Washington Ireland Program http://wiprogram.org For Service and Leadership Wed, 21 Feb 2018 15:31:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.4 91693167 Protected: Norman Tribute http://wiprogram.org/norman-tribute/ http://wiprogram.org/norman-tribute/#respond Tue, 31 Oct 2017 12:58:47 +0000 http://wiprogram.org/?p=30765

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Applications for WIP Class of 2018 launching soon http://wiprogram.org/wip18-launchingsoon/ http://wiprogram.org/wip18-launchingsoon/#respond Thu, 05 Oct 2017 09:42:14 +0000 http://wiprogram.org/?p=29954

Applications for the WIP Class are now open – please see this site for more information

This year, for the first time, we will be placing students in New York as well as Washington DC as part of the program.

If you would like to receive an update when the Application Form is launched, please complete of Expression of Interest Form below.
(If you have issues viewing the form, it is also available via this link)

Also, please do review the feedback we provided to applicants who weren’t shortlisted in 2017 here.

 

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Celtic Cup 2017 http://wiprogram.org/celtic-cup-2017/ http://wiprogram.org/celtic-cup-2017/#respond Tue, 19 Sep 2017 17:03:06 +0000 http://wiprogram.org/?p=29826

***Photos available on the Celtic Cup Flickr Page***

 

12th Annual Celtic Cup

The 12th Annual Celtic Cup was held on September 11th at the Ernie Els designed Whiskey Creek Golf Club in Ijamsville, MD.

The day began with a moment of silence, led by Wounded Warrior Charles Eggleston, to honor those who lost their lives 16 years ago on 9/11 . We were delighted to have Board Chairman Jim Carroll and the new Irish Ambassador Dan Mulhall each say a few words of welcome before the start of the tournament.

18 teams of four completed a course that is designed to test a golfer’s ability to balance risk and reward with obstacles such as water elements, rock outcroppings, stone walls, and significant elevation changes.  

The post-tournament reception was emceed by Executive Director Bryan Patten and included words of praise for the Irish American community from Ambassador Mulhall, a live raffle, and the presentation of awards.

Ambassador Mulhall presented awards to our top three placing teams for the 2017 Celtic Cup:

-In Third Place: Lenore Martinez, Dan McNamara, Andy Mekelburg, and Frank Cantrel, Jr.

-In Second Place, the returning champions from last year: Mike Collins, Dave Adler, Brian Zumwalt, and Chris Herndon

-To round out the top three, in First Place, the team from the Northern Ireland Bureau: Terry Blanton, Ed Tafoya, Ty Herriot, and Kent Hagen

Congratulations to all the teams that completed the challenging course at Whiskey Creek!

Over its 12 years the Celtic Cup has raised over $750,000 for the Washington Ireland Program, and this event would not be possible without the support of our sponsors. Many thanks to all involved in creating this great event!

Enjoy a selection of photos from the day in the gallery below. To view or download all of the photos from the day please follow this link to the Celtic Cup flickr page. Many thanks to our volunteer photographer Jim Burke!

Event
12th Annual Celtic Cup

Location
Whiskey Creek Golf Club

Date Published
19th September 2017

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Northern Ireland Bureau Farewell 2017 http://wiprogram.org/northern-ireland-bureau-farewell-2017/ http://wiprogram.org/northern-ireland-bureau-farewell-2017/#respond Mon, 07 Aug 2017 17:39:10 +0000 http://wiprogram.org/?p=29541

 

Northern Ireland Bureau Farewell

The Northern Ireland Bureau hosted a farewell event for the WIP Class of 2017 on Thursday July 27th, 2017 at the Homer Building in DC.

The evening was a chance to not only honor the Class of 2017 for their accomplishments this summer, but also the host families, work placements, and Board members that make the program what it is. The speaking portion of the evening included remarks from the Director of the Northern Ireland Bureau Norman Houston, WIP students Samuel Jackson and Tara Grace Connolly, and Vice Chair of the WIP Board of Directors Kristin Leary.

Samuel reflected on what drew him to the program, and what he will be taking back to home:

“It was the opportunity to continue to engage with others and to be immersed in difference that first drew me to WIP. I had a desire to challenge and be challenged to bring about understanding. WIP, through its debate format and speaker series drawing on various political backgrounds has on many occasions caused one to reflect, and this is what has been so valuable about the programme. Friendships across political, national and religious divides have been built and I dare say they will last as we return home.”

Tara Grace, who worked in the Northern Ireland Bureau this summer, took a moment to acknowledge that while the summer was challenging, it was also an opportunity for growth and development:

“I can safely say, that after 8 weeks here in the States no amount of reading or YouTube videos could have prepared me for this experience…Whether it is nervously preparing to introduce a guest speaker, starting a work placement on Capitol Hill, or frantically trying to work out the right way to swipe your card through the barriers on the New York subway, WIP manages to try and test you constantly, whilst simultaneously being there to catch you when things don’t go as planned, and preparing you to try again.” 

WIP will be honoring Norman Houston with the Spirit of WIP award at the Alumni Ball this November in recognition of his long-standing support of the program.

Many thanks to the Bureau for hosting a wonderful evening and allowing us the opportunity to extend our gratitude to the many people that help make the summer a great experience for the WIP Class.

Event
Northern Ireland Bureau Farewell Event

Location
Homer Building, Washington DC

Date Published
August 4th, 2017

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Host Family Farewell 2017 http://wiprogram.org/host-family-farewell-2017/ http://wiprogram.org/host-family-farewell-2017/#respond Fri, 04 Aug 2017 17:15:02 +0000 http://wiprogram.org/?p=29502

Host Family Farewell 2017

We were delighted to honor our 26 amazing host families for the Class of 2017 on Friday, July 28th, 2017 at Chevy Chase Village Hall.

The purpose of the evening was to extend our greatest thanks to the families that host the 30 WIP Students during their 8 weeks in DC. The event was MC’d by Rebecca O’Byrne (hosted by Colet & Roger Mitchell) and Martin McKiernan (hosted by Sean & Dori O’Donnell.) The speaker portion of the evening involved remarks from Program Director Ronan Lynagh, Executive Director Bryan Patten, and Host Mom and Board Member Susie Hoffman. We were also delighted to have Board Member BR McConnon III of DDC Advocacy say a few words. BR will be taking over as Chairman when Jim Carroll steps down next year.

The WIP Class of 2017 provided plenty of entertainment for the evening to show their thanks for their host families. Arlene Walsh Wallace performed a reading on gratitude from Consolations by David Whyte, Sarah McLaughlin read a poem written by the program’s own Ronan Lynagh, and the WIP ‘Glee Club’ re-wrote the lyrics to some famous tunes to represent the WIP Experience.

 

(Sung to the tune of Sweet Caroline)

Look around us, everyone’s so so lovely

Filled with joy and happiness,

And when we think,

Thinking of June the 3rd,

How life was, without you there.

Chats, lots of chats, laughs and chats

We’ve become family…

We extend our endless thanks to the host families who are an essential part of the WIP summer. The conversations at the dinner table, the day trips to other states or areas, and the welcoming attitude of all are a significant part of what makes this the summer of a lifetime for the students.

If you are interested in becoming a host family, please contact the office at office@wiprogram.org or 202.772.3824

Event
Host Family Farewell 2017

Location
Chevy Chase Village Hall

Date Published
August 2nd, 2017

The WIP Glee Club performing their own rendition of Sweet Caroline

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Shannan Kincaid – Belfast Girl Taking on Capitol Hill http://wiprogram.org/shannan-kincaid-belfast-girl-taking-on-capitol-hill/ http://wiprogram.org/shannan-kincaid-belfast-girl-taking-on-capitol-hill/#comments Thu, 03 Aug 2017 14:44:23 +0000 http://wiprogram.org/?p=29536

Shannan Kincaid

Belfast Girl Taking on Capitol Hill

Shannan is a second year BSc Honors student studying Social Policy with Criminology at Ulster University and is an elected Course Representative on Ulster University’s Student Union Council. She served two terms on the Belfast City Youth Forum where she held the role of Chairperson, during which she actively worked with politicians to incorporate and raise awareness of young people’s views in politics, and developed projects dealing with issues pertinent to many young people’s lives and wellbeing in Northern Ireland. Shannan is passionately involved with voluntary work in her local community. She has managed projects that have increased employability skills, and employment with local enterprises, within the community youth sector. Shannan has had extensive involvement with many third sector organizations – as well as with local MLAs, the Equality Commission and Northern Ireland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People – towards improving the lives and futures of our youth living in deprived communities in Northern Ireland.

Student
Shannan Kincaid

University
Ulster University

Degree
Social Policy with Criminology

Work Placement
Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick

Host Family
Kitty Wach & Peter Ellsworth

Date Published
August 3rd, 2017

As a girl from the Lower Shankill in Belfast, I would never have dreamt that I would have been part of the WIP 2017 class. Living in Washington D.C., working in a congressional office and participating in amazing service activities such as Life Pieces to Master Pieces, has been the best experience of my life. Being part of the WIP class of 2017, has helped me learn more about myself as an individual but also developed many of my skills which I will bring back to Northern Ireland/ Ireland to better the future of our country. I have had many amazing experiences ranging from working with a congressional office and learning about the politics of the US; to participating in a Ride along with the Metropolitan Police Department; to enjoying the monuments and museums in my free time. This is only a snipit of the summer and I cannot put it into words how amazing this experience has been.

Working for a congressional office scared me at first. I remember finding out I was chosen to be working with Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick and wondering why me? There are so many people that know more than me. Spending the past 6 weeks in my internship I have to thank WIP for this amazing experience and thank Congressman Fitzpatrick and his staff for making my summer so worth while.

Within my internship I had numerous roles. I had to serve the people of the 8th District by answering constituents concerns that they voiced via email, telephone or mail. It amazed me how accurate the saying “working for the people” actually is in regard to the US political system. All concerns voiced by the constituents of the 8th District meant something to the Congressman and he aimed to help. The participation and involvement of constituents in Politics amazed me. Every day we got calls from many of people expressing their concerns or feelings towards policy making. This is astonishing and I feel this should be the way forward in Northern Ireland/ Ireland. We should have more civic engagement with people that will be effected by the policies government aims to bring in. How can you expect to be successful if you don’t listen to the people you are supposed to represent?

As an intern, one of my main roles were to give tours of the Capitol Hill. Yes a Belfast girl gave a tour of Capitol Hill to American citizens. Comedic. This was so scary! I was so afraid of messing up! Before taking my first tour I studied the handbook on the history for about two days. It was like going into a history exam, trying to remember facts and dates. As I was giving my first tour, the guy was so interested in telling me his stories as I told him stories of the building, it helped me not be so nervous and gave me a better insight in to how American’s view their history. Whilst giving tours I quickly understood that congressman and congresswomen passed me everyday. Whilst looking for the congressional pin, I realised that even though I was taking the tours I still felt like the tourist getting excited every time someone important walked past me. While learning my way around the Capitol Building and through the tunnels I got lost numerous times, but on my journey I found the Senate side, Dunkin Donuts and the Library of Congress. Sometimes getting lost is the best way to find a new direction.

I also sat in on Briefings and subcommittee hearings which gave me a better insight to the American Political system. My favourite briefing I attended was a Homeland Security Briefing. As a criminology student I am interested in understanding what constitutes as political violence and the measures the government take to prevent or limit terrorism. The Briefing I attended explained how the safety of the people is crucial and how they will protect the US citizens from terrorist attacks. The subcommittee had three witness which they questioned to gain better expertise around this topic. This hands on experience amazed me and gave be great knowledge into a field I will be studying next semester when I return to University. Learning about what the US does to ensure the safety of the country was fascinating. Hearings and Briefings were Brilliant! I was able to witness first hand what open subcommittees where doing and aiming to do for the future.

My office was so friendly and welcoming. Regardless of me being a Belfast girl I was treated the exact same as everyone else. Congressman Fitzpatrick was very welcoming and inquisitive about where I came from and how he and his staff could help me get the best experience possible. Michael McCabe overlooked all of the interns for the summer. He insured that we all had constructive work to do and that we were learning every day. Some of the duties I participated in included: going to a press release and watching Congressman Fitzpatrick support a bill, helping to prepare for floor speeches, researching and creating a cosponsor request for the congressman to read and attending events on Capitol Hill.

One memorable day on Capitol Hill was the ACPA event ‘PAWS for celebration’ where they brought dogs to congress. Maybe if we took this tactic and used puppies in Stormont we could see a more peaceful, prosperous future for the Emerald Isle in which we live.

From this once in a lifetime experience I have gained so much knowledge around how the US political system works, how important constituent issues are and how important it is to respond and act on the needs of your District. I have learnt some amazing things that I want to bring home to Northern Ireland/ Ireland to better the future. I wish all the best to Congressman Fitzpatrick and all his staff. Thank you for an amazing summer.

 

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Aine Lawless – Journeys http://wiprogram.org/aine-lawless-journeys/ http://wiprogram.org/aine-lawless-journeys/#respond Thu, 27 Jul 2017 14:52:49 +0000 http://wiprogram.org/?p=29497

Aine Lawless

Journeys

Currently in her second year studying Multimedia in DCU, Áine has a keen interest in cross border relations. She is a graduate of the Glencree Young Peace Builders Program and acts as a Student Ambassador for her University. For the past year she has been the campus coordinator of the 8×8 Photo & Film Festival, which has informed students on the global refugee crisis and refugee issues in Ireland. One of her biggest passions is the Irish language and its relevance as a modern European language; she’s an active member of the Irish language society, Cumann Gaelach.

Student
Aine Lawless

University
Dublin City University

Degree
BSc Multimedia

Work Placement
Susan Davis International

Host Family
Kate & Bob Hunter

Date Published
July 27, 2017

I don’t think I understood the meaning of humidity until I came to DC. Standing on the platform in the mornings waiting on the metro feels quite literally like standing in a sauna. You’re sticky and tired and the clean, dry clothes you put on that morning are now damp with sweat. The humid heat here is different than the normal dry heat we get on a nice day back home. It’s thick and heavy and feels like you have to push through it with every step. DC was built on swamp land, and unless you are Shrek I don’t think any of person is equipped to deal with a swamp in the middle of summer.

Waiting for the metro at an above ground station in these conditions is fairly grim. It gets better in the underground stations though. Like everything else in DC the metro stations were designed on an extravagant scale. If you’ve ever been on the subway in New York City you’ll know the stations to be low ceilinged, narrow platformed and hot as hell. DC metro stations are the opposite. Above the generous, wide platforms you have double height arching ceilings and best of all a fairly decent ventilation system. The stations and trains provide some minor relief from the crippling heat outside but on the days that reach into the 30s(°C or 90+°F) the effect they have is minimal, especially when travelling at rush hour with 100s of your most intimate friends crammed right in there next to you.

While the negatives of the metro are fairly self evident (lack of seating/ overcrowding, surprise track works that cause unforeseen delays, questionable individuals muttering in the corner and services that finish before your night has even begun…) I have to say that I won’t look back on it with anything but fondness. I would consider my metro journey down town every morning some of the only ‘me’ time I get day to day. It gives me a chance to process the things I have to do that day, check emails, read my book or sometimes have a cheeky nap.. You might hear people say that cheeky naps on the metro are ill-advised, I promise you that in the morning so long as you’ve got a good handle on your possessions and don’t fall into a deep sleep there’s nothing to worry about. Cheeky naps should always be acceptable in my opinion, i think we could learn something from the Japanese idea of ‘Inemuri’ in that respect.

Contrary to what you may believe right now, I don’t just use the metros as an escape from the heat and an extension of my bedroom… Some of the most interesting conversations anf memorable moments I’ve had during my time in the US have happened on the metro and subway. While in New York on one subway journey in particular, myself and one of my other classmates voiced our irritation with the state of the world today and how terrifying and damaging human beings can be. Summarized in the end we decided that the solution to the majority of the world’s problems would come if everyone would just have empathy and not be dick.. Or at the very least not cause deliberate harm to other beings. On another journey we became an acappella rebel band. Our singing was surprisingly well received and I feel like we only got away with that one because of our ‘Irishness’ something that opens a lot of doors for you over here even if ironically 150 years ago it was the complete opposite.

(Interrupting this blog cast to send out a worldwide plea for a standardisation of the word used for these trains, is it a metro or a subway or an underground or a tube etc etc etc… took me at least two weeks to figure out the right term to use here)

A former Wipper told me before I came over here that my closest friends in the group would probably be the ones on the same metro line as me. She was right, there’s something about sitting together for even half an hour at the end of a long day when everyone is wrecked and usually still bubbling over from some debate or controversy that bonds you. It’s at those times when you’re most tired that you learn the most about each other, whether it’s someone divulging their family history, someone ranting passionately about something they care about or someone falling asleep and nearly missing their stop (<- me)… the people I have shared these moments with are some of the people I have gotten to know the best and are some of the people I hope will stay in my life in years to come (if only so I’ll have couches to crash on when they’re off studying abroad or saving the world in some far off land).

The metro of course isn’t without its flaws but my WIP experience would have been entirely different without this staple of life in DC. To follow on from that, Dublin needs to up it’s game in terms of city wide public transport, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to fully re-embrace Dublin Bus when we get back. I can only hope now that these vague plans of a metro running from Dublin city centre out to the airport actually come to fruition!

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Susan Butler – The Perks of Having a Mentor http://wiprogram.org/susan-butler-the-perks-of-having-a-mentor/ http://wiprogram.org/susan-butler-the-perks-of-having-a-mentor/#respond Tue, 25 Jul 2017 19:40:01 +0000 http://wiprogram.org/?p=29489

Susan Butler

The Perks of Having a Mentor

Susan is in her third year of Arts International in University College Cork. She specializes in French and Psychology and is currently on her Erasmus Year in Rennes, France. Susan has a passion for improving education inequalities in Ireland. She has been heavily involved with Suas, where she coordinated their literacy support program. In this role, Susan engaged over 100 students to participate in paired reading activities for primary school students across the city.

 

Student
Susan Butler

University
University College Cork

Degree
Arts International

Work Placement
American Federation of Teachers

Host Family
Colet & Roger Mitchell

Date Published
July 25, 2017

“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill

Here is my blog about what it has been like to work closely to a woman who has changed the world through her advocacy on women’s issues and her unrelenting devotion to making a difference. Not only has she challenged political figures, she has also  lobbied for change regarding sexual harassment and workplace bullying, domestic and workplace violence, disability rights, civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender workers and women in nontraditional careers.

I am interning with the American Federation of Teachers in the Human Rights Department and my boss is Constance “Connie” Cordovilla. Connie is the Associate Director of the Human Rights and Community Relations Department of AFT. She is a changemaker, an activist, a devoted grandmother and a fiery protester.

“Every day above ground is a blessing” – Connie Cordovilla

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” – Eliezer “Elie” Wiesel – American Jewish Writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust Survivor

The Perks of Having a Mentor

Here are the 3 reasons why having a mentor this summer has been invaluable to me:

  1.  I’ve learnt so much about what it takes to be an activist.

Connie is one of the most active activists there are. I’ve realised that while it is essential we have advocates and changemakers in society, it comes with a lot of work! Holding a sign in the Capitol NE Lawn 35 degree heat for hours or sending another email to a Congressman, requires a lot of organising and dedication. I have been in awe of my supervisor’s commitment to her appetite for change.

  1.  The importance of being able to take criticism.

During the course of my internship, I’ve grown more accustomed and ready to take positive criticism from Connie. I realised that it is one of the most necessary and meaningful skills which I have worked on this summer. Connie has shown me that the threat of criticism should never stop you from standing up for what you believe in.

  1.    Expanding my network

Connie brought me to all sorts of events this summer. From Hate-Crime Coalition meetings to the National Partnership Gala Dinner for Women and Families, I have been exposed to so many varying and different influential leaders. This has been an honour to experience part of Connie’s extensive chain of people who all strive to make the world a better place through their varying organisations.

But above all, Connie has shown me the true value of coming together to stick up for the rights of others.

All in all, I have had a fantastic and constructive summer interning with the American Federation of Teachers. It has given me unimaginable exposure to political activism in Washington DC and I have attain skills & experiences which I cannot wait to bring back to Ireland.

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Nadine McGarry – The Host Family Experience http://wiprogram.org/nadine-mcgarry-the-host-family-experience/ http://wiprogram.org/nadine-mcgarry-the-host-family-experience/#respond Tue, 25 Jul 2017 18:03:46 +0000 http://wiprogram.org/?p=29482

 

Nadine McGarry

The Host Family Experience 

Nadine, born in Northern Ireland, is a final year Law with Philosophy Student at the University of Liverpool. She is committed to volunteer work, both at home and abroad. Before beginning her studies, she lived and volunteered in South Africa for 12 months where she worked as a maths teacher. She is passionate about social justice and immigration issues, leading her to become a volunteer Refugee Case Support worker for the British Red Cross. She also holds a committee position for Student Action for Refugees, where she teaches conversational English to asylum seekers. She is involved in the Liverpool Law school where she has participated in the peer mentoring and Streetlaw programs. In her free time, she enjoys playing gaelic football and holds a committee position on the University of Liverpool Gaelic football club.

 

Student
Nadine McGarry

University
University of Liverpool

Degree
Law with Philosophy (LLB)

Work Placement
Forbes-Tate

Host Family
Tim & Kathie Lynch

Date Published
July 25, 2017

 

There is one rule in the Lynch’s household and one rule only: Don’t drink Kathie’s last diet coke. Kathie and Tim have been hosting Washington Ireland Program students for the last 10 years, welcoming students from both the north and south of the island. When I landed at Dulles International Airport I was greeted with two large smiles and told stories of how I would be met with three more smiles from Charlie, Bailey and Lulu (the three dogs) once we arrived home. After a long journey from Belfast to DC, it was wonderful to be greeted with such energy. On that first car journey to the Lynch’s house in Chevy Chase, the three of us discussed a huge variety of topics: the heat and humidity of DC, Brexit, the rules of Gaelic football and last but certainly not least, President Trump. These types of exchanges and conversations have continued throughout the past eight weeks.

The Lynch’s have taught me a huge amount about American society and culture, from sports to reality TV. Tim, an avid Nationals fan, kindly explained the rules behind baseball before we attended the game as a WIP class over pizza. What I learnt over that pizza was that baseball was in fact much more complicated than rounder’s. After a long day at my internship, which is often followed by WIP discussion or speaker series, I have hopped on the red line back to Bethesda. Once home, I spent a lot of my evenings relaxing on the sofa with Kathie and watching The Bachelorette. It is in these causal chats about the on goings of our day that we have gotten to know each other and that is what I have enjoyed most over the Summer. The Lynch’s have also been kind enough to take me to their house in up-state New York and on a trip to Annapolis, which has allowed me to explore and get to see more of this vast country. Kathie spent much of her childhood on Seneca Lake, so it was great to see a place that she was so fond of.

The Lynch’s have also taught me a wealth about American politics. June and July of 2017 have been a special time in US politics and much of the news has been dominated by the Republican party’s plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act. It has been fascinating to learn first-hand of the implications that this legislation may have on the wider American public. This Summer, I have been interning with Forbes Tate Partners, a bipartisan lobbying firm. This experience has opened my eyes to the world of lobbying, something which I had little knowledge of before. Tim is also a lobbyist, so I have been appreciative of his explanations on the intersect between business and politics here in America and also his willingness to talk through my work projects.

When I spoke with WIP alum, they never failed to mention the bond they had made with their host families. On one of my first few weeks in DC, Tim said, “Us host families get far too much credit!” Yet I think most WIP students would have to disagree with Tim on that one, we couldn’t give our host families enough credit for putting us up for an entire Summer. To be 3,374 miles from Belfast but to feel at home in the Lynch’s house, emphasises the welcoming, understanding and kindness they have shown to me. And for that I am extremely grateful.

 

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Liam Cowley – How United is the USA? http://wiprogram.org/liam-cowley-how-united-is-the-usa/ http://wiprogram.org/liam-cowley-how-united-is-the-usa/#respond Mon, 10 Jul 2017 10:10:45 +0000 http://wiprogram.org/?p=29403

Liam Cowley

How united is the USA?

Liam, a final year History and Political Science student at Trinity College Dublin, is particularly passionate about modern Irish political history as well as national and European current affairs. A member of the Bringing Europeans Together Association, Liam has participated in dozens of Model European Union, European Youth Parliament and Young European Leadership conferences since 2011. Liam has been politically active in his local community and at university in relation to campaigning on EU treaty referenda, austerity measures and Irish reunification, among other matters. Coordinator of his Students’ Union’s 1916 Rising centenary commemorative program, Liam values the powerful impact that past events and individuals can have on the present and the future. A keen supporter of Dublin GAA and a tour guide of his native city, Liam has a deep affection for Dublin and the diverse range of people that have contributed so much to the city’s millennium-long story.

 

Student
Liam Cowley

University
Trinity College Dublin

Degree
History and Political Science

Work Placement
Congressman Joe Crowley

Host Family
Maureen Donnelly

Date Published
July 10, 2017

This is my first time in the United States. It is also my first time in a country with a population of 350 million. It is territorially the largest state that I have ever visited. The influence of the US (in culture, politics, economics, social values and many other areas) on the minds and lives of Irish youth, and Europeans more broadly, is probably not truly recognised or appreciated by most Americans. Saturation of our lives by much of that which is called ‘American’ without ever needing to set foot in the place is likely to be beyond what many Americans could imagine. Certainly if another country had as much influence over American affairs and the thoughts of Americans as America has over Ireland, I’d imagine most Americans would not stand for it and the infamous Second Amendment would be very readily and eagerly utilised en masse. Perhaps I’d be proven wrong and a surprising number of Americans would accept externally originating soft and hard diktats (provided they occur in tandem with sensitivity to the arguably non-fundamental peculiarities of American society, like peanut butter, apple sauce, baseball and franchise restaurants).

I am very aware that during my nine weeks here, while hugely beneficial for getting an insight into the way the militarily and economically strongest state functions, I am experiencing but a sliver of America geographically and in terms of the types of people with whom I am most frequently meeting and having interactions. Having an internship in Capitol Hill provides very welcome chances to encounter greater diversity of thoughts, politics and voices from across America. My time to date on the Hill has also allowed me to see the extent to which talk of growing divisions in American society is replicated at high political levels. The deadlock as far as attempts to pass legislation is concerned is evidence that the country is indeed divided, with divisions very much present not only between the two traditional parties, but also within them.

Something that I have been thinking about increasingly since my arrival here is the question of how the US at a very basic level has managed to endure as a single nation for over 200 years and the concept of being American has been open to all sorts of people of a multiplicity of backgrounds and outlooks. The truth, I believe, is much more complicated than that. I would tentatively suggest the US, like all countries in which the individual’s profit-motive exists at the apex of a society’s value system, is a country divided between a class that really and knowingly owns the country, a much larger group (‘the middle class) that mistakenly believes its own the country in a universalist kind of way and a marginalised section that realises it does not have any shares in the country and, all things continuing as they are, never will. I am increasingly of the view that title deeds to define ‘America’ and ‘American’ have forever been contested and the present talk of a divided country is nothing new, but rather a natural development and acceleration of the arguably inevitable for a state that I believe has long struggled to define itself, its people and its missions towards itself and the world at large.

My obsession with history (and crucially the goodwill of Maureen Donnelly, and Pat and John Greco) brought me to Gettysburg and Mount Vernon. I have visited the many memorials to American soldiers and leaders throughout D.C. I spent a Sunday afternoon in Arlington Cemetery, seeing JFK’s large plot, the tomb of the ‘unknown soldier’, the Women in Military Service for America memorial and the gently rolling green fields surrounding the former home of Robert E. Lee where the remains of hundreds of thousands who went to their deaths for their ideal of America lie. I have also learnt much from partaking in tours of Capitol Hill. Being on the National Mall for the Fourth of July fireworks display also provided an insight into America, its history and how some Americans understand their national identity. Cheers of ‘USA!’ on the Fourth below the Washington Monument indicate pride in the difficult-to-define-thing that is this country. Cries of ‘USA!’ also indicate why so-called ‘narrow’ nationalism will always have a dominant place in America culturally, politically and economically. As Mr. President says, and as his electorate agree, ‘America First!’ Regardless of calls from liberal politicians and their base for Americans to move clearly and explicitly towards a more ‘tolerant’, all-embracing society, the ingrained ‘USA!’ mentality will ensure such a battle is near-doomed before it even gets seriously underway.

At the heart of the question about the unity of the USA is the story of the formation of the state and the beliefs of those who founded it. Establishment America and those who subscribe to its narrative put forth a view of America to its own people and the wider world that the US’ existence is founded on maximising the ideal of liberty, combined with providing and safeguarding ‘inalienable’ human rights. That message should of course be easy to sell. If a table existed that measured effectiveness of nations’ self-branding, the US would be doing very well. That is, if the complicated truth of American history and awareness of it did not muddy the clean marketing image of liberty and rights. Marketing only works when slogans and buzzwords can be backed up by track records and past actions.

For two groups of people, in particular, in this country, it is obvious to see how the state’s rhetoric towards its own past can be felt as little more than insults. One group is the African-American community. That the great fight against tyranny and for freedom only little more than 200 years ago was for the benefit of a pre-determined, specific section of the population in this land who saw no contradiction in taking their new won freedom to maintain a tyranny of their own over a kidnapped, brutalised, dehumanised and enslaved people, while simultaneously announcing that ‘all men are created equal’ cannot but leave many greatly disillusioned with this country’s raison d’etre. In one sense, the American Revolution may perhaps be somewhat comparable to Rhodesia’s UDI or northern unionists’ talk of breaking from Britain so as to not be obliged to provide Catholics with civil liberties provided for in 1960s and 70s Britain. If the issue of this country’s acceptance of slavery could be forgiven as a tragic blunder by people who did not know any better, the seizure of lands belonging to Native Americans and genocide of Native Americans, as well as long-lasting systematic state oppression of and discrimination against indigenous peoples is so wholly contradictory to the projected view of the American Revolution as a fight for freedom and liberty as to make the American Revolution and the American Dream little more than shams. I absolutely appreciate the principles that led to the Declaration of Independence and the desire to end Westminster’s rule in America, but the inconsistency that exists between supposed efforts to achieve a new, rights-based society and continued enslavement of kidnapped peoples and land-grabbing and murder campaigns against natives is too glaring to accept the bona fides of America’s ‘freedom fighters’ and founding thinkers.

The course of American history post-‘independence’ illustrates that the system at work here is very much at work for an elite cohort. Every generation of the top bracket in order to keep the money wheels spinning, has seen that rights are gradually extended once such rights are diluted to the point of possessing no threat to the economic system while benefiting in the public view from polishing the social-issue veneer that disguises the core of the great clash between the haves and have nots. If a country is to endure for a long time, I believe something more fundamentally and organically common to all people of the nation than pledging allegiance to a cloth must be found. The question remains: How long will it take for the inherent rot in the roots to, if ever, fully contaminate and destroy the surface level façade?

 

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