June 5, 2017
By David Riera, Fellow

Capitol Hill is like a Roman Colosseum, complete with all the ornate statues, marble surfaces and fountains. Both attract the affluent and impoverished alike, the streets filled with merchants, guards, and citizens waiting to attend the “games.” Who would have ever thought I would find myself participating in these great political games?

I traveled to Washington D.C. with the National Parks Conservation Association to ask Congress to protect our public lands. I visited their home office, a two floor hub filled with everything an environmentalist and champion for the parks could ever hope to have in order to prepare for the lengthy battles ahead.

On the first night, my partner and I were escorted to the top of the building, a place that felt like Olympus – electrically charged and cordially social.  This rooftop gathering attracted champions from states like California, Wyoming, North Carolina,  New York, Georgia, Virginia, and of course, Florida. I might have otherwise been surprised looking around at such accomplished individuals in attendance, representing veterans, youth, and various park and historic preservation groups. By the end of the night, we had bonded and rallied under a common flag in order to defeat the challenges awaiting on the Hill. As the night fell and everyone retired to their rooms, I counted the hours, preparing myself for what laid ahead.

I shot up from the bed before sunrise the following morning, mixed emotions flooding my mind. I had gone toe to toe with political giants before, but it was close to home in Miami. I ended up meeting with officials or their legislative aids, challenging them to support the National Parks Service Legacy Act. Our group, composed of two Mission Continues powerhouses (Edwin Vasco and David Riera) under the guidance of NPCA’s Jacqueline Crucet, Suncoast Regional office seasoned park warrior, roared through, above, and below the Hill.

These appointments were intense and nerve rattling, but we remained extremely confident and focused, even after seeing the President’s proposed budget. We went the distance on the Hill that day, everyone gave it their all, and some even got Florida orange juice out of it.

As we returned and gathered that night sitting across from each other, swapping battle stories and sharing food, I sat back to reflect upon how I viewed democracy as an unattainable, larger-than-life ideal which all of us at that table fought to preserve. I realized that the people preserving of democracy were not just on the Hill making the big complicated decisions, they were actually sitting in front of me, laughing, crying, and preparing for the next opportunity to accomplish great and noble things; not just for themselves, but in the name of the environment, especially our national parks and the generations that will inherit them.

From one gladiator to another I look forward to other rounds on the Hill and at home, morituri te salutamus

 

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