This is what American Democracy looks like

Alan and Nancy Meyer don’t usually pack up the family in January and go on vacation. But they made an exception this year.

“This was educational enough,” Nancy said of their recent excursion to the East Coast.

Alan, Nancy, Kelsey and Rachael spent a week in Washington D.C. and the nearby historic region. The rural Cedar Bluffs family timed their visit with the presidential inauguration of George W. Bush.

“We wanted to give the kids an educational opportunity,” Nancy said. “This was a historical week and we didn’t know how many more chances there would be to take the kids to an inauguration.”

But it was not a history lesson alone that was on the itinerary. There were also lessons on patriotism and democracy.

It was Thomas Jefferson that said, “Dissent is the purest form of patriotism.” For the Meyers, the trip to Washington D.C.
was an opportunity to demonstrate that you can still love your country even though you disagree with the direction it is being taken in.

“We wanted to lend our voice to let the president know we don’t all agree with his policies. We don’t feel he has a mandate to do whatever he wants,” Alan said.

The Meyers said they found themselves to be among a majority of peaceful demonstrators that lined the inaugural parade route across from the National Archives building.

It was no small task to get to the parade route.
Despite freezing temperatures and bone-chilling winds, they had to wait in line two and a half hours just to get to the security check point.

At the check point, there were separate lines for male and female security frisking. Nancy said that cameras and cell phones were considered highly suspicious. Picture taking in or near the security tent was absolutely prohibited.

Once the Meyers were finally through security, they found a place right up in front against the fence. There, they waited another hour for the parade to begin.

“Security was two and even three deep at times,” Nancy said. The parade route was lined on both sides with two rows of shoulder to shoulder law enforcement. “For a time, there was a third row in full riot gear.”

But the everyday Americans that crowded into the area near Seventh and Pennsylvania showed a quiet patriotism. Nancy said some turned their backs or fingered a salute as the president’s car passed by. Others held up signs that showed their dissent of the president’s policies for such things as health care and military benefits.

Alan held up a sign that stated “War Starts with W.”
He said he was not the only one in the crowd taking exception to the U.S. going to war in Iraq without just cause.

Opposition to the Iraq war set the stage for another activity as well. The day before the inaugural parade, the Meyers helped set up the “Eyes Wide Open” exhibit at the National City Christian Church, located about eight blocks from the parade route.

Nancy said the exhibit focused on the cost of the Iraq War. The event was sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee and involved placing over 1,300 pairs of boots in the church’s pews. Each boot stood for an American solider who had died in the first 18 months of the war. Over 16,000 civilian shoes were also placed along the walls, on the windows and down the aisles; these symbolized the Iraqi men, woman and children killed in the war.

Kelsey and Rachel were given the task of setting up the 17 pairs of boots for Nebraska’s soldiers.

“We thought this was something that would have meaning,” Nancy said. “We wanted an activity that they could take part in, not just something to go and show them. It was something they could become a part of and take ownership in.”

Nancy and Alan both said they explained to Kelsey, age 11, and Rachael, age 8, the reasons to be opposed to the war. They also made sure to explain that it was not the Iraqis that overtook the plane that Nancy’s sister-in-law was in on 9/11.

“I made it clear to the kids that the people who killed their Aunt Lauren on Sept. 11 were not Iraqis, and were not even friends of Saddam and that makes the human cost of this war doubly sad,” Nancy said.

Anti-war exhibits and parade demonstrations were not the only political stops for the Meyers while in the nation’s capital.
They also visited all five offices of Nebraska’s congressional delegates.

In hand with them was a petition signed by 50 area residents supporting the MEDIA (Meaningful Expression of Democracy in America) Act, which is legislation calling on broadcasters to provide balance and diversity in their news coverage.

Alan said they did not get to personally meet any of the senators or representatives, but their staffs were courteous and promised to look into the legislation.

Before leaving the D.C. area, there was also some time for educational sightseeing. The Meyers visited several Smithsonian museums, the Jefferson Memorial, Washington Memorial and Lincoln Memorial

A stop was also made at the National Archives. Alan said one of the more poignant moments was when they looked at the original Bill of Rights. “One of the things I did was to point to the Bill of Rights ? Right here Article One, this is why we could do what we did here.”

The Meyers’ weeklong vacation also included visits to Colonial Williamsburg, Historic Jamestown and President’s Park.

“Our overall mission on this trip was to teach our children about the history of their country ? its founding, its struggles, its principles and its leaders,” Nancy said. “From the Star Spangled Banner to the Eyes Wide Open Exhibit to the Bill of Rights to the Inaugural Parade protests, the message to them was plain: This is what American democracy looks like.”

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