with CCL, the groups were made up mostly of older and retired people. However, there were many people there that were college aged and younger. Upon signing in at the conference, I was given a big crossbody bag with the CCL logo, and inside was a folder with the itinerary and other important info, a CCL pen, and a Clif Bar. It was the new Clif Nut Filled Energy Bar in Coconut and Almond Butter – it was sooo good!
If you’re not familiar with Citizens’ Climate Lobby, here’s a post I wrote about them last summer. After the opening remarks of the conference, there were dozens of workshops that attendees could choose from. Since I was a newbie, I took the Climate Advocate Training which is CCL’s basic training to prepare new volunteers for lobbying. Other workshops covered grasstops outreach, social media, tabling, leadership, engaging chapter members, the future of energy, working with Congressional offices, and more.
During the lunch break, I walked across the street and found a veggie burger and fries at a restaurant called Woodley Park. It definitely wasn’t the best veggie burger I ever had ? but I needed something quick and vegan before returning to the conference. In the afternoon we all broke out into groups by region. I got to meet with other CCL advocates from the “Third Coast” – Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. From there, I broke off with other first time lobbyists to talk about what to expect when lobbying on Capitol Hill.
When the conference ended for the day, I still had some daylight left, so I decided to walk around the Adams Morgan neighborhood and explore. I went across the street from my hostel to Rise Bakery, which is a gluten free bakery, and got a bagel with vegan cream cheese. Down the street is Idle Time Books, which has been around since 1981, and specializes in used and out-of-print books. It’s a cozy little bookstore! The photo above was taken from their second floor reading nook.
After book browsing, I turned the corner onto Columbia Road, and walking around, I noticed several “How To Go Vegan” guides located in newspaper bins, free for people to take. I also spotted lots of recycling bins on the streets. Seeing both of these excited me very much! On my way back to the hostel, I stopped by Mellow Mushroom, the pizza chain, and for dinner I ordered their Holy Shiitake Pie with vegan cheese.
Day 2 of the conference! In the mornings, I would go downstairs to the hostel’s kitchen and have coffee, instant oatmeal, and sometimes make banana toast. It wasn’t very filling, but since I had to be at the conference early in the morning, it was quick and easy.
We had opening remarks with Marshall Saunders, the founder of CCL, followed by a keynote panel that included James Hansen (who received the Voice for the Earth Award from CCL beforehand), who testified before Congress back in 1988 about the extreme threats posed by climate change.
For lunch, I went across the street to a Mediterranean cafe with one of the lobby group leaders. I ordered a falafel wrap, which was huge (!) and absolutely delicious, and it also came with fries. I threw my leftovers in a to-go box and hurried back to the hostel to regroup. Although I really wanted to attend the afternoon conference sessions, I also wanted a chance to explore the sights of D.C., and this was my only chance! So I hopped on a bus and headed through downtown and straight for the National Mall.
After stepping off the bus, it took me a few minutes to get going in the right direction because I got off a little too early. The first major monument I saw was the National Archives Building. It was really gloomy out, which was kind of disappointing, but on the good side that meant it wasn’t super hot. Considering that the National Mall and the surrounding monuments are quite stretched out and require lots of walking, I was totally fine with that!
I passed several museums, which were quite crowded. The only one I went into was the National Museum of American History. I got a tip beforehand that the museums are good places to find unique souvenirs, and oftentimes they are rather inexpensive. I went straight to the gift shop and found a desk calendar for my friend (who was pet sitting for me), as well as a pair of earrings with the famous Rosie the Riveter image on them for myself (which I get compliments on every time I wear them!). If I remember correctly, I spent less than ten bucks total. I had also purchased an inexpensive magnet of the Bill of Rights at the Omni Shoreham gift shop.
From there, I walked past the Washington Monument and on to the World War II Monument, which was divided into two sides – Atlantic and Pacific. It’s a fairly new monument, open to the public since 2004, that honors the people that served in WWII, including the more than 400,000 who died.
Walking around the back of the WWII monument, I was at the far end of the Lincoln Reflecting Pool, with the Lincoln Memorial looming in the background. I took the stroll down along the pool and reach the bottom of the crowded steps to the Lincoln Memorial. It was pretty surreal. It was odd to see such famous monuments in person, after seeing images of them on television and in books my whole life. Next time I come back to D.C., I want to visit the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool in the evening, which I’ve been told is quite beautiful.
Before leaving the Lincoln Memorial, I paused at the top of the steps to take this photo and try to imagine what it must have been like back in 1963 when Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I have a dream” speech there. But there was still lots more to see! So I went down the steps and to my right to find the Potomac River.
The Potomac River was really pretty! I walked onto the bridge overlooking it. Arlington National Cemetery and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial were on the other side, but the sign said they were a mile away, and I knew I didn’t have the time or energy to make it. Next time!
I think my favorite part (aside from the Lincoln Memorial because that was pretty cool) was the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Not because it was fun – it was actually quite eerie – but because it was so beautiful and realistic.
On my way out of the National Mall, I passed through the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It made me sad that there were so many war memorials, because it’s a reminder of how many millions of people have died fighting in wars.
I ended up coming up the back side of the White House on the South Lawn, which felt much more secluded. On my right was the National Christmas Tree, looking very plain, but with a nice view of the Washington Monument in the background. I came around 15th Street and passed the Treasury Department, where I saw large groups being given tours. I turned again and found myself at the front of the White House, which looked way different than I expected it to in person!
There were a bunch of school groups there, and when they left, protestors arrived. Then there were the “regulars,” who were anti-war, anti-president, anti-something or other and had tents set up, holding posters, chanting, and selling items. There was non-stop action in front of the White House, and I got the sense that’s how it always is.
I wandered around downtown trying to find the right bus stop. My feet were so sore after walking all afternoon, so I was happy when Bus 42 showed up and I could sit down for a while! I sat near the front since I wasn’t quite sure what stop was mine. The bus driver was really nice and during a stop light, he pointed out an albino squirrel that was standing in the grass outside the bus window!
When I got back to Adams Morgan, I took my things to the hostel and decided to grab dinner at the sushi shop next door called Wok & Roll. I looked up their menu ahead of time to make sure they had vegan options, and they did! It was a cute little restaurant that you walk downstairs into. They seated me at the front window so I could look up at the street, which was getting busy with evening passersby. I ended up getting the soup and veggie sushi combo, which contained three different sushi rolls – cucumber, avocado, and asparagus. It was all delicious, plus, I’d never had asparagus rolls before!
Lobby Day on Capitol Hill
I love these photos I took of the Capitol the next morning. We arrived at 8 am sharp so we could take a group photo for the CCL conference. The gloomy skies had cleared up and I could tell it was going to be a beautiful day. The Capitol was pretty deserted, but I knew it would soon be full of tourists and Capitol Hill employees.
After the photo, I walked over to the nearby Dirksen Building to attend Coffee with Ted Cruz with some of the other CCL lobbyists from Texas. Once I got inside the building, I got so lost trying to find the right room! I finally found it, and not knowing what to expect, I grabbed some coffee and sat down with the other conference goers. Several minutes later, an employee asked us to line up for the group photo. They placed us near the back wall, standing sideways, while people from other groups waited their turn. Then Ted Cruz showed up; he’s the current Texas senator and was also a Republican nominee for president during the 2016 election. We each introduced ourselves and shook his hand, and we explained that we were members of CCL, what we do, and that we’d be lobbying on Capitol Hill all day advocating for climate change policy. He stood in the center of our group and they took a photo and that was it. Apparently we are supposed to get a copy of the photo, but we haven’t received one yet!
After that, I was ready to do some more exploring. I didn’t have another appointment until noon, so I took off my heels and put on my Converse sneakers!
My first stop was the Supreme Court, which was right across from the front of the Capitol. You aren’t allowed to walk up the stairs, you have to enter on the side and first go through security (which is the protocol for all the buildings on Capitol Hill). The first floor has a museum and gift shop (where I bought a cute little wooden gavel key chain) and even a cafe. There’s also two self-supporting spiral staircases made of marble. They are closed to the public, but one is available to view. I got dizzy just looking at it!
Upstairs is a big room with that leads to the main courtroom, which is where the Supreme Court hears cases. I got there just in time to get in line for a free information session. We got to sit in the courtroom while a tour guide explained how the proceedings work, she talked about the Supreme Court justices, some of the history, and answered questions. It was pretty cool for me, because as both a Political Science major and Criminal Justice minor, I have had to study some famous Supreme Court cases for school. Plus, I ended up seeing the documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg not long after my trip to D.C. ?⚖️
Next up was the Library of Congress, which was very ornate and grand inside. There was a lot going on with the interior design, and although beautiful, it was a little distracting and even slightly overwhelming. However, I did enjoy seeing the actual library, which the public can view from the second floor. After that, I walked back towards the Capitol to snap a few more photos, and I also got a better view of the Supreme Court.
I met my first lobby group in the basement cafeteria of the Longworth Building. It was packed! It was like a mini food court for government employees and tourists alike. I got a black bean burger and fries and ate while my lobby leader went over the game plan. We were each assigned a different role, like note-taker, timekeeper, etc. We were going to be speaking with a staff member for Representative Vicente Gonzalez, who I’m a constituent of. I think this was the third year that CCL had gone to lobby his office, and they were slowly warming to the idea of supporting carbon fee & dividend, although they still had reservations. Once we were in his office, I introduced myself, but other than that, I mostly listened to the experienced lobbyists to see how they went about it. It was very interesting and exciting!
Next stop was back down to the cafeteria to meet with my lobby group for Representative Filemon Vela (of Brownsville, which is a city about an hour away from where I live). This time, we actually stood out in the hall and spoke with his staff member, who was very friendly. I spoke up a little bit more, and my duty was to prepare a thank you card for all of us to sign and give to the staff member.
My final stop was Representative Gene Green’s office, who represents a district in the Houston area. Even though we met in Mr. Green’s office, it was with his staff member, who supports the carbon fee & dividend. Unfortunately, Gene Green’s term is almost up, but the person who is most likely taking his place is very supportive of it as well.
By this point, I was suuuuper exhausted! We walked back through the Capitol grounds, but they wouldn’t let us walk up near the Capitol because a motorcade was about to come through. Sure enough, a couple of moments later, it did. We wondered if it was the President!
One of the lobbyists was nice enough to let me stay at her house in Virginia that night because it was much closer to the airport than my hostel, and I had a 6 am flight. We walked to Union Station, which was a few minutes away from the Capitol, and ate an early dinner. I had a mushroom burger with fries, which was okay, but I wished that I had gotten food from the Mediterranean restaurant there instead. It looked much healthier! We took the bus back to my hostel so I could grab all of my things, and then we lugged it all several blocks to the metro station (going down the massive escalator underground reminded me of taking the subway when I lived in Beijing).
It was about a 45 minute ride, with one transfer in between. Once we got to her house in Virginia, we drank some tea and then I went to bed. I couldn’t wait to get back home to Texas to my comfy bed and my foster animals!
My three and a half days in Washington, D.C. were a whirlwind, but it was a great experience and I’m glad I had the opportunity to go. I can’t wait to go back someday because there is so much more to see and do! And I would definitely like another chance to lobby on Capitol Hill again. Not to mention, a pretty good amount of vegan options in D.C. I liken the city to New York, but smaller and with less smelly streets lol. It’s a very diverse, unique place, containing lots of rich history, and I recommend you go if you get the chance.