OUR INSPIRATION AND PURPOSE
In this section, we would like to share a very personal story about the origins of the Washington Workshops Foundation from the personal perspectives of our Founder, Dr. Leo S. Tonkin:
1968 was a seminal year in 20th century American social and political life, continued to be remembered for its tumultuous events that continued to overtake that year, day by day.
The assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy, a riotous political convention, and the surprising withdrawal of President Lyndon Johnson from seeking re-election that fall. ..But overshadowing all were the street demonstrations across America by thousands of young and disillusioned citizens questioning American commitment to quagmire across the seas in Vietnam. At one point that spring, army troops with drawn bayonets ringed the Capitol building in Washington DC to prevent student demonstrators from defiling the iconic, hallowed Halls of Congress.
From his office window overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC, Leo Tonkin, a young graduate of Johns Hopkins and Harvard Law School, recently a Congressional assistant and now executive director of the Commissioner’s Council on Higher Education, looked down on marching crowds of young people protesting the nation’s continuing conflict in Vietnam. Invectives, slurs, degrading posters, arrests and turmoil were all the hallmarks of the street demonstrations. And Leo Tonkin thought that there had to be another way, a better way, for these young American citizens to express their feelings to their elected representatives. To engage in dialogue and respectful discussions with government leaders so that all sides could have their feelings conveyed and fully considered and with genuine interest. Not to seer the nation asunder by closing down government, but by opening the offices and committee rooms for young Americans to gather with officials from across all branches of government, in a search for answers and reasonable analysis of the policy differences so fracturing the American political landscape.
Amidst the clatter of the street demonstrations below, Leo’s thoughts took on form and substance and thus was born the Washington Workshops Foundation
That summer of 1968 the first Washington Workshops high school student seminars convened in our nation’s capital. Since then, and for over more than a half century, some 300,000 young Americans, and even many from around the world, have been Workshops participants. Some of these young student leaders have gone on to become United States Senators, Members of the House of Representatives, state legislatures, and civic minded citizens and community leaders far and wide.
An overarching motto of Washington Workshops cones from a 19th century quote that “…there is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action!” To seek answers, to probe all sides of an issue, to try to be objective and discerning in factual pursuit, always with personal ideals fashioned and held in positive manner. These are the intrinsic values that permeate the Washington Workshops seminars experience.
Perhaps no words summarize better the spirit of Washington Workshops than those inscribed on the award presented to the Workshops by the Valley Forge Freedoms Foundation in a White House ceremony…
“…helping to bring about a better understanding of the American way of life!”
The founding and history of the Washington Workshops Foundation is a story of America itself. Innovation, dedication, a fulsome belief in American representative democracy. Perhaps the words atop the National Archives building in Washington DC say it best in their clarion call to all ……“What is Past is Prologue”!