(This is part 9 of the series, for previous episodes, click here)
The US Capitol building is the most widely recognized symbol of the US government. The Capitol is where Congress meets to write the laws that govern the United States. Congress is the foundation of the three branches of the US Federal Government. It shares its powers with the executive branch, led by the president, and the judicial branch, whose highest body is the Supreme Court. As the place where Congress meets, the capitol is the nation’s forum. The Congress consists of the House of Representatives and Senate, two different and equal institutions. The number of voting representatives in the House is 435 and the length of their term is two years. Each State gets its share of the representatives based on its population. The number of senators is 100 and the length of their term is six years. Each state is represented by two Senators.
The original Capitol building was designed by Dr. William Thornton, and the cornerstone was laid by President George Washington on 18th September, 1793. In 1800, the government moved from temporary quarters in Philadelphia to Washington DC. The House occupied its current chamber in 1857 and the Senate moved into its chambers in 1859.
We were scheduled to visit the Capital on 8th November, 2012. As we walked towards the famous dome, with the Library of Congress on one side and the US Supreme Court Building on the other, it felt like walking through the echelons of US history. We entered the building and went to the visitor center, where the tour started. The tour included an introductory movie about the Capitol, visit of the House of Representatives, and later a guided tour of the rotunda. We stood transfixed in the visitors’ gallery of the House of Representatives. I was particularly amazed to see the number of school children roaming different parts of the building. There is no better way to teach history to students than taking them to places where history was made. Such opportunities are rarely available to children in Pakistan. I learned some amazing facts about US history that I had not previously known during the guided tour.
After the visit of Capitol building, we went to US State Department building. The US State Department is basically what we call the Foreign Office in Pakistan. We were greeted there by Mr. Timothy A. Lenderking (Director, Office of Pakistan Affairs) and we talked about our experiences from the trip thus far. A public engagement session was arranged at the Atlantic Council that afternoon, so we returned to our abode after the State Department visit. It was a panel discussion titled “The Role of Youth in Pakistan’s Civil Society.” The panel included four ELP fellows, along with Dr. Fouzia Saeed, and it was moderated by Mr. Shuja Nawaz. The fellows talked about their respective experiences in Pakistan regarding engagement of youth. The session started with individual presentations of the ELP fellows and was followed by a question and answer session with the audience. The audience included distinguished members of US civil society and represented various disciplines of the society.
It was a unique opportunity for the fellows to interact with different people on a public platform and to learn from their perspectives.
After a wonderful public session, we indulged in some team building exercises. It was another hectic-yet fun-day for the fellows on the DC Circuit.