Going to deliver the Congressional Appeal letters to Congress and Senate for the Peace Economy Project in July marked my first hands-on encounter of the US political-system. I have never worked in politics, but have instead stayed outside of the ring in an activist-type of role. Actually, I have never before needed to wear such nice clothes.
Going to D.C., I knew already that I could never be a politician; I don’t think I could be bull-headed enough about my opinions to confine them to a political party, because I usually create my outlooks on more of a case-by-case basis.
Regardless of personal thoughts on politicians, I liked the idea of spending a couple of days working to present the opinions of people all over the United States to their representatives. It felt like an honor to walk to hundreds of offices, delivering the signatures of people who share a common interest in funding community needs by reducing military spending.
This trip allowed me to take a peek at politics in action, and the most intriguing finding was that working in politics and constantly hearing political debates causes a lot of people to stray away from actually listening to someone’s opinions. Many of the people that PEP met with were good at knowing their planned responses prior to having a conversation. I would say that half of the six people that PEP met with knew from the beginning that we would have differences in opinion and therefore, while still allowing us to meet with them and present our ideas, our meeting was deemed ‘unconstructive’ in their minds before it even began. The other half listened to us and used our presentation points as a means to create healthy discussion. These are the people, regardless of political party, that give hope to our democratic system.
The differences in the receptiveness of those we met with were striking to me. For example, when talking to Todd Akin’s (a.k.a. my representative’s) staff member, I realized that many politicians have their own agenda and plan on closing conversation which deals with alternative views. I was not hoping for the staff member to support my opinions because I know that many of the people in my district agree with Akin’s stances more than my own. I was, however, not expecting him to have quick remarks about everything that we presented. I guess I was hoping for a little more listening, understanding and an agree-to-disagree kind of conversation.
Some of the other people that we met with were extremely genuine and interested in hearing our opinions. Both McCaskill and Durbin’s staff people engaged us in conversation rather than just listening to us give a presentation. Our exchange of questions, information, and viewpoints was really eye-opening and it was great to find people who don’t seem to be out of touch with the possibility that their constituents’ opinions differ from their own.
My first experience on Capitol Hill opened my eyes to a new perspective on how to make changes in society. Working to influence policy is a route I had never explored, and I was glad to help the voices of citizens be heard with the Peace Economy Project. Hopefully, my future return to Capitol Hill yields subtle changes in the way that some policy makers and their staff receive their constituents, but I was happy with my experience as a whole, and ecstatic about the productive conversations and advice for additional talking points that came from many of Missouri and Illinois’ Congress people.
Peace Economy Project Intern