Politics is a noun; when people in America hear it, they frequently picture some sort of red-white-blue amalgamation, with the NBC logo and some elephants and donkeys thrown into the mix. Politics is not a person and has no face to it – the closest face attached to the word nowadays, however, would probably be that of Donald Trump.
Politics is a being, something to dismiss, something to criticize, something to get excited over, something to blame.
What most people either forget or forget to realize is that politics is also people.
Legislators, lobbyists, governors, mayors, nonprofit founders, business owners, citizen voters make up politics – not Uncle Sam cartoons and Twitter rants.
This past week, I had the opportunity to put a face – actually several – to the word, and be reminded that humans with families and real concerns and opinions, who have succeeded and made mistakes, make up politics. The CAUSE 2019 Leadership Academy cohort traveled to Sacramento for two days to meet with several pivotal members of the California government. As Asian Pacific Americans working in the field of politics, they shared their perspectives on the social future of the country and the unique challenges – as well as advantages – that our community faces in America.
I have always distinctly enjoyed reading biographies, because I love to learn about the unique life stories of others. During our second day in Sacramento, we attended a conference by the API Legislative Caucus, in which several Asian Pacific American legislators stopped by to briefly speak to us about their experiences and answer several questions from the interns.
They talked about their greatest career and personal challenges. The professors and teachers who mentored them. The turning moment in their lives that made them realize they wanted to go into politics. Their favorite sports teams, their childhood hobbies. The members of our government are real people, not simply signatures on bills or digital faces seen on TV or internet articles. They had issues they were more passionate about than others, stories growing up that shaped their current political and personal worldviews, and hopes and dreams for the next generation of API leaders. They had all come to reside in an office in the Sacramento Capitol through very, very different paths.
And they all expressed considerable support for anyone else who wanted to arrive at the same place from other, different routes. I was slightly surprised at the number of Assemblymembers who said something along the lines of, “If you ever need advice or a listening ear or just want to hear more, pop by my office! My door is always open to you.”
Although their lives must be inevitably busy, they took the time out of their day to visit 90+ young interns (many of them high school students – what had I been doing in high school?) and welcome them into their offices at any time.
Politics often gets a bad rap. We demonize politicians, reduce them to the caricatures grossly represented in political cartoons. We often disagree with them – I know I did not necessarily stand on the same spot on the political spectrum as most of the people who came to speak with us. But that didn’t matter. At the end of the day, we are humans above politics.
In that legislative caucus room, we were simply members of the same Asian Pacific American communities. We wanted to see more members of our communities representing the United States, advocating for our interests. We were indignant at the prejudices that had shut us out of the world of politics in the past. We were hopeful that we could change this as leaders of the future. We had different ideas about how to get to where we wanted to be, perhaps even different ideas about where we wanted to be. Some of us would continue to strive to reach that in the government, others perhaps in other spheres.
We the People of the United States of America, wanted a better America. And we were prepared to play our roles in achieving it.