Thursday, February 24, 2011

It's No Longer a Game

The silent sweep of an opening door.
The click of heels on the marble.
The smell of politics.

Officials everywhere.
Some on their smart phones.
Others talking in groups.
All carrying bags and briefcases.
Dressed in suits.
Ready for another day.

Contrary to popular belief, my comfort zone does have limits.

I'm already a person small in stature, but being among all of these important people and walking closely behind my representative--a man who stands well above six feet tall--I felt so tiny. So unimportant and insignificant. For a moment, I felt so unsure of myself. What was I doing here? All of these people dealt with the lawmaking process. Seasoned politicians, taking time out of their lives to create laws that will dictate our Washingtonians live their lives.

I asked myself again:
What was I doing here?

I had felt so comfortable in the modular buildings. My representative made me feel comfortable and got me excited to tackle the day. But walking into the capitol building instantly overwhelmed me. True, I had been in there with TeenPact, but that was different. Among people I knew, I felt confident walking through the building.

But now, I was a complete stranger. The constituents who had had an appointment with my rep had been so kind and welcoming to me. But they were just like me: merely constituents.

As I stepped into the room full of the leaders of the Republicans in the House of Representatives, I didn't know what to expect. But I learned very quickly that my fears were for nothing. Every representative in that room was excited to see me and happy that a young person was interested in state government.

I must have shaken a hundred hands during those two days. Everywhere I went, I met new people, learned new things, and stepped way out of my comfort zone. But starting from my introduction to the House Republicans, I felt very welcome at this place of high importance.

I watched as Republican leaders discussed strategy, the Republican representatives discussed votes on bills, and the House debated and voted on legislation after legislation. I brushed shoulders with important people, almost bumped into hardworking assistants running to accomplish another task, and got stared at by pages.

While standing in the wings of the House floor my second morning, watching the debates and the voting, I realized something. When at TeenPact we discuss, write, and pass bills. We'll write silly bills, add ridiculous amendments and pass nearly every bill that crosses the table. To us, it's like a game. The laws we "pass" don't make it into actual law. But when these men and women pass laws, that's exactly what they become.

Think about when a bill in Washington state passed that made it illegal for driving minors to use even bluetooth to talk on their cell phones while driving. That bill instantly pushed my plans to buy a headset right out the window. That effected how I run my life. A small part of it, but my life nonetheless.

What these people do everyday is life-changing. Whenever a new bill passes, someone's way of living or doing things changes. It's not a game anymore. This is the big kid's sandbox. And they're not fooling around.

It was rather startling to realize this. Here I was, on the sidelines, watching as nearly a hundred men and women made decisions that would affect the future of Washington. When I sat through Ways and Means committee, I watched in awe at all the hard work it takes just to decide a budget. I definitely have a new respect for these citizen legislatures. They do what most people aren't brave enough to do.

These two days shadowing my representative at the capitol were amazing. I learned so much and I feel stronger than ever towards someday running for a position in the House. Watching the House in session, I could see myself at one of the desks: voting, debating, doing my best to pass laws that will help my constituents.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching the House Republicans in caucus. Seeing that they were able to laugh and joke among themselves made them so much more like real people to me. Sometimes it seems like we view legislatures as grouchy old men clothed in wrinkled, ugly suits crouched over their desks, barking at each other and pushing bills through the system. But they're quite the opposite. These people are men and women of many ages, all dressed well and they all have a sense of humor. It was fantastic seeing them as real people.

On top of all that, I had a really neat opportunity to do something I really hadn't done before. These entire two days were "something I've never done before". But this really put the icing on the cake. Watch the video and you'll see just what I mean.

And for the record: you know short jokes? Yeah, I can promise you I've heard them all.

Getting home from the capitol was really crazy. But, then again, that's a whole other blog post.

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