A few weeks ago, the Chicago YAVs + Krista got to go to Washington D.C. to attend Ecumenical Advocacy Days. EAD is a chance for the church (Ecumenical =multiple denominations) to come together to learn about important issues, how politics are affecting these issues, and then to advocate to our political representatives on behalf of these issues.
It was definitely the first time I have ever been involved in anything remotely like this. I vote (I don't do it every election because I don't always feel like I am educated enough about the issues, but I believe it is important, so I vote when I feel like I have enough an opinion to do so) but beyond that my political experience was pretty much zero. In some ways this was a really cool experience to start with, but in a lot of ways it was a very overwhelming way to start. There were a whole lot of very experienced people there who knew so much about the issues, and about the whole political arena, and that kind of environment tends to make me feel very ignorant and overwhelmed. However, it was also very cool to see a lot of people who were passionate about their faith and putting their beliefs into action through political advocacy.
Like I said, my political experience was pretty much non-existent before this. That's not something that I'm proud of, but it's true. I had heard so many conflicting opinions and so few facts, so many negative things, and I just didn't know where to start, so I pushed it aside as something that was just too big for me to wrap my head around. Besides, I'm just one measly person, so who would care what I think anyways?
But this year, I've seen that politics matter. They affect the way our life in this country works, and they especially affect "the low men on the totem pole" - the orphan, the widow, the poor, and the marginalized of our society, who Jesus cares an awful lot about. And so I need to care about them too. And so it is important for me to be knowledgeable and involved in the political realms. Plus, the more I work to do good in the name of Jesus in this world, the more I realize how broken many of our systems are, and in order for things to really change, those systems have to change. In many cases, politics are how those systems change.
And so, when Krista told us that the YAV office wanted us to go to EAD I was excited for a chance to learn about politics. I was also pretty stoked to get to go to Washington D.C. since I had never been there before and I lovegoing new places and experiencing new things.
We spent a long weekend - Friday through Monday - in D.C. Most of our time was spent at the hotel where we stayed and the conference took place. There were almost 1,000 people at the conference, so we sort of took over the whole place.
This year, EAD was "focused on efforts to reduce acquisition and use of guns for purposes that cause harm, and to rebalance funding priorities toward preventing violence and enhancing human security." AKA reducing gun violence and shifting spending away from violence.
Now, before you guys freak out, because I know that a lot of people reading this are going to - I mean, many of you live in Southern OKLAHOMA, about the most gun-loving state ever. Well, probably second to Texas. Anyways, just keep reading.
You don't have to agree with me. I'm not going to stop being your friend if you disagree. I promise. In fact, I 100% value your opinion and I would be happy have a conversation about this if you are willing to respect and listen to my side too. Really.
But this is actually an issue that I've given quite a bit of thought to over the past several years, so I was glad that this conference would be about an issue that I can stand completely behind and support. Yes, I support reducing gun violence. This was not about taking away the guns from the good guys, it was about having less guns in the hands of bad guys, who are going to hurt or kill people. As far as the second part, about reducing spending, that's a little over my head as a newbie to politics, but I was able to think about programs that could teach people nonviolent ways to resolve conflicts, and about ways that reducing spending could mean more money for other, very important, areas, like education.
Overall, the conference was pretty liberal, which I actually wished that there was a bit more of both political sides shown. I myself wouldn't really call myself "liberal" or "conservative" - there are some issues which I fall on one side, and some on the other. As I look at the issues, I try to think about scriptures and what I know of Jesus and how He would treat people. I try to remember love.
At the end of the weekend, we had the chance to actually meet with staff members of our own Representatives and Senators. While I was pretty terrified of this, it turned out to be probably my favorite part of the whole experience. I was really scared, mostly because I was the only one from Oklahoma (out of all of those 1,000 people - what the heck, Okies?!). (We registered for the conference based on where we are registered to vote, which, since we don't have permanent residency here in Chicago, is still OK for me.) So I was extremely intimidated at the thought of little old me marching into a Senator's office (especially the ultra-conservative, gun-loving, politicians from Oklahoma) and telling them my (relatively uneducated) thoughts on these issues. But I was pleasantly surprised at how approachable and at least seemingly genuinely interested they were. They listened respectfully and were open to hearing my thoughts and experiences. I was able to share stories of how guns were a part of life at the elementary school in Hugo during my time working there and how many comparisons I saw between poverty stricken, rural Oklahoma, and inner city, gang violent Chicago.
And it felt good. It felt really good to be heard, to be a part of this process, and to stand up for what I believe in.
I was amazed at how you can really just walk into the House of Representatives building (after going through a security process, of course, although easy-peasy compared to the airport!) and talk to real live people who are actually willing to listen. I guess all of the cynical political talk I've heard on facebook has skewed my views.
I mean, who knows if I was really heard, if the staff members I shared with actually took my information to the actual representative/senator, but I did my best.
If you've never been a part of the political process in this sort of way, I really would encourage you to learn about the issues and go talk to somebody important - whether than is your mayor, state representative, senator, or the President himself.
Meanwhile, this has just added to the many thoughts already going through my head recently. I feel like I always have a million things to process and never enough free brain power to do it. So all of these thoughts and emotions and information just get pushed back to the corners of my brain. Sigh.