When Senator Jack Reed announced he’d be doing a lottery for tickets to the impeachment trial, I entered and then immediately filed it away as “things that’ll never happen” in my head. Fast forward to me telling my boss I’d be out, an unfortunate amount of time in a car, and arriving at Reed’s office in the Hart Senate Building to claim my ticket.
To get to the Capitol, you ride in a tram that is only accessible through a security checkpoint in the basement of the building. The tram takes me through the cleanest tunnel I’ve ever seen in my life. Once arriving, I find my way to the Senate gallery – and, one of my proudest accomplishments, I only had to ask for directions twice.
At my first security checkpoint in the Capitol, I am asked to surrender all electronic devices and notebooks, as you are not allowed to take notes. Then, I’m given a run-down on rules, including that you’re not allowed to react audibly or physically to the trial or you can be removed from the gallery (and possibly arrested). I choke down some fleeting anxiety at this one, since I lack a poker face, and continue to the last security checkpoint before entering the gallery. The first people that catch my eye are the Senate pages – teenagers responsible for preparing the chamber, delivering correspondence and legislative material, among other things as part of a program started in 1829.
Half an hour later and suddenly all the senators are in their seats. I’m in awe of the people I know of but don’t personally know: Booker, Warren, Harris, Romney, Sanders, McConnell – all intent on getting started. The trial is a weirdly clerical ballet. Senate pages move quickly and effortlessly, passing people notes from across the room,
bringing lawyers information, and refilling water (and milk). The room is tense but focused, but everyone who speaks does it with a passion that makes me think they truly want what is best for the country. I’m captivated and hang onto every spoken word (which, unfortunately, I am not allowed to disclose here), though eventually I must relinquish my time so that other Rhode Islanders can witness the historic event.
Almost anticlimactically, I find myself on the tram ride back. I meet a woman who quizzes me on Rhode Island, believing we’re known for our lobsters, which I promptly correct. She finally settles on us being “the small one” and I quip back, “Yeah, small – but mighty!” And suddenly, I’m overcome with pride for my home state, and just how grateful I am to Senator Reed. It was literally the experience of a lifetime.