Wednesday, 16 April 2014

History & Politics Trip to the USA: Day Seven

by Will Wallace

Saturday 12th April

So today is our day in Philadelphia, but also the last day in the United States. We'd all managed a good night's sleep, with minimal snoring taking place, and came down to the ground floor for breakfast. I had become accustomed to the blueberry muffins of our DC hostel, so to find that our Philly hotel had a pancake machine was quite a relief! We brought our suitcases into the lobby for secure storage before heading off to the Independence National Historic Park.

Assembly Room (with anglophobic guide to the right)
We arrived at Independence Hall, the place where the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution were debated and adopted. Our guide around the hall was, it must be said, the grumpiest and least enthusiastic man to grace the Earth. He proudly told us how the Founding Fathers had been influenced by Athenian democracy - but failed to make any mention of the British system of representative democracy, or our historic liberties set out in the Magna Carta, on both of which the Americans had based a great deal of their Constitution and Bill of Rights, respectively. "Well, that told us!", Dr Galliver quipped to the other teachers.

The guide brought us to the Supreme Court Room, where the Pennsylvania state judiciary convened, and asked a number of questions for the audience to answer. When a member of our group answered a question, he exclaimed, "Oh look! The foreigner knows the answer!" - by this point, we weren't terribly surprised by that remark, given that he had spent a fair bit of time portraying the British as an oppressive, tyrannical force that despised freedom and democracy. We were then shown the Assembly Room, where the Second Continental Congress met to legislate after the nation's victory in its War of Independence.

We said goodbye to the Anglophobic guide and entered Congress Hall, where a markedly chirpier guide greeted us and walked us around the House and Senate chambers, which served as one of the successors to the Assembly Room in housing the legislature. This guide was far nicer - for some reason, she reminded me of a kind old lady from a Disney film. From there, we left to look for a nearby supermarket, where we found lunch; additionally, some retrieved the American cuisine of legend: twinkles and twizzlers.

Independence Hall, Philadelphia
After lunch, spent basking in the sun on the Independence Mall lawn, we moved to the National Constitution Center. We were ushered into a small theatre where a 20-minute video chronicling the foundation of the country was shown. To be honest, it was completely drenched in American patriotism and exceptionalism, with frequent reminders that this was the greatest nation in the world that was blazing the trail for freedom. It was tear-jerking. Or maybe not.

From the theatre, we walked to the centre's auditorium, where we were given a talk on 'How To Run For President'. One task involved writing a political platform and presidential speech for a candidate from the fictional Yellow and Orange Parties. For the Yellows were Lydia, Sophie and Harrison; for the Oranges were Phin, Dom and myself. Their policies included the separation of Church and State, and increased education spending; ours focused on the redistribution of wealth and improving relations with Iran, Palestine and China. Essentially, two progressive parties with little choice for the other members of our school's party that usually side with conservative opinion.

The other task was to decipher sources from the 1800 presidential election, in which Alexander Hamilton (Federalist) lobbied in favour of Thomas Jefferson (Democratic-Republican) purely due to his resentment of Aaron Burr (also a Dem-Rep). The lesson drawn from this was that politics has always been a dirty trade, with back-stabbing and deals made behind closed doors being frequent even at the nation's dawning.

We returned to the hotel to pick up our suitcases. Taxis took us to Philadelphia International Airport - there then followed a long haul back to London. On the 9-hour flight home from our connection in Atlanta, there were enough spare seats for most people to lie down and sleep. Those people were sensible, and I was not. I ended up watching Frozen again, as well as We're The Millers and The World's End. Needless to say, I was utterly shattered.
London, from the plane

Conclusions about the United States of America:

1) The people's accents are annoying

2) Americans are, nonetheless, very jolly people (with the exception of that guy at Independence Hall)

3) Americans love their nation, and their freedom

4) They need a reality check...

5) Blueberry muffins for breakfast? A terrible idea.

On behalf of all sixteen PGS pupils on the trip, huge thanks are owed to Miss Rickard and Dr Galliver for their insight and important knowledge that helped broaden our experience. Above all, however, we would like to thank Mr Lemieux for organising such a truly memorable and enjoyable seven days in the land of the free, and the home of the brave.  

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