Hello San Angelo! I am so excited for the opportunity to write a column for San Angelo.News. Some may remember that I wrote for another San Angelo news source several years ago, and I have missed being able to learn and share with our community in that way. But I believe everything happens the way it is supposed to, and in the years I have not been writing, I have been collecting ideas of things I would like to share when the time is right.
When SanAngelo.News’ founder, Ryan Hernandez, asked if I would be interested in writing for San Angelo.News, I jumped at the opportunity. If you know me, you know my passions are kids – public education, in particular – and mental health. Needless to say, those two issues are sadly intertwined, and I am looking forward to bringing awareness to some of the issues faced in both areas. Ryan has given me carte blanche to write on other topics though, so there may be occasional columns about things like Jewish holidays, events in our community, Girl Scout adventures, and who knows what else?
As you get to know me, you’ll see that I am very open to conversation. If you like something I write, and want to learn more, send me an email! If I write something that you disagree with or have questions about, send me an email! I am always happy to have a discussion so we can learn and grow together as a community.
For this first column, I thought I’d write about my exciting adventure on a recent advocacy trip to Washington, D.C. I was there for a Texas Federal Advocacy Conference for public education. Advocating at the federal level is very different than advocacy at the state or local level, because our federal legislators only have power to change things that come from the federal level. This was the seventh year that I have gone to our Capitol to advocate for public ed, and it has been interesting to see how much some things have changed, while some things require a longer fight. I will share more details in a future column, but before we get too far past my trip in February, I wanted to share about the opportunity I had to attend the State of the Union Address.
You read that right – I attended the SOTU – In person! There have been several years I have been in DC on the day of the Address. It is hard not to get caught up in the excitement, even knowing you are not attending the event. In previous years, I have attended a “watch party” with school board members from across Texas, or watched from my hotel room, knowing that the joint session of Congress was taking place less than two miles away.
About a week before I left for D.C. this year, I realized that I would be there for the State of the Union Address, and called Representative Pfluger’s director to see if there was any possibility of getting a ticket. I found out very quickly that each representative was given one ticket, and that ticket was already designated for another guest.
“Keep me in mind, if she can’t attend,” I quipped, not expecting anything to change. But, if you don’t ask, the answer is always no, right?
On Monday afternoon, 24 hours before President Biden was set to read the State of the Union Address, I got a phone call. Representative Pfluger’s guest could not attend.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t hear one more word of the session I was attending. I could see in my notes exactly where I got the text message to call back, because I stopped writing mid-sentence, and never made it back. I am glad it was the last session of the day!
Attending the SOTU was, without a doubt, the most extraordinary event I have ever attended. I knew every member of Congress and President’s Cabinet were there, except one (the “designated survivor” in case of a mass casualty, which was somewhat disconcerting to think about). While I knew that my attending the event was likely a once-in-a-lifetime event, once I found my seat in the gallery, I realized that most people in attendance felt the same way – all of us in awe of what was happening in front of us.
I wrote in a Facebook post about how I loved watching the congressmen and women talking below us on the floor of the House of Representatives, literally crossing the aisles for conversation. While we could not hear what they were talking about from above, what we could see was they were smiling, laughing, shaking hands, friendly! Once the session about to be called to order, Republicans and Democrats shook hands and went to their respective seats.
As the Supreme Court Justices entered, and then the president’s Cabinet, vice-president, and the president all entered, I watched in admiration of the process, trying to take it all in. We weren’t allowed to bring our phone or cameras in, so I knew I had to savor every moment and try to remember it all.
When the president started to speak, I was expecting it all to be very political – and it was. But very soon after it began, I realized that what I was witnessing was so much more than politics. For me, it was witnessing the world’s longest-standing democracy happening before my eyes. Democrats and Republicans chose to stand or not stand, applaud or not, and some even said their thoughts out loud. Whether we agree with what they said or did or didn’t do was not as much about politics as it was about their ability to do so. When watching the SOTU on TV, before, during and after the speech is all about politics. But sitting in the gallery of the House of Representatives, it was about being part of an historical event – the coming together of all three branches of our political system, no matter their political persuasion.
It was truly awe-inspiring, and an honor to witness it in person.
Ami Mizell-Flint is an active community member, a trustee on the San Angelo ISD school board, director of San Angelo Clubhouse, and president of San Angelo’s Jewish congregation, Congregation Beth Israel. She is married with four children. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.