As a local legislator, I often feel compelled to look at the national landscape through a local lens and draw the line of demarcation to demonstrate how what we do locally relates to our national policy. Today, I’m opening the aperture further as I reflect on an August week in which I engaged with the Irish Parliament, members of the Northern Irish Parliament, community advocates, members of Congress and members of state legislatures from 44 states. We reflected on the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland and enhanced its future with such strong ties to the United States in a post-Brexit world.
So, what brought this little-known legislator from the confines of the Broadneck peninsula across the pond to the shores of Dublin? American football. In 2020, the Navy Midshipmen were scheduled to meet in Dublin for a matchup with the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. When the game had to be rescheduled due to the pandemic, Irish Parliament Senator Mark Daly saw an opportunity to leverage the good will of American legislators in ensuring the continuation of peace in Northern Ireland in an otherwise uncertain future.
This was my second national conference with state legislators, having attended a public health conference in Portland, Oregon, in June where I gave a presentation on the newly passed legislation that establishes our public health commission so that other states could model our efforts. I heard the words that I had spoken during the presentation repeated throughout — “COVID presented many challenges, but it also created an opportunity.” An opportunity to evaluate how we operate, to assess not only our readiness for another public health crisis, but to rebuild our health system to be more efficient, more equitable, to modernize and streamline, to use technology in new ways, and to question if we were doing things because it was the best way or simply how we’d always done it.
Throughout our time in Ireland, we heard about the bipartisan support of America for Ireland, how until the U.S. applied pressure to and support for the Good Friday Agreement, peace in Northern Ireland was believed impossible; impossible until it happened. Today the peace walls still stand, yet they are regarded more as lines of division, a carryover to a part of history important to remember but wishing to move past.
The Northern Ireland Parliament has yet to be seated since the Brexit vote. Much of our time here was spent with American legislators trying to understand the political, historic and cultural dynamics that have created the stalemate while quietly and uncomfortably drawing parallels to our own political landscapes.
Through COVID, we learned how to conduct a safe, secure and socially distanced election. We figured out how to ensure a census where our response level was so high, you could visually outline District 33 on the map (I was very proud of us). We learned to be more vigilant with our research and more compassionate with our teachers, health care workers and other public servants. We were more generous with our resources, more outspoken with our community and more engaged in our electoral process.
We learned to challenge our representatives and our own biases. We learned that health care, child care, food security and shelter were basic needs, and the ability to take time to care for ourselves and our families was not a gift but a necessity. We learned that remote work, like remote education, works well for some and is impossible for others. We learned child care and education are not synonymous and that transportation is an essential part of public education.
This year, we have a real opportunity to shape the future of Anne Arundel County. In 2024, we will vote for the entire school board for the first time in our county’s history. The presidential race, the congressional races and the constitutional questions will take up a lot of the air in this election, so it’s essential to ensure we don’t lose sight of those down-ballot races. As education is the great equalizer, and we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a world-class globally competitive public education system that aims to provide every child opportunity regardless of zip code, let us be vigilant in our research of candidates and compassionate of the needs of our students, educators, staff and community. Let’s be generous with our resources, engaged in the process and aware of what is at stake.
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