June 18, 2012

To New Friends and Protestors

By Joe Pluhar

So, week 2 was just as crazy, if not more so, than week 1. AVMA cut me loose to discuss our issues one-on-one with Congressional staffers. I met with veterinarians in APHIS and USAID and learned about their duties and roles. (If you love veterinary medicine, public health, and international travel, I have some jobs for you!) Lauren and I celebrated our anniversary with dinner at a fantastic steakhouse and a musical at the Kennedy Center. I must admit, we did stick out a little bit as the restaurant manager did ask us from where we were visiting. I responded, “is it that obvious?!” For all of my fun, it was without the 200,000 girl scouts. But never fear, I got to taste another aspect of D.C. culture, the protestor.

I am taking an unusual track through veterinary medicine. I took the past year off from vet school to earn my MBA, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I learned all about credit default swaps, production factors, comparative advantage, and so much more. Well, as you can imagine, my list of topics I find particularly interesting is a little long and eclectic which led me to Wednesday morning. Every morning, we receive an email that details congressional news and the upcoming schedules for both the House and Senate. One morning, I was reading the schedule when I saw that the Senate Banking Committee had a hearing scheduled to question Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase. Mr. Dimon’s company had reported a $2 billion (that is a number that blows the veterinary half of my brain) trading loss related to attempted hedging activity. Now, being the good MBA student that I am, I dutifully read the Wall Street Journal and watch CNBC every morning. I had heard and read several reports that Mr. Dimon would be called up to the Hill to speak, but it wasn’t until I received that Senate schedule that it dawned on me, “Hey, wait a minute. That is going to happen just down the street from me.” I guess my brain was still in College Station mode not realizing that many of the big events I hear about every day on the news are happening all around me instead of the typical 1500 miles away. This was one of those.

When the appointed day arrived, Lauren dropped me off extra early at the metro. After I arrived at the Senate office buildings around 8, I quickly made my way to the appointed room for the hearing worried that the line would already be extremely long for the 10 am show. I even skipped my morning breakfast and coffee, which if you know me know both are extremely near and dear to my survival. Well, the line was not quite as long as I feared, guess I am truly a one-of-a-kind nerd. After waiting for a few minutes, I struck up a conversation with the others standing next to me. Two were students from an international finance non-profit, and one was a staffer from the House Ag. Committee. He grew up in Detroit and worked in the banking industry before finding his way to the Hill. We had a great time talking about economics, veterinary medicine, family, and Chrysler T.V. commercials (if you haven’t seen the Eminem Super Bowl Chrysler commercial, Youtube it right now. I’ll wait.) I learned a lot about his role in the Ag committee working on all kinds of issues, none of which seem like Ag issues on the surface. One of his assignments was actually looking into the Facebook IPO, but I digress. We had a great time, and we have since exchanged e-mails. I look forward to crossing paths with him again. Now to the protestors.
We made it into the hearing and situated ourselves about 7 rows from Mr. Dimon. I was excited. About 10 minutes before the hearing was set to start, the Senators were all pretty much in their seats and the T.V. cameras were warmed up when all of a sudden a man jumped up in the front row and started shouting at Mr. Dimon and the Senators. He was yelling things about firing all the Fed Chairs, arresting Wall Street CEO’s, investigating the banking industry, etc. It became apparent that this individual did not really have a plan. He was just shooting insults from the hip. Amazingly enough, no one moved to stop him. A few Senate Banking Committee staffers positioned themselves between him and Mr. Dimon, but that was all. One staffer was in eye contact with Capitol Police, but made no move to remove the man. After a couple of minutes, the man simply sat back down. After everyone settled down, a woman suddenly began speaking in a soft tone that was loud enough for everyone to hear. She was telling her story about losing her home. Again, everyone let her go until she was finished. I guess since the hearing had not actually started, they were going to let the people have their say. Then came the young-uns.

About a minute later, a woman in her late twenties or early thirties seated in the front row jumped up and appeared just about to start coughing, head down with fist in front of her mouth. She then started rhythmically yelling “STOP FORECLOSURES NOW!” On her third chant, another 5 young individuals, who were also sitting up front, jumped to their feet and took up the chant. Unlike the first gentleman, these guys had a plan. They chanted for maybe 10 seconds then voluntarily started to leave their seats. At this point, Capitol Police were on their way in full force as the first gentleman and lady joined the chanting. As the protestors left the room, leaving the rest of us to look on and ponder one important question. “Hey, they had good seats. Do you think we can have them?”

I am sure that is not the thought the protestors wanted to leave behind. I guess my colleagues at the hearing had seen that kind of activity so much that it no longer fazed them. I, on the other hand, could hardly contain my excitement. Here I was witnessing many forms of democracy at once. The brick and mortar kind with senators holding an important hearing, and the organic kind with regular individuals using their first amendment rights to get their voice heard. I would miss breakfast anytime to duplicate this kind of experience. God Bless America, new friends, and protestors!