Politics A-level Students Visit Seat of US Democracy | Epsom College
  • Trips

Politics A-level Students Visit Seat of US Democracy

Sixth Form Politics students take to the US capital city for a deep dive into American politics and history.

Returning to the US for the first time since 2018, the seventh Politics trip to Washington DC and Philadelphia was a great success. A group of 28 Sixth Form students, led by Head of Department Mr Dunn, alongside Mr Bustard and Miss Birch, enjoyed the buzz of the US capital as it geared up for the midterm elections.

The first day of the six-day trip was spent exploring the numerous historical monuments along the historic Mall and Tidal Basin – the Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Roosevelt Memorial, Vietnam, Korean, WW2 and Martin Luther King Memorials. Each gave the group an opportunity to reflect on significant characters from America’s political history. Whilst the Washington Monument was sadly closed for structural work, the students had the opportunity to view all these sites from the top of the Old Post Office Tower.

After a quick dinner, the group moved to the Kennedy Center, adjacent to the Watergate Complex, and enjoyed great views over the city before watching a slapstick performance of Shear Madness, where the audience participated in working out who committed the murder. Many among the Epsom group threw themselves into this wholeheartedly.

The group emerged the following morning for an historic tour of Ford’s Theatre, famously the site where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. The historic significance of Lincoln was apparent from the superb exhibits and hugely informative displays.

The original documents that formed the foundation of the US – the Declaration of Independence and Constitution – were then observed at the National Archive before a short metro ride took the group for a reflective afternoon. We visited the Arlington National Cemetery, home to those who died in service in the US military, as well as the graves of former President John F Kennedy, his brothers Bobby and Ted, and numerous memorials to those that died in other ways, such as the Space Shuttle disasters of 1986 and 2003. There was also an impressive changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The group then visited the simple but meaningful and memorable 9/11 memorial at the Pentagon before enjoying a quick shop and dinner at the Pentagon City Mall.

The evening saw a bespoke night bus tour, organised very kindly once again by the Waterman family (parents of OEs) who run the BigBus company. This took us around Georgetown, as well as seeing Washington by night. We admired views and gaining in-depth information on the buildings, monuments and memorials, including stops at the Iwo Jima monument, the Lincoln Memorial and Lafayette Park. Lafeyette was famously the scene of the Black Lives Matter protests on the north side of the White House. Our guide, Nur, was outstanding at bringing the city to life and this was a real highlight of the trip for everyone.

Tuesday began with a privileged journey through the tunnel used by members of Congress and their staff into the Capitol building, home of the US legislative branch, Congress. This was followed by a bespoke tour of the Capitol itself by staffers from the congressional office of Democrat representative Joseph Morelle from New York 25th District. We are very grateful to Declan Graham for allowing us this access, for giving us an insight into working in a congressional office at such a time of partisanship, as well as for guiding us around the Capitol itself, with its historical and artistic treasures on show.

Only viewing the exterior of the Supreme Court was possible, but standing on the steps where thousands have protested in recent times over issues such as the overturning of Roe vs Wade and voter right suppression was evocative of the significance of the judgments made inside the home of the US judiciary’s highest court. Some pupils visited the Library of Congress and others enjoyed one of America’s most visited museums, the Air and Space Museum.

The African American Museum was another highlight of the trip, and this was overwhelming in reflecting the backstory of slavery, segregation, persecution and discrimination that formed much of the pupils’ GCSE History course and also their current studies of American politics. It also celebrated the enormous contribution the African American community has made to the cultural life of the US.

The evening finished with a fantastic experience at the Capitol One Arena in the centre of the city, enjoying the spectacle and skill on show as the Washington Wizards defeated the Detroit Pistons in a scintillating NBA Basketball match – another real highlight.

The final morning saw the group packed and departing the hotel early for a three-hour coach journey to the rustbelt state of Pennsylvania to visit the nation’s first capital city, Philadelphia. This state was one of the key Senate seats up for re-election in the midterm elections and in its historic quarter the group visited Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were both signed, and the first Congress met. The iconic Liberty Bell was also on display, and the trip finished in the Constitution Center with a stirring and patriotic presentation and hugely engaging displays about the nations’ history and its political development.

Overall this was a tremendous trip, packed with inspiring historical and political sights and cultural experiences, blessed with good weather and a happy and enthusiastic touring group. They walked up to 15 miles every day zigzagging from site to site and were immaculate in their conduct at all times. Good humoured, inclusive of each other and tremendous company throughout, they were great ambassadors for the College and all will have gained a great deal from the experience.