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Friday, November 20, 2009

A voyage to Washington

Event planning is serious business. Especially when you are talking to people with guns.

Such are the complications of holding events on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. For sheer atmosphere and proximity to both power and impressive architecture, the location is tough to beat ... once you get in.

Destinations: Washington, DC -- Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, a partnership between the Emory Alumni Association and the Emory Libraries, took place Wednesday night, November 18 in the Caucus Room of the Cannon House Office Building. Some 250 people attended, and the stories told (many of them previously unknown) of millions of Africans' voyages to the Americas in chains were horrifying, riveting, educational, and shocking all at the same time.

One of the hosts for the evening was Rep. John Lewis, whose Georgia congressional district includes Emory. We'll have more on his appearance as well as photos and other reflections on the EAA's latest (and one if its most successful) visit to DC in future EAAvesdropping posts.

Stay tuned.

But for now ... back to our discussion of security.

Vehicle access to the Cannon House Office Building requires passing through checkpoints run by the U.S. Capitol Police. If the stern looks of the officers aren't a strong enough deterrent of funny business, the guardrails and retractable steel and concrete barriers should be.

Getting through the checkpoint requires a hefty list of approvals, which is understandable. Among the last officers to approve entry are a couple who have four legs.

"We were told we need to be sniffed by canines," was the line spoken to one of the human officers by a co-worker--a person who obviously hasn't experienced too many law enforcement interrogations (not that *I* have, mind you, but I've heard stories).

Apparently the dogs didn't find anything suspicious other than minivan exhaust and the overpowering smell of cardboard from the dozen or so boxes we were hauling, because after a moment (albeit a long one that included a few calls to verify we were who we said we were), the police lowered the barriers and waved us through.

Once inside the Cannon building and after climbing the stairs to the third-floor Caucus Room, the Libraries staff went to work. They assembled several Voyages workstations and the display board visuals accompanying them with such speed and ease, it was if they'd been practicing set-up for a month.

It was something that would impress even the most stoic U.S. Capitol police officer. Or his dog.

-- Eric Rangus, director of communications, EAA

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