By: Sarah LeBlanc
In the bitter cold, a hardy group of Iowans zipped up their long coats and jackets, wrapped their scarves around their faces, pulled their hats over their ears…and felt for the Texans wearing sweaters and rocking heels.
Just a few days after the Drake group landed in Washington D.C., we were formally introduced to the city’s iconic sights and tales of glory with a bus tour of the monuments. We viewed the statue of the marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima, the Abraham Lincoln Memorial, the World War II memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial and several other monuments marking times of loss and triumph in our nation’s history.
For Isabelle Barrett, a sophomore Drake student and a Minnesota native, viewing the monuments was especially poignant in light of the transition of power that will occur in just over 24 hours. The symbolism held in each monument calls visitors back to the nation’s founding and the hope for a strong and unified nation – something Barrett’s not sure still exists today.
“I did absolutely feel more pride in America, maybe not the America we are now but the America we have been and the America that we can be,” Barrett said. “The America that I know and love but is just kind of hiding right now.”
Though her feelings of patriotism were less pronounced leading up to president-elect Donald Trump’s impending inauguration, she still viewed the monuments as symbols of American dedication to its values of freedom and liberty and the will to preserve these rights even when it may mean sacrificing one life for the lives of many.
Weaving through crowds and scaffolding, the group largely walked in hushed silence between memorials, the hushing of conversation instinctive and immediate in the face of so much loss, represented in the etching of names and faces on stone. For Barrett, one of the most powerful moments was standing on a square tile on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that read “I have a dream” – the spot where Martin Luther King Jr. stood and proclaimed his dreams for racial equality and civil rights to thousands during the March on Washington in 1963.
“I was standing there where the leader of civil rights in this country, one of the finest leaders that we’ve ever had (stood),” Barrett said. “I just suddenly kind of felt like all of this stuff that I’m working for is possible.”
The fight for civil rights is not over in the United States, and while the country hasn’t collapsed into another Civil War, people are more divided along party lines. In the 2016 presidential race, the desire for a change from career politicians and for someone who listened and understood the plight of rural Americans drove many to vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.Yet many, including Barrett, agree on one point: They don’t want him to fail.