Thursday hundreds of drunk driving crash victims and survivors, along with MADD volunteers and supporters from across the country gathered for a rally on Capitol Hill before visiting the offices of our respective legislators to discuss initiatives that will help reduce impaired driving and protect the rights of drunk driving victims.
Along with about a dozen others I traveled via the Washington’s metro to arrive very early to the rally so I could be interviewed by reporters from Cox Broadcasting for clips that would appear in local news stories back home in Seattle. I also enjoyed watching the preparations for the rally.
MADD president Jan Withers kicked off the rally. As always, she was so poised and her comments were so inspiring and on point. And then I was thrilled to hear Washington State Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor Courtney Popp, who is also a MADD National Board Member, speak for a few minutes. They both did a great job of explaining that we were on Capitol Hill to urge Congress to fully fund important federal highway safety programs and to pass a Constitutional Amendment providing for crime victims’ rights. During the rally the attendees all held up pictures of people who have been killed in drunk driving crashes.
Then armed with our talking points and pedometers to track our steps we surged like red swarming bees crossing the U.S. Capitol steps multiple times as we visited Senate offices on Constitution Avenue then House offices on Independence Avenue and back again.
I joined Courtney Popp and Washington State’s new MADD program manager Amy Ezzo as they met with staff members from Rep. Jim McDermott, Rep Jaime Herrera Beutler, Sen. Patty Murray, and Sen. Maria Cantwell’s offices. We discussed how the Continuing Resolution (CR) recently passed by Congress does not reflect the full $265 million in annual funding needed to implement the programs that are included in the new Section 405 of the federal highway bill known as MAP-21. What amounts to a clerical error has left critical programs such as drunk driving prevention, occupant protection, distracted driving prevention, motorcycle safety, improved graduated driver’s license laws and more without adequate funding. We also discussed the need for a Constitutional Amendment that would give crime victims the right to be present in the courtroom or make a victim impact statement when offenders/defendants are prosecuted, sentenced, reviewed for possible parole, etc.
At many points during the visit to Washington, D.C. I missed my dear friend and fellow MADD Washington volunteer Stacey Rhodes. But on Lobby Day the pain of her absence was particularly acute since she knows impaired driving public policy inside and out. I frequently rely on her to help educate me on the issues. I know that she would have loved Lobby Day.
After attending all of the Washington State meetings I ran across the street to join my friend Yulee, Rebecca Farrow and Rosalind Donald of the Kentucky MADD chapter at their meeting in Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office. I am originally from Kentucky and know that drunk driving is still a big problem there too. In fact, I think the problem is perhaps exacerbated by the fact that many people living in ‘dry counties’ go to ‘wet counties’ to drink and then drive home drunk.
By 4:30pm our feet were killing us and we were all exhausted. Yulee and I decided that we wanted to go to the rooftop P.O.V. lounge at the W Hotel. We had an amazing view of the White House, the Washington Monument and so many other landmarks. While we were there an art director and photographer from Travel & Leisure Magazine asked to include us in a photo shoot for an 8-page spread in the January 2013 issue featuring Washington, D.C.’s best restaurants. How could we refuse? To the left you can see the picture they plan to use---the photographer came by and showed it to us on his laptop. Fun.
After the shoot we went back to the conference hotel to rest and get ready for the busiest day of the conference.