Pablo Neruda in D.C. Office - Humanities Advocacy Day

Submitted by Michael Neininger on
Representative Derek Kilmer with Jesse Oak Taylor (UW English), Lela Hilton (Clemente Course in the Humanities), and Jason Groves (UW German Studies)

One of my more surreal experiences in recent memory involved finding myself not only registering as a lobbyist but soon thereafter finding myself in the D.C. office of a representative who was reciting a poem by Chilean poet and Nobel Prize recipient Pablo Neruda. I don't know how common it is for members of congress to cite Pablo Neruda poems to visiting lobbyists, but it is probably somewhat more likely in the state of Washington than others, and, within Washington, much more likely in District 6 than others, given that Copper Canyon Press, which has published many translations of Neruda’s poetry, is located in this district.

In fact, with some more context there was little that was surreal about the experience. It recently took place on Humanities Advocacy Day 2019 (#HAD19), which I attended, together with my English colleague Jesse Oak Taylor, at the invitation of the Simpson Center for the Humanities. (We were joined by Lela Hilton, Executive Director of The Clemente Course in the Humanities). In particular we were advocating for increased funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and Title VI/Fulbright-Hays. The University of Washington is a major recipient of both, yet the Trump administration is (again) calling for the elimination of both in proposed federal budget. Thanks to robust support in congress for the Humanities, previous attempts by the administration to eliminate funding were unsuccessful.

The National Humanities Alliance organizes Humanities Advocacy Day as well as an annual meeting on the previous day. The annual meeting was a tremendously useful event for making the case for studying the humanities. Matter-of-fact session titles belied the vibrant and inspiring conversations that they facilitated: Communicating The Value Of The Humanities; On Campus Partnerships With Career Services; Cohort Programs And Immersive Experiences; Engaging Admitted Students; Building A Local Job Market; And Curricular Innovation.

On the day of advocacy we met with aides from senators Cantwell and Murray and representatives Pramila Jayapal (7th) and Dan Newhouse (4th District), as well as with representative Derek Kilmer (6th District). Though the topics in the meetings varied considerably, each meeting resulted in (and sometimes started with) strong statements of support for the humanities. Representative were particularly interested in the many community projects that the NEH supports (showcased in the NEH for All initiative) and the foreign language learning programs supported by Title VI / Fulbright-Hays.

In full disclosure, I have been a recipient of NEH funding (as a participant in a Summer Seminar for College Teachers), and I have helped students at the UW secure Fulbright funding and Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowships. I’m also very happy to have been invited by the Simpson Center for the Humanities to advocate, on behalf of the UW, for vital federal support for humanities.