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A visit to America (Christian Socialist Magazine September 2003)

Thursday, October 23, 2003



Mall Walking - any ideas? On a recent visit to the USA I was not prepared for this particular sport. Its perhaps no stranger than going to a gym to run or walk on a treadmill, but choosing to get your exercise by taking to the local shopping centre in your track suit and trainers did strike me as somewhat comical. What’s that quote about two countries divided by a common  . . . . .


The main purpose of my visit was to gain a greater appreciation of how the United States is governed, with time spent visiting institutions in Washington and a state capital, Lincoln, Nebraska. However, the highlight of my visit was the weekend I spent with Congressman Danny K. Davis, who represents the 7th District of Chicago. We had many interests in common such as education, small businesses, health and social welfare. Congressman Davis represents a district with a population of approximately 600,000. His district is over 60% African American with sizeable numbers of Hispanics and white people.


Danny Davis was first elected to Congress in 1996 with over 20 years in public life in Chicago. He is well known and even while we were enjoying an excellent lunch at Wallace’s Catfish Corner constituents were calling by to say hello. His priorities for the District are to promote education and increase wealth and prosperity in the community through increased home ownership and entrepreneurship. Tony Blair said “Education, education, education” - Danny Davis says “Education is the key” and gives out key rings to children to encourage them to attend and do well at school.


Religion in American life has a greater importance compared to here. The U.S. Congress Handbook includes religion among the details for each Senator and Congress representative. In the area of Chicago I visited there was a church on every corner and I soon found out that Danny Davis makes sure he visits them all. Appropriately we began our Sunday with breakfast at Edna’s Soul Food restaurant where she has proudly run her business for the last 37 years. Knowing I was a Methodist Danny took me to a service at an African Methodist Episcopalian Church before calling into a small Baptist church who were celebrating their annual women’s day. Next to the exuberance of African American worshippers I felt called upon to explain my English reserve!


Sunday afternoon we went to a Lutheran church who asked Danny to what they call a “Town Hall meeting” to discuss a range of concerns. At every visit Danny introduced me as doing the same job as him back in England. It’s true that our positions are broadly similar despite differences in scale and constitutional arrangements. It’s even truer that the same issues that affect the daily life of his constituents affect mine. Improving education, increasing employment and small businesses as well as building more wealth in the community are as much issues for the white working class in Heeley as they are for Danny’s voters in Chicago.


Not only did I receive an unforgettable warm welcome from the people of Chicago but I came away with new ideas on how to tackle issues at home. In Sheffield I’ve been holding regular meetings with faith leaders in my constituency to share issues of concern and promote networking but the numbers of the active religious population in the UK is much less than in the US. Perhaps we will all have to learn to lose our reserve!



Meg Munn MP




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