Leadership Academy DC Blog Week 4

Last week, I had the privilege of attending a brown bag* with Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) at the Senate. The event was sponsored by the Congressional Asian Pacific American Staff Association (CAPASA) and co-hosted with Congressional Muslim Staff Association, Congressional South Asian American Staff Association, and the Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus, to list a few.

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

The senator spoke eloquently about racial diversity (or the lack thereof) in American politics and urged us to keep fighting the good fight, even if it seemed hopeless or vain.

In particular, Senator Booker said something that stuck with me long after the event, something that I have been reminded of today: “Cynicism is the refuge of cowards.”

Being in D.C., it is very easy to fall into a mentality that nothing will change, that institutions are too rigid, that gridlock is become the political norm. I am guilty of this. Pessimism is dark and alluring; optimism is naïve and irritating.

This attitude is especially true of college students who are seeped in cynical academia, where theorizing about the terrible layers of the world overshadow the small but good deeds that everyday folks do.

Today, I was reminded of my own cynicism as I met with individuals who are involved in the non-profit scene here in D.C., specifically working on civic engagement and campaign finance reform. Listening to these folks speak passionately about their work made me realize that the world is still inching towards a better reality, even though those inches do seem minimal to us at the moment.

Communications Director Adam Smith of Every Voice, a non-profit that focuses on campaign finance reform, encapsulated the positive theme that ran throughout the day when he said, “I don’t want to just get money out; I want to get people in.”

All the speakers went beyond talking about the current problems of money in politics and actually highlighted victories on the state and local level – victories that have been led by citizens who care about their voices being heard. It was heartening to realize that there will always be good people, working for a greater cause.

I love riding the Metro later in the evening after a long day. It’s much emptier, and I take that time to just reflect and decompress during those ten to twenty minutes.

Today, as I rode back home late after a writing session with Edwin on our public policy paper, I thought about how amazing, how fascinating it was that the train I was in was slithering smoothly through concrete underground tunnels carved below the city. I thought about the invisible but constant work that goes behind making the whole routine seem effortless and normal. So many things could, and sometimes do, go wrong – systemic failures, engineering errors, miscommunication between conductors, a terrible suicidal attempt on the tracks, maybe a rusty rail here or there – and yet! yet, people still ride the Metro. It still works. There are over 700,000 trips taken on the Metro per weekday.

The hundreds of thousands of people hopping on and off blue, orange, green, yellow, red, and silver lines, all trusting the system enough with their lives, on a daily basis. I marveled at people’s ability to sustain faith in the engineering systems that we’ve built for ourselves. I only hope we can do the same for our political system.

*A “brown bag” is a slang term commonly used in D.C. to refer to an informal meeting with one or two speakers focused on a theme, where attendees can eat during the event since it occurs during lunch hours. Occasionally, lunch is provided but more often than not attendees are encouraged to bring their own “brown bags.”