No matter how many times I walk the halls of congressional office buildings, I still experience some awe at being at the hub of decision-making for our country.
And it’s even more of a thrill being there with a clear purpose, in my case to encourage those lawmakers to consider the needs of Americans who are poor and marginalized.
I recall a very intriguing conversation with a Chinese intern at Catholic Charities several months ago. He was fascinated with the concept that we could just walk into a legislator’s office and talk to her or his staff about issues of concern to us. Do they really listen to you? he wanted to know.
Sometimes it’s difficult to tell.
A couple of weeks ago I joined a few more seasoned advocates for immigration reform in visiting the offices of senators who needed some convincing to vote for the DREAM Act, a bill that would create a path to legal status for people brought to the US illegally as children.
We trotted out all the arguments: it’s not their fault that their parents brought them here, and this is the only home they have known and they are eager to contribute to their communities. We stressed that some of these young people are losing hope of a future in which they can get an education and a good job, and are getting lured into drugs and gangs.
It was inspiring watching seasoned advocates banter back and forth with staff over the fine points of the political process that is keeping some senators from considering this legislation on its merits. And it was discouraging to realize that some senators had their minds made up against the legislation, no matter what we would say.
But it’s still a fine country where anyone can speak their mind to legislators — by in-person visits, email messages or phone calls –and have a sense that their voice is being added to all the others trying to sway policy.
That’s way more than the Chinese intern expects in his home country, as he said you can’t even get appointments with lawmakers unless you have some connections.