In the halls of Capitol Hill, one can feel the history of the decisions that were pondered and fought for, and also the intensity of the history being made. Members of Congress attend votes and hearings, listening to opinions on key issues in our nation. Bills are passed, legislation is debated and amended and the cycle continues. Washington, D.C. is the never-ending grandfather clock ticking away in the heart of our nation.

Harleen Kaur

However, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that politics aren’t easy. I think the recent activities in D.C. are a fairly obvious hint to that. The Speaker of the House, Rep. John Boehner, is suing President Barack Obama for what Boehner calls a “flippant dismissal of the Constitution we are both sworn to defend.”

Last week, a significant Supreme Court ruling deemed the HHS Mandate of the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, preventing some women from getting birth control and abortion coverage from their work, opening up the floodgates on religious liberties and civil rights. Immigration reform is coming to a head as Obama visits Texas this week and attempts to receive billions of dollars of funding to solve the broken immigration system. All of this, of course, on top of a key election year where the GOP could take the majority of the Senate, and maintain the majority in the House, leaving the last two years of the Obama administration a potential bi-partisan gridlock.

This Congress has been called one of the least productive in history. With many key policy reforms on the table, Congress has been unable to even take some of these policies to committee, like the critical Voting Rights Amendment Act. Without the VRAA, the November midterm elections will be the first time in nearly five decades that voters aren’t protected at the polls by the Voting Rights Act. This means that discriminatory procedures that are put into place to disenfranchise minority voters will continue to function without any repercussions. Many voters may be turned away from the polls because English isn’t their first language, because of the color of their skin or simply because they appear to not fit what a standard American “should” look like.

The purpose of policies are understood in different ways at their very core — is our immigration system broken because so many individuals can immigrate here or because they are forced to do so in secret? Does religious liberties mean protecting minority faiths that are targets of bias, discrimination and hate or majority faiths that feel targeted by the ways that others choose to practice their lives? The fundamental beliefs of so many members of Congress are so starkly different that I sometimes wonder if compromise, if a decision on any legislation, is even possible. As the parties of Congress move further and further apart it will become more difficult for these compromises to occur.

And yet, this is why I love D.C. Despite the seemingly endless chaos and the never-ending policy issues whichever way you look, this is the hub that creates policy. This is the place where our laws are formed, where civil rights are debated and fought for, and where our nation’s democracy is upheld. Regardless of which side of the aisle you stand on, this is a system that is meant to represent the people of our nation. Each individual has a right to voice their concerns on how our nation is run and there will be someone to listen to them, even if it’s an unpaid intern.

Granted, it doesn’t always work. There are communities that are underrepresented, and there are policies that fall through the cracks. Our Congress isn’t a representation of the makeup of our nation. If that were the case, there would be more Congresswomen, more people of color and more members of other faiths in Congress, just to name a few.

But that’s why it is so critical for us to stay engaged and involved in our government.

Advocates can make change by not only voicing concerns for discriminatory policies, but also by making sure they are at the table. The moment you’re in a Congressional office and someone discusses an issue that is pertinent to you, you will no longer be the protester on the street or the lobbyist on the phone, you will be the expert at the table who’s ready to advise your peers on this legislative action. Directly engaging in our government is the best solution, because it was a system that was created “by the people, for the people,” and maintaining that purpose will create the most successful democracy possible.

Harleen Kaur can be reached at harleen@umich.edu.

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