Category Archives: The DC Area

Posts relating to Washington, DC or my hometown of Bethesda, MD.

#CPNC12: Progressives push for inspired action

On July 26th, I attended my second Campus Progress National Conference, the premier annual event for young progressives and activists, in Washington, DC

Campus Progress is the youth initiative of the Center for American Progress, a progressive left-wing think tank founded by John Podesta, a former Chief of Staff for President Clinton. The Center for American Progress is easily one of the most influential and well-run left-leaning political organizations in the country. Podesta also served as the head of President Obama’s transition team, so the Center maintains a uniquely close relationship with the current administration.

While the Center produces the excellent ThinkProgress blog and numerous data reports in good think-tank fashion, Campus Progress is working to create a movement for progressive action among youth. If there is one thing that conservatives do extremely well, it is building up their support among young people from early on. In contrast, the left is not particularly good at coordinating messaging between its leaders and supporters. Campus Progress and the Center ,however, are working hard to change this reality and create a far more cohesive movement.

Now in its eighth year, the National Conference serves as a counterpoint to CPAC, the major conservative youth conference. Poignantly, this year Campus Progress chose to hold their conference at the Marriot Wardman Park hotel, the same venue that CPAC uses for its event.

The plenary speaker highlights this year were U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, President of the AFL-CIO Richard Trumka, John Podesta, undocumented activist journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, marriage equality activist and YouTube sensation Zach Wahls, Senator Dick Durbin, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Overall, there were more than 70 speakers total.

It is a testament to the Center’s quality (and funding) that they could get top names while keeping the event free. When Campus Progress first announced the speakers, my gut reaction felt that it was an inspiring line-up, but heavy on the number of politicians. After seeing many politicians speak in recent years, I am used to having low expectations for them. Typically, they give stump speeches, especially in an election year. Many of the speeches left me pleasantly surprised. Rep. Debbi Wasserman Schultz painted a compelling narrative of her journey as a young woman in politics, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis highlighted her story as a Latina following the American Dream, and Senator Dick Durbin provided what was arguably the most engaging interview I have ever heard a political figure give, even throwing in a positive mention of Lisa Murkowski.

Minority Leader Pelosi garnered the biggest reaction from the conference attendees, receiving a standing ovation from the enthralled crowd as she walked to the podium. Her speech highlighted the successes of the Democratic party and progressive movement within the last four years, but the emphasis was on thanking activists for making it happen. Pelosi made it clear that liberal success was impossible without youth constituent support.

One of the more enlightening and fiery speeches of the day came early on when Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, took the stage. The modern labor organizing movement in America is struggling, but Occupy and new discussions around economic inequality have provided unions with new talking points to reengage the American public. While Trumka evoked some of this language, especially in concluding his speech with an intense appeal to “take this country back for the 99%,” his concessions about organized labor’s failures were stunning. Trumka emphasized his awareness of unions being out of touch with today’s youth, leading to a weaker movement.

The conference did have its weaker moments: a panel on citizen journalism turned into a circular repetition of talking points, the audience only allowed to ask questions in the last 10 minutes of the hour-long discussion. Meanwhile, an earlier panel on progressive foreign policy revealed deep disagreements in the definition of American leadership and of what constitutes infringement on sovereignty. On a whole, the conference reaffirmed that although domestic political literacy is growing among young people, we still have much further to go in creating a globally aware electorate.

Campus Progress should be commended for running the event, but the takeaway from the greater conversation on progressivism is this: it is time for action. While it is fine to be fired up about leaders and the issues, if young progressives want to create change, they need to take the effort into their own hands. I do not say this from a position in the ivory tower of activism, as I too need to become more active. Political conferences are only useful if attendees use the tools and inspiration they provide: whether this is the case for #CPNC12 remains to be seen.


Summer 2012 etc.

The muggy weather. The daily riding of the Metro. No going to class.

It has to be summer in the DMV!

As you might have expected, I’m back on the East Coast and well into the swing of things for the summer. I’ve started interning full-time with doing communications with a non-profit that supports the United Nations, which has been a great experience so far! Outside of work, I am reading some great books (The Net Delusion, Everything is Illuminated), trying different restaurants (ShopHouse East Asian Kitchen, Agora), and attempting to balance my time between productive and unproductive things.

A note:

One thing I’ve noticed about political engagement while home is this: it’s very much an either/or situation. Now, there is a large group of Americans who are not politically engaged whatsoever, which could be considered within an either/or paradigm. However, within those who are politically adept, there remains a polarity: people know American politics or International Relations, but rarely do they know both (beyond where they obviously overlap). Even this summer, working within the international development community, I find myself slipping in coverage of the election.

To produce the next generation’s political leaders, we need balanced students who are aware and passionate about both domestic and international issues. While it’s fine to have a preference with the study of government, both subfields are key to understanding of our place within the global system.

Beyond my rant, a personal update:

Today, I deactivated my @j_ricecakes twitter username. If you’re already following me, you don’t have to do anything. If you’re not or you want to DM/MT me, the new one is @JonFRice.

Tweet away and happy summer!

Why the Supreme Court really doesn’t allow cameras

Squeaky chairs and all...

All of this recent talk about the Supreme Court and Obamacare has reminded me of my experience at the Supreme Court.

In Fall of 2010, I took “Introduction to Constitutional Law: Civil Liberties,” at Claremont McKenna College with Professor Ralph Rossum. While I had always been somewhat interested in the Supreme Court of the United States, or SCOTUS, I had never spent so much time intensely focusing on its procedure and casework.

After listening to quite a few hours of oral arguments, reading a number of amicus curiae briefs, and even doing a “moot court” session in the class, I felt that it was time for me to actually see an argument. I’ve been the court before, as have many who grew up in the DC area with an interest in politics, but I had never seen it in session. So, I decided to wake up early and check it out.

I won’t go into tons of details about waiting around to get in, but I’ll say this: It’s cold, and it feels like forever.

When I finally got into the courtroom, seated towards the back, the arguments had already begun. Seeing the courtroom full of people and in session is quite different from viewing it on other days; a sort of tension exists in the room, and it becomes much more solemn (that is, except for when Scalia acts the comic).

Beyond the high ceilings, the lawyers, and the imposing number of legal minds in the room, the most striking thing I found was the posture of the Justices. While the room and the name of SCOTUS creates an air of pomp and circumstance, the Justices themselves do not.

You see, the chairs that the Justices sit in lean back very far. So far, in fact, that for a few moments I thought Clarence Thomas was going to fall out of his seat. While leaning back in the squeaky chairs, many of the Justices seemed bored to death, rubbing their eyes, covering their faces, and twiddling their thumbs.

Did I mention that those chairs lean really far back?

Although I’m sure that the Justices were closely paying attention to the arguments, especially based on the questions they asked of the lawyers, it wouldn’t make for good TV.

So while I would love to have video to capture the reactions of boredom that I saw in that chamber, it now makes a lot of sense why the arguments aren’t televised. Claim all you want that it’s protect the institution from being a spectacle, but this might be another reason. It could have just been a really boring case, but it certainly wouldn’t play well to the public.

And so it begins…


I’ve had a number of blogs and all of them failed. Either due to lack of interest, inspiration, or a clean layout, I never could seem to maintain a website. With The Rice Papers, this will change.

This site will serve as a place for general analysis, commentary, and reflection on both the issues of the day and on my personal experiences. I hope that I can bring a unique perspective to our world, one that is lacking from current discourse; a tall order indeed.  Of course, the site could easily shift away from the simple mission I provide today; it’s existence is tempered by my changing views, so I wouldn’t expect a lot of consistency with what/where/when/how content is posted.

Part of the catalyst for the Rice Papers is my upcoming study abroad. In fall 2011, I will be traveling to Beijing, China under the Pitzer in China program. With a little perseverance and know-how, this site can be one part of that experience.

So, in a manner quite similar to the past, it begins again. I’ll try to keep the content as diversified as possible, but you never know what you will get.

Thanks for making the site a part of your day. I hope this is just the beginning of a long journey we can be on together. If you have any comment, question, concern, or advice that can add to our conversation/the rice papers, please contact me.

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