The legislative world of D.C. seems a world away when you’re living in socal. Often times it feels out of reach to even believe that you have an impact in D.C. politics- it literally is thousands of miles away. But after this experience, I’ve come to realize that I was the one that was thousands of miles away from D.C. politics.
A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go to the JACL/OCA Leadership Summit at our nation’s capital. I met people from all over the country from various professional backgrounds and heard firsthand account on what is going in the Asian American community in their respective hometowns. Formally, I had the opportunity to listen to experts on hate crimes, coalition building, and legislation that affects our community. There were interactive workshops on the day in the life of a congress member (my absolute favorite), and a chance to do lobby visits on the National Defense Authorization Act that allows for indefinite detention in wartime.
But the message that made the most impact was that I was part of the legislative process, we all are. For me, it was easy to be encompassed in my local political bubble and tell myself “someone else will handle it” or “politicians won’t listen to me.” That’s not to say that all politicians on Capitol Hill are there for the right reasons but there are some that are and there are some that do listen. Which brings me to my point, don’t wait to be heard. I learned that I have to take the initiative to be involved in legislation that affects my communities. But how do we take initiative? Calls seem to have the most impact for the legislative aide on the other side, writing letters, even updating your congress members about what’s going on in your communities or what you would like to see changed.
Another message that resonated with me pertains to coalition building. One of JACL’s strengths is its history. Detention in wartime hysteria hits too close to home, and as much as we all would like it stay a part of history, it is also very much an issue that affects us today. Our history is in the present. Lobbying against the NDAA with fellow OCA and JACLers made me realize how powerful history can be. We know the potential grave injustices that could happen in times of hysteria because it happened to our community. And now we know that any sign of potential injustice must be fought against before it becomes reality again. The empowering lessons of history, the power of numbers, and working with other organizations, makes our voices heard.
The legislation that goes on in those tall white walls thousands of miles away affects us here. D.C. is not exactly in our backyard, but it can be. Thanks JACL and OCA for an amazing experience!