Two Days on the Hill

Posted in Family with tags adoption , mireille , travel -

Preamble

I briefly considered titling this “Mr. Grady Goes to Washington,” but I didn’t like it for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t really think of myself as Mr. Grady. And more importantly, I have never really seen the movie, and I hate giving false information.

This is a story about a number of things… Adoption, politics, travel, weather… Hold on to your seats, and grab some NoDoze. This might get boring!

History

If you aren’t familiar with our situation, we’ve been in the process of adopting our daughter, Mireille, from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since April of 2013. In September of that year, the Congolese instituted a suspension on the issuance of exit permits, a document that must accompany any person seeking to leave the Congo. Their suspension was reported to last up to 12 months while they reviewed their internal processes surrounding adoption. That suspension remains in effect today, two and a half years later.

During the suspension, the Congolese court system continued to issue adoption decrees. We received ours on October 10, 2013 (two weeks after the suspension went into effect), and many, many more families ended up in the same spot. Stuck. At one point there were, anecdotally, somewhere around 2000 cases that were suspended to families world-wide, 1000 of which were US bound cases. Today there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 cases bound for the US that continue to be stuck. If you want to know what happened to the others, you will need to buy me a beer sometime.

After the year long suspension came and went with no activity and no timeline or indication that it would be lifted, a group of parents decided that enough was enough. These early trailblazers began interacting with Congress immediately. A group of parents along with an advocacy group made a trip to the hill and implored our government to intervene in specific ways. That trip brought awareness to the situation, but little could be done as it was a tricky from an international relations perspective. With so many things going on in the world, this seemed a minor blip that would likely resolve itself in the course of time.

The State Department has been involved from the very beginning. Early on they were somewhat less active, but as the crisis continued, they engaged more and more, though their hands were somewhat tied. They had no power to directly affect the Congolese government - they could really only make recommendations to Congress and ensure that a constant diplomatic cadence was followed.

As the months turned to years, the parents that initially began talking with Congress continued. Without relent. Jenny and I joined their voices last fall after moving to Colorado. At that point it had been 2 years with very little movement…

Last March, President Barack Obama himself was having a direct dialog with President Joseph Kabila, the DRC’s democratically elected president. Mr. Kabila is coming up on the end of his second elected term in office. By Congolese law spelled out in their very young constitution, he is required to step down. As is the fashion with modern day Central African Presidents, it appears that Mr. Kabila really doesn’t want to abide by this law. This is, of course, all conjecture, but it seems pretty widely accepted by the International community as what is going on. I don’t really know the content of the call from our president to theirs, but I can only imagine it had something to do with “hey, make sure you do what your constitution says you should do, that would make you look really cool.” What we did hear, though, is that at the end of the call, President Obama mentioned the adoption issue very directly. Very shortly after that, things began to (finally) move in a positive direction.

In April, the Congolese announced that they had formed a commission to review the stuck cases and would sort them into lists, the group of cases that were complete and legal and could be issued exit letters, a group of cases that had “minor anomalies,” like missing signatures or paperwork, and a third group where they deemed some sort of fraud may be involved. They committed to having those three lists completed and have the first list mobilized by the end of summer.

Summer here came and went. I guess I don’t know when summer is in the Congo - they are fairly equatorial, but by the end of summer, nothing had transpired.

The two year anniversary came and went, and rumors flew around. But the group of parents continued to persist with the government. In November, the Congolese finally released a list. This one included 69 cases on it across the world, 13 of which were US bound cases. Those children were (eventually) issued exit letters and are now all home. But shortly after that list was released, the Congolese informed everybody that the commission was shut down and they wouldn’t be reviewing any more cases.

Rumors, again, flew around. Some said that they reviewed all 1000+ cases and only 69 passed muster. That was a rough rumor. The other rumor that I believe has been substantiated, and is the one I like to believe, is that they reviewed 100 cases, and of those 100, 69 passed muster. One way or the other, no more children were being allowed to leave legally.

In January, a group of Congressmen led by Wisconsin Representative Reid Ribble and the Chairmen of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, California Representative Ed Royce, along with five other Congressmen and their staff, embarked on what apparently is called a CoDel, a Congressional Delegation to Kinshasa, the capital city of the DRC, to discuss this issue and this issue only with their government officials.

Whatever happened during that trip, it suddenly became clear that the Congolese had hit their breaking point and they swiftly reinstated the commission to continue reviewing cases.

Last Friday, on February 19, 2016, they released their first list of approved cases bound to US families. The list included 159 children. 210 children remain unexplained and undocumented on any released list.

Why DC?

As I’ve mentioned, there was a largish group of very dedicated parents that have been in constant contact with Senators and Representatives from the very start. This trip was planned by them along with an advocacy group, Love Grows Kids, and some very capable and passionate lawyers who have been assisting on organizing our thoughts, giving them legal credence, and just giving general, overall support in an otherwise excruciatingly tough time.

Given the history, 2.5 years waiting, and the several starts and stops (I will post some of our materials shortly), some folks decided that it was time to get in front of our Representatives and Senators and make sure this issue was still on their radar.

Some very capable parent advocates along with the fine attorneys at Love Grows Kids put together some packets, then organized a group of some 80 parents to converge on Washington DC on February 23 and 24 to meet with our government on the hill.

All families were encouraged to reach out to their representatives and to schedule meetings with the Congressmen themselves, ideally, or with their staffers, minimally. I reached out to the three CO staffers with whom I’ve been communicating for the last six months and coordinated the meetings, and other parents did the same.

We were then separated into groups and paired up with other families and a facilitator from LGK and the schedules were built.

Clearly this adventure started well before the actual trip. The remainder of this story revolves around the tactical meetings themselves. I may someday post more about my personal feelings and our experiences with this whole ordeal, but this is already getting REALLY LONG, so I’m going to try to focus.

Denver International Airport, CO - 2016.02.22, 9:15 AM

This trip made me nervous. I haven’t really been that involved with other parents in our situation. Jenny has handled the social media aspect of this over the last several years, so the introvert in me was terrified of going and meeting with a bunch of people that I’ve never met before and spending two days with them.

But - it made sense for me to do it. Jenny handles most of the boys’ schedules and my cousin lives very near where the meetings were, and I generally don’t mind flying while Jenny isn’t so keen on it - so I did my familial duty and got on the plane.

I had an indication that I may have luck as evidenced by the fact that they had Pepsi Max in the sundry market at the airport!

Pepsi Max!

Maybe you don’t know why that might be lucky, but in my experience, it’s difficult to come by Pepsi Max in 20 oz single-serve bottles outside of convenience stores, and even those are hit or miss. For goodness sake, 7-11 doesn’t even have it!!! So when I saw that, for some reason, I had an idea that things were going to be OK.

Reagan National Airport, Washington DC - 2016.02.22, 4:45 PM

The flight was nothing exciting. We left a little late, but made up some time in the air. All told I was about 30 minutes late in landing at Reagan National Airport in DC at 4:45 local time. Since it was rush hour, and my cousin and her husband work, the plan was to hop on the Metro with my luggage and meander my way somewhere near their place. I was a little nervous about riding with a bug suitcase, but it was extraordinarily easy to navigate the Metro after having experience on several other occasions and having done some studying prior to getting there. I even had to change trains, and it still only took me 20 minutes to get to the Eastern Market station where I would get out and walk the rest of the way.

At the Metro outside of Reagan National

Upon exiting the subway station, I was immediately reminded of just how big an area this was! There was a five piece jazz band performing at the top of the stairway, in the rain, and they were excellent! Even going through the subway reminded me of just the massive number of people who lived and worked here. Any time I think Denver is a big city I need to remember what a real big city looks like… Denver’s kind of a medium sized city…

After a short walk towards Elaine and Alan’s house, I found out that Alan was waiting for me back at the subway station and that our lines of communication had not worked in our favor. I texted and made him aware of my location and he managed to find me along the roadside and drove me the rest of the way to their house.

My gracious hosts cooked a delicious supper for us and also invited my other DC area cousin, Molly and her new boyfriend Adam to spend the evening with us. It went by in a blur, but it was really nice to have some time to catch up with everybody and to learn a new way to play Pokemon from Elaine’s 10 year old son.

Day 1

Starbucks on Pennsylvania Ave, Washington DC - 2016.02.23, 8:30 AM

I awoke and made myself ready for my first day as a quasi-lobbyist. As I headed outside to Starbucks, I was greeted with an all too familiar site for me when it comes to DC - it was raining! The last time I was out here for fall break vacation a couple of years ago, it rained constantly the entire time we were there - oh, and the government was shut down, so we didn’t really even get to do any of the cool free museums or anything. Not our best trip.

Rain in DC - look familiar!??

I headed out on foot to walk the mile or so to the Starbucks where we were to meet. I really enjoy walking around cities, a theme you will no doubt see unfold as this essay moves along. DC is a particularly cool place to walk. The old buildings, the grandiose architecture, the marble… It is truly a spectacle. I imagined to myself the thought process around designing this city and these buildings, clearly meant to strike fear or awe in all those that visit. I was certainly awe-struck…

After my walk I arrived at Starbucks about 30 minutes prior to the arranged meeting time with my group. It was a small Starbucks about 2 blocks from the House of Representatives Office Building where we were to spend our day meeting with members of Congress. It would have likely been easy to spot the people in my group, but the introvert in me had me huddle up on my own with a breakfast sandwich and a chai tea and go through e-mails until the last possible minute.

By 9:00, though, introvert or not, I am schedule oriented, and I wasn’t going to be late, so I gathered my stuff and headed into the main part of the shop to meet up with my new friends.

My group

Being there were originally 80 some people that were scheduled to take part in this exercise, the organizers decided it would be best to split them into groups. All told, the final number was somewhere closer to 50 people, but still a good show of force.

As I gathered my rain coat, laptop bag, chai tea, and umbrella, I rounded the corner into the main seating area to try to figure out who I was meeting. Luckily one of the moms that joined us, Heidi, is someone that Jenny and I had already met. Heidi is actually from Colorado, in fact she and her husband live in Aurora only about 5 miles from where we live…

She was sitting with Shannon, a woman from Illinois. Both were still waiting, just like we were. After a few minutes, Amy, from California, and Krysta joined us. Krysta is from the Seattle area and had actually already brought kids home from the DRC from a prior list. The fact that she was joining us in DC even after this issue was resolved for her family spoke volumes about the caliber of people I was dealing with here. Not to get too much into her story, but she was fairly amazing in the fact that she had relocated to the DRC to live with her children there, even living in a group home with them for a long period of time. All told she lived there for almost 2 years before they allowed her to bring her family home to finally live with their father and US siblings…

Group 1!

After some pleasantries, we went over our general plan of action when we were in the meetings, then headed out through the rain to the House Office Buildings where we met our facilitator, Chad from the aforementioned Love Grows Children group, then ultimately to our first meeting of the day.

Our asks

Though I don’t feel it would be appropriate to go into details for fear it could be used against us ultimately, I will state that we had three clearly defined asks of the government. Our lawyers did an excellent job of outlining the legal frameworks that made the asks reasonable, even if they were unprecedented. They were also framed in such a way that they were difficult to disagree with. With the recent developments, the last thing we want to happen is for the current successes to be jeopardized because of rash action. However, we also can’t get through this period of relative progress only to find that we are again stuck and with no new ideas or options for our next move.

The announcement of the 159 cases being given permission to obtain an exit letter came after the trips had already been planned. It didn’t really soften the dialog, however. In fact, it may have strengthened it as it played along very nicely historically with how these things have unfolded in the past two and a half years.

Washington Representatives

Outside our first meeting

Our first meeting was with two staffers from Congressman David Reichert and one other Congressman’s office. They were both relatively knowledgable about the subject already, so there was less in the line of education and more in the line of humanizing the issue. Each of the prospective parents gave their story. Many tears were shed. I went last, after Krysta, who is a Washington resident, and who is an amazing speaker - very well spoken, very driven, and having very clear goals and a good way to get to those results. I would quickly learn that I shouldn’t go after her in subsequent meetings!

Vowing not to tear up, I failed in every aspect at this meeting. There’s something to talking about this topic among a group of people for the first time, particularly this group of people. Well, I am not too big a man to admit that I cried like a little baby while fumbling through my story. I wish I could say I thought it was effective, but I think I rambled so much that the impact it might have otherwise had was lost. That and I think the staffers thought me to be a big sissy boy…

The main thing that struck me was how well spoken these women in my group really were. I was somewhat ill prepared, both on an emotional as well as an educational level. It would take me another day to rectify that, but I came back much stronger the second day!

New Hampshire

Next up was a Congressman from New Hampshire - actually a Congresswoman, but I can’t recall the name off hand. She wasn’t able to meet with us and we were given a very young, good looking staffer to talk with. He listened well enough, but clearly didn’t have a lot of interest in the topic. We moved on.

Lunch

Lunch was in the House Cafeteria in the Longworth House Office Building. It was crazy in there! Tons of people from Congressmen to staffers to other people just like us who were there to meet with their representatives. There was a particularly large contingent of Veterans from the American Legion present.

The House Lunchroom

I thought lunch was very reasonably priced, and they again had Pepsi Max! My luck was continuing!!!

I found myself wishing that I had studied my House of Representatives Trading Cards before the trip. I could only imagine that there were a bunch of quasi-famous people there, and I had no idea who they were…

Colorado

Heidi and I outside Congressman Coffman's Office

Next was Colorado’s turn. We were encouraged that we were actually going to get to meet with the Congressmam himself, a first for our group today.

I had been in contact with Mike Coffman’s office for many months, and had even met with one of his state staffers on one occasion. I was pleased to find out that his DC staffer was well aware of the situation. Actually we had recently been made aware of the office’s efforts to pen a letter to the DRC’s Ambassador in DC on our behalf (both us and Heidi).

The meetings went very well. We started with Jason, a staffer that reminded me a lot of Joe, my brother Brett’s brother-in-law (can you follow that?). Very nice guy and very empathetic. Shortly after the meeting started, though, the Congressman stopped in and took over the conversation in his own way. From that point on, the conversation took on its own life, much different than that of the other meetings we had. Mr. Coffman asked a lot of good questions, and had some interesting ideas that we hadn’t even considered.

After about 10 minutes, though, his scheduler came in and said he had about 30 seconds to wrap this up before he had to go meet with somebody else. We thought she said it was an HVAC meeting… I suppose it’s important to heat the office buildings…

Halfway through this meeting, a documentary crew showed up and started inserting themselves into the meeting. At one point they pointed a camera at each of us and asked if it was OK to film us for their documentary, and they wanted us to say our names and agree on camera. Most people said it was OK, but I stopped them and asked what it was they were really doing, what their position would be, and that I was uncomfortable how they might use the things we said out of context to spell out a different story than what we were hoping to convey. I’ve heard horror stories, and have seen a lot of good documentaries that edit and stitch information together in such a way as to imply things that may otherwise not be true, or at least require more context around them to convey the nuance of the situation. So I said no… That seemed to sway my teammates who also retracted their agreement. The crew spent about 20 minutes trying to sell us on the idea, but were ultimately frustrated and left to film another more willing group. Perhaps I’ve lost my chance at my 15 minutes…

Eliot Engel

On our way to our next meeting with Illinois Congressmen Lahood, one of the women in our group recognized Congressman Eliot Engel from New York who was part of the Congressional Delegation to DRC mentioned above. I believe he is the minority chair of the Committee of Foreign Affairs, but don’t quote me on that - sharpen your Google-fu and fact check me here as I’m getting way too long winded to check myself right now.

Anyway, we barged right into his office, said thank you to him, then chatted informally with him for a couple of minutes. We left after a couple of photos and handshakes and went on our way. It’s sort of amazing how approachable our government is, honestly. This guy had no reason to meet with us, could have blown us off (like Jim Sensenbrenner did to our Cub Scout pack several years ago, but we’ll get into that another time), but he didn’t. He, and others like him made time and listened. It was very refreshing, honestly.

Illinois

Congressman Lahood's Office - Brewery In His District!

Next up was Congressman Lahood from Illinois. He was newly appointed to office after his predecessor had to resign for various reasons, so this was mainly an educational meeting to get him up to speed. I was starting to see a trend in these people that we had met with, the Congressmen themselves, anyway. They seemed to line up along a couple of types: the Napoleon, the Adonis, and the Thespian. I’m sure the best ones aligned along two of these axes. This guy was definitely in The Adonis category, very tall, very good looking. He listened well enough, and made reference to some legislation he had been involved with in Illinois that helped to make completion of adoptions easier in that state, but otherwise I think we accomplished very little in this meeting.

California

The last meeting of the day was with Congressman Vargas’ office from California. We started the meeting with two of his staffers, very capable and empathetic young people, one of which was clearly foreign born, but a “Fellow,” which is a big deal somehow and I need to look it up.

Amy was leading this conversation as it was her district, and the meetings were going fine, but pretty formal, until Congressman Vargas joined the meeting. He identified with the Adonis and Thespian axes very effectively, very tall, very enthusiastic, and immediately took over the room. He sat backwards on a chair right next to Amy, looked her directly in the eyes, and engaged her in a way that the entire room was immediately drawn to.

Throughout the conversation, he was very agreeable to our asks and even led us to believe that his office would lead the charge on one of them, one of the more elusive asks that we didn’t think we were going to get any traction on at all. He also relayed a story of how he used to run an orphanage in El Salvador when he was an aspiring priest sometime before he started his political career. He was a very charismatic person, and if he announced he was running for president today, I would vote for him without knowing another thing about him.

Candlelight Vigil and Evening Wind-down

The day ended with a candlelight vigil, a thought I dreaded. We were all supposed to bring posters of our kids. We printed out a 16x20 picture of Mireille, but I needed to mount it on something so it wouldn’t roll up, so I booked it to Fedex Office, which looked close, but turned out to be about 1.5 miles away! I really had to book it to get back to the Vigil in time, and my dogs were barking afterwards!

Vigil near the Capital

The Vigil was fine. It was sad, of course. They read off a list of around 100 children who were still stuck. They then did a little thing with two families who were matched with kids thad had died while waiting. That was very sad indeed.

More People at the Vigil

It was cold and rainy, which moved us with more purpose to get done with the vigil and on to the Capital City Brewery for supper. Around 25 people met up there for beers and burgers. It was a nice way to wind down and to meet a few new people who I hadn’t met up to that point.

After supper, I decided to walk back to Elaine’s, which was 2 miles away. I considered √úbering at a couple of points, but didn’t find a good opportunity. I really do like walking in the city, and this was no exception, though I’m sure it was a dumb thing to do on many levels. Some of the areas I walked through were very isolated, and skirted on areas where muggings and attacks had recently occurred, but in the end it went fine - nobody hassled me.

On My Way Back to Elaine's

When I finally took my shoes off, I checked my steps for the day - almost 17,000! I made a mental note to tell Quinton. Our record is 22,000 which we did at Disney the spring before, but he would be happy to hear about getting almost there.

Day 2

Senate Cafeteria and pregame

Day 2 started later than day 1. With no meetings until 11:00, we decided to meet at 9:30 in the Senate Cafeteria. It was smaller than the house side, but much nicer. I would have taken a picture, but there were no photos allowed in that area. I’m sure it’s to prevent any sort of malicious plan to taint the food and give the senators diarrhea.

Illinois, Senator Kirk’s Office

After a quick breakfast and some early morning pleasantries, we headed over to the Hart Senate Office building for our first meeting of the day. On our way there we ran into Chad who was talking with the Documentary people. We hustled past him and got to the fifth floor of a beautiful, modern glass office building to meet with staffers from Senator Kirk’s office.

The staffer had a very good relationship with Shannon, who is from Illinois. In fact it sounds like she reaches out to Shannon any time there are rumors to get the real scoop! The meeting was pretty vanilla overall - they really didn’t have much clout to do anything, and were hesitant to even really initiate letters, but were more than happy to participate if somebody else wrote one!

Maybe the most interesting thing about this office was the fact that Senator Kirk was the WHIP. Not knowing what it was, I looked it up, and it was pretty interesting, actually! And, I now understand House of Cards much better!!!

Gardner (the split)

After the first meeting, our group had to split three ways because we had a lot of collisions. Heidi and I went to meet with Senator Gardner’s office of CO. Gardner’s office was one of the first ones I had met with in CO, so I was hopeful that it would be a good conversation. It was an OK conversation, but I was disappointed to find out that the office was not very well versed in the situation at all. Not sure where communication broke down, but it ultimately ended up being an educational meeting with a staffer, Trent. I suppose that is OK, too, since it was a main part of our mission to just keep this issue in play until it ultimately completed with the kids coming home, but still, I was hoping for a little more from Senator Gardner.

Group Meeting with Royce, Ribble, and Mark Meadows

Our next meeting of the day would prove to be the best one from the trip, in my mind. It was a group meeting with Congressmen from the Committee on Foreign Affairs, led by Chairman Ed Royce, Wisconsin Congressmen Ried Ribble, and North Carolina Congressmen Mark Meadows.

The meeting was to be held in the Foreign Affairs meeting rooms, which was on the house side. Our meetings for this day were on the Senate side, however, and with the rain outside, none of us were very enthused to travel outside and going back through security. Luckily there is a tunnel, but due to heightened security, the public typically can’t use it… Unless they are escorted by a member or staffer. As luck would have it, I ran into some people from my group in the hallway who had obtained an escort from an intern (apparently this is just one of the many things they do on the hill). The tunnel was pretty interesting. There was a cart that looked like it was designed by the Walt Disney Company that drove us from the Senate office buildings to the Capital building. Then we had to walk like savages from the Capital to the House office buildings, but it was all done without having to disrobe or go through metal detectors again. We did have to have all of our bags searched again… Oh well.

Once in the house building, I ran into Congressmen Coffman on the elevator. Since he is the first and only Congressmen I recognize, I excitedly engaged him in conversation. He remembered me from the day before and we had a nice, 30 second small-talk conversation about meetings and the like. I didn’t have a chance to ask him how the HVAC meeting went the other day.

The meeting itself was mainly a rah-rah speech from the three Congressmen and some key staffers. Ed Royce (who falls along the Napoleon/Thespian axes) led the meeting and told us about the trip to Kinshasa. Ribble and Meadows did much the same. It’s hard to explain, but it was really a neat feeling to imagine 7 of the 435 elected officials of all the land spending tens of thousands of dollars to travel half-way around the world to talk about an issue that affects around 400 constituents. Surreal, almost.

Royce assured us that all branches of government, including the White House, were receiving regular updates about this situation. Again, geeking out that the Chairman of the Committee of Foreign Affairs and the President talk about my daughter, at least at a summary level. Royce struck me as a professional politician, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in a board room anywhere in corporate America. He clearly was somebody that strove for results before diplomacy, which is likely something this situation was starving for.

At one point he introduced Amy Porter, a senior staffer, and a man named Warku. Amy was apparently instrumental in getting this on the Committee’s plate, and she and Warku traveled to Kinshasa over a year ago to engage the government during the protests. They told the story of how their car window was smashed in with a brick while they were trying to get to their meetings. Sounded scary.

Warku was a large military looking man who spoke briefly about what he was doing. His typical focus is on Counter Terrorism in Sub-Saharan Africa, which sounds so cool! At some point in the last year, however, Royce directed him to focus on this issue alone.

Finally, some wrap-up politics from Chairman Royce - as an aside, it was very evident that he preferred the title Chairman versus Congressman - as he explained his committee’s four top priorities, which he listed in this order:

  1. ISIS
  2. Iran
  3. Syria
  4. The Adoption Crisis in the Congo

There were several compliments from the entire group as to how effective this group of parents has been in keeping this topic warm on the Hill for so long. I was in awe at this point at the people that preceded me in starting this movement and helped to organize what we were doing now. While I think our meetings were effective and necessary, the hard work was done prior to this in getting this on Congress’s plate.

As an aside, I was a little surprised, though I’m sure I shouldn’t be, at how cordial all of these Congressmen were to their peers and to the White House. While it was clear that this was a party issue in this meeting - all three Congressmen were Republicans, there was a definite respect paid to President Obama and his office, as well as to the other Congressmen and Senators involved. Perhaps the media does overblow these things… You think?

Adoption Caucus

Our next meeting was back on the Senate side, though this time we didn’t have access to an intern to guide us underground, so we walked across the Capital lawn back to the Senate side.

The Capital - Under Construction

I honestly only stayed for a couple of minutes as I had another meeting that conflicted, but the basic gist of the meeting was a focus on adoption policy and the people that advocate for it. I was pleased to see staffers from many different offices from both the Senate and House sides. In fact, in talking with some of the staffers earlier in the day, we were alerted that they had never before seen an issue that brought representation from both sides of the Hill to so many briefings as this one. Read-outs from the State Department and the CoDel trip were heavily attended by both sides.

Senate Meeting Room

Senator Bennet

I left everybody else to the Adoption Caucus meeting while Chad and I went down to meet Rocio from Senator Bennet’s office. It has been difficult to get this office engaged from my earlier dealings with them, but I think that was because they were already heavily involved prior to my contacting them. We met with Rocio, who was very well versed in the subject. We didn’t have to do any educating at all and got right to our asks, which she dutifully noted and even said they would be willing to initiate one of them on our behalf.

On as side note, our mode of operation was to have the constituent really lead the meeting, even though Chad was far more qualified and well spoken in almost every case. Since Heidi was going to head to the airport, I was left to field this meeting on my own, and I am happy to report that I maintained my composure, only tearing up one time, and delivered a well structured, easy to follow dialog. I was very pleased with my recovery from the day before!

Washington Senator Maria Cantwell

Our last meeting of the trip was with Washington Senator Cantwell’s office. Most of our group had to leave to catch planes, so it was down to three of us to field this one, even though none of us was a constituent. So Chad took the lead and basically walked them through our asks. This was probably one of the more professional staffer groups we had met with. They were right on top of what we were asking, even guessing it prior to our asking. They were quite efficient, if not super empathetic or emotional. In the end, it was sort of a vanilla meeting, but again, one of the main missions was to keep the topic warm, and I think in that we succeeded.

Decompress

At the end of the day, we wound our way through some lobbyists (who Chad secretly despises) and congregated in the lobby. We bid farewell to Chad and Pete, Chad’s peer. Amy, Shannon, and I went to Union Station for a beer and a burger and to meet up with Sarah from Arkansas, apparently the only family left from Arkansas.

Across from Union Station - the CO Flag!

After saying good-bye and promising to keep in touch, and after allowing a freak, loud thunderstorm to pass overhead, I headed back to Elaine’s, much earlier than the night before to write notes and have a beer with my hosts.

A fitful night of sleep was interrupted at 5:00 AM Eastern (3:00 AM Mountain) so I could make my 7:00 AM flight from Reagan National. The flight back was easy and short, landing a full 45 minutes early because of weaker than normal head-winds.

Jenny picked me up on the curb outside of the luggage claim and my trip was over. I sit here now, back in DC, waiting for my daughter to show up some three short hours from now. If you’ve made it this far in the dialog, congratulations! You are getting a sneak peak at the next chapter of this blog where Mireille finally gets to come to the US. I hesitate to say she gets to come home. It’s not her home. Not yet, anyway. But I will get into those touchy topics in my next post. For now, though, I will say that she was one of the 159 that were granted permission to get exit letters, and she is now on a flight from Brussels to Dulles where I will pick her up and deliver her to her new family in Colorado tomorrow morning! I’m scared out of my wits.

Epilogue

  • I can’t say how amazed and impressed I am with the people that started this and kept it going all these years. Without their efforts, it is likely nothing would have ever happened, and these adoptions may never have gone through. I owe them a huge debt of gratitude.
  • Even though I felt like I did a fine job in my role on the Hill and as an advocate within my state, I was merely a benefactor of other’s very hard work. I was very proud to be a part of that group, but ultimately the credit needs to go to them - and I don’t even know specifically who they are. I think Jenny does, so I will have her thank them for me!
  • Many people mentioned how unusual it was for Congress to be paying so much close attention to this type of issue. Sure, it was an unprecedented issue, but think of all of the hugely complex issues facing our foreign relations today. They complemented on how well organized, how passionate, and how unified we were. I give credit to Kelly and some key individuals from the group who have orchestrated this. Again, I was very much the benefactor of their tireless work.
  • The days on the hill were surreal in a way. Here we were talking to some of the most powerful people in the land, and they were talking to us, doing things on our behalf. It is humbling and, in a very sappy way, makes me proud to be an American citizen. I mean, think about it. Of the 300 million people there are in this country, and all that’s going on in the world with terrorism and WMDs and Donald Trump, our government still took a lot of time and energy to support us, some 400 people. 400 - of 300 Million. That’s pretty remarkable, I think.

As I gush about our government and how proud I am, yada yada, I leave you with this quote that I like that is attributed to Winston Churchill, quoting an unknown third party.

Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

- Winston Churchill, quoting an unknown source

Special Thanks!

  • Elaine, Alan, and their family (John, too) for sharing their house, and for the younger ones for giving up their room for me to use essentially as a hotel for three nights.
  • The team that put this all together. Really incredible.
  • Those that have been involved in this, putting together this movement from the start. This is a real template for how something can get done if you are clear in your ask, united in your efforts, organized, and tireless. This happened not really because of a few people, though their prodding and examples served as an impetus, but because the government was bombarded from all angles, at all times, tirelessly. It was not allowed to die on the vine and was constantly brought up. They, in turn, did the same to the Congo, who appears to finally be ready to have this done with once and for all.
Written by Brandon Grady
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