Nine months after losing a hard-fought race for a Senate seat in Maryland’s Democratic primary — and just days after ending nearly a decade of service in the House — Donna Edwards hit the road.
Not just to get away, she said on Facebook, but “to meet people who don’t think about politics all the time but whose lives are affected by politics every day.”
When she returned home in time for Easter (a promise to her mom), she had logged 12,000 miles across 27 states in a 25-foot RV she affectionately named Lucille.
Along the way, the 59-year-old lawyer met and talked with Americans of all different racial, political and socio-economic backgrounds. Sometimes the conversations were simple — other RV owners teaching Edwards how to do minor repairs or locals letting her know where the best barbecue and burgers were in town. At other times her discussions focused on heavier issues such as health care and immigration.
Her RV neighbors would open up to her, most never knowing that she once walked the halls of the Capitol as a congresswoman.
Edwards remembered watching CNN with a woman in March as a story came on about Republicans’ first attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act in the House. The woman told Edwards that she and her husband were insured for the first time under the 2010 law. She also said she voted for President Donald Trump.
“Well you know he said during the campaign he was going to get rid of Obamacare,” Edwards recalled saying to the woman. “Well I didn’t think he meant that,” the woman replied.
For Edwards, the debate over health care isn’t just political. She wrote a letter to her former colleagues earlier this month announcing that she has multiple sclerosis and pleading that they maintain provisions of the health care law. She said she hoped to put a “different face” on the issue of pre-existing conditions as both a former member of Congress and someone who has lived a healthy lifestyle.
As she crisscrossed the country, Edwards would scribble down notes and take photos (4,000 in all) of interesting things she came across. She was struck by the lack of high speed internet and cell phone access in some areas as well as the housing conditions in rural states.
Since returning home, Edwards has stayed busy even without a new job. She has a fellowship at the Brennan Center for Justice and traveled to Burma to lead a training session in democracy for that nation’s parliament. As for a future career, Edwards says she is considering academia or even running for office again in Maryland’s Prince George’s County.
In whatever field she eventually enters, Edwards said she benefited from her trip across the nation.
“It was just an amazing experience, the vastness of the country and just how beautiful and different it is,” Edwards says. “But it’s the same in some ways once you just start talking to people.”