Monday, June 18, 2007


Well, that was interesting. The good folks at Unnamed Research Institution (URI), where I'm working, sent me to a conference in Unnamed City this weekend hosted by an Unnamed Political Action Group (UPAG) so I could learn more about the work we're doing and "put faces to names" of a lot of the researchers whose work I've been reading and groups who we at URI are studying.

It probably wouldn't be the most difficult thing in the world to figure out the actual names of the place and organizations I've just listed but it seems wiser to me to prevent a simple Google search from finding this.

The weird thing is that, living in Virginia, the topic the researcher for whom I'm working has essentially no impact on my life. It's weird: I'm developing opinions on the topic (and am happy with how Virginia has handled it), but I really don't have a dog in this hunt. People in most other states, however, deal with this issue. At least half of the attendees at the conference were activists, with a smaller number of researchers (who may also be activists) and minor elected officials (who also may have been activists). Mid-way through the second panel I realized "Wait a second...the this is a fairly partisan affair, and I don't subscribe at all!" Between panels there were brief times when an activist or researcher would provide an update of the events of the past year for his/her area of interest. During one such update the woman, clearly zealous of her cause, took a tone and pitch that made me feel as though I was being yelled at. I took the opportunity to busy myself reading the material for the next panel discussion and I think she sort-of called me out, saying that it was clear that some of us didn't take the issue seriously enough and that we should be paying attention. In all honesty, you could be reading the Bible and if I feel as though I'm being lectured or yelled at then I'm going to stop paying attention to you.

At one point there was an update from activists in Unnamed State. The odd thing was that I found myself agreeing with their position. Baffled by this, I reflected how odd it was that a group representing Planned Parenthood, the Gay & Lesbian Task Force, and a whole host of other liberal and leftist causes would find me as someone who agreed with them. Then it hit me: the reason it seemed we were in agreement was because we're from different states. What they were advocating is in effect in Virginia, but the difference is that the Commonwealth of Virginia is usually pretty responsible. Unnamed State is notoriously biased towards the political left and this measure would root out the last vestiges of moderate and conservative viewpoints. If enacted in Mississippi it would do the same thing, but for the opposite views.

At one point I even realized that I disagreed with just about everything that was advocated at this conference. There was a panel on diversity which I thought had some good points, along with a cranky professor whom I found myself liking (he tended to denounce most of the conference's proposals, although because he thought them misguided or simply unworkable was a mystery to me). However, at URI we're basically just researching what's going on, rather than trying to sway viewpoints. It's still weird, but the work I do myself is pretty innocuous and so I'm okay with it.

Let me also say two things, lest it seem as though I didn't enjoy the time. Firstly, everyone there was extremely nice. The moderator, a UVA alum, went out of his way upon meeting me to praise Virginia Tech, while some of the people there, important in their positions and some even holding elective office, never shut me out for being a mere intern (although one lady thought I was someone else, as the chief counsel for the Democratic Party, or someone of a similar position, is named Bob Bauer). Secondly, the dinner they provided after the first day was absolutely magnificent. It featured some of the local cuisine, to which I am especially partial, and was flat-out amazing.

One last note: despite my best efforts to answer opinion questions carefully, I think one of the people at dinner started to catch on that I was out of step with everyone else politically. He would slyly ask questions to tease out a more conservative viewpoint, which I tried to answer as vaguely as possible. He said he wasn't trying to make me uncomfortable, and I replied that as long as people don't start screaming at each other it can be very interesting to have a political discussion. He seemed surprised by this, and handed me his card.

Let the networking begin.

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