Driving through the country in his red Impala complete with his HOYA1 plates, Cain Pence (COL ’98) discovered America.

His goal? To experience the lives of the people living in every one of the 435 congressional districts that compose the United States.

In his senior year at Georgetown, Pence picked up an almanac of American politics and it was then that he formed a vision of his self-proclaimed “destiny”. Instead of using this almanac as a reference book, he was going to use it as a tour guide.

By visiting each congressional district, Pence felt he could catch an intimate glimpse of local governments and really get to the roots of American politics.

But it was not until he began renting cars and driving through the eastern states on weekends that his friends finally got the picture that Pence was serious about this journey.

“No one ever thought the day would come when I said, `To hell with it all. I’m going to follow my destiny and become this epic American wanderer,'” Pence says.

And so began his five-year trek through the outskirts of rural Oklahoma to the glacial heights of Alaska. Although it’s not your average graduate school, for Pence there was no better classroom.

“I remember when I was in Alaska and it was raining . and I looked up and saw the mountains and the soaring cliffs . and I was like, `I’m in Alaska and all my Georgetown friends are in some library,'” he remembers. “It was just a sense of purpose.”

Without sponsorship, he was often forced to rely on the generosity of strangers.

“I was, like, so broke, so I would go into restaurants and start up a conversation. People would give me free food. They would give me gas money. I stayed with people I didn’t even know,” Pence recalls.

Newspapers throughout the country have compared Pence to a modern Alexis de Tocqueville. In his travelogue he not only incorporates political analysis, but uses his own personal transformation to demonstrate the benefits of American diversity.

Once the sole conservative columnist for THE HOYA, he says that he was “known to be hard right at Georgetown.”

But through the course of his travels, he has developed a unique appreciation for his fellow Americans that only his first-hand experience could produce.

“I ran into contact with every different kind of American and I think that naturally makes you more open-minded, more tolerant,” he says. “I am more independent-minded on a lot of things and that had a lot to do with the journey. Labels only go so far.”

Pence, however, does not necessarily consider himself a Republican. He says he is now focused on things that transcend party issues and form the substance of democracy itself.

Pence began to form his own concept of American politics through his travels.

He says, for example, that he found that perceptions of race relations and segregation are not quite the reality. He expected to find the majority of segregation in the South, but was surprised by what he found.

“Racially speaking, absolutely by far the most segregated places are all in the North,” Pence says, citing Chicago, Cincinnati and Detroit as what he saw as the most racially divided cities.

“Talking to guys from Alabama and Mississippi and Georgia I found a lot less racists than the guys I talked to in Michigan, Chicago and New Jersey,” Pence says, “I thought that was kind of enlightening.”

Although in the South some people attach their identity to the Confederate flag, he feels that this is not necessarily an intentionally divisive force.

“There are a lot of Southerners who fly the confederate flag who aren’t racist. They fly the confederate flag because they view it as their heritage,” he says.

Instead of finding a thriving democracy, he found that people were dissatisfied with many aspects of their political representation.

“When you go to each [district] you really see that they are drawn by the state legislatures to maximize their turnouts in those districts. People are pissed off. They are tired of the same old party thing,” Pence says.

Pence himself may be the one to make some changes. In the last few years, he has talked to more than 5,000 students, speaking at high schools about his experience and about American politics and society. At the moment, he is looking into publishing his manuscript, “Raising Cain All Across America.”

Pence says he tried to reach out to the academic institutions in the districts, but found surprisingly little response or support.

“It really turned me off to what I call the ivory tower elitists, which are just the people that get Ph.D.’s in political theory or American government but they don’t understand what the physical place of America is,” Pence says.

Pence certainly did not approach his trip as a member of elite academia.

One time, he even slept out in the open air on a dock in Florida and entertained questions from homeless people.

Pence’s days of his wandering, however, have ended for now. Settled in New Mexico, Pence is further deepening his knowledge and interest in the western United States. He is taking Spanish classes and studying in what he deems to be the ideal location for his academic interests.

As for his future plans? Politics seems to be the logical answer. Noted by his friends as always very fascinated by American government, he seems fairly sure that politics will “be a road [he] is eventually going to go down.”

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.