As a child, I traveled to Washington D.C. like many American school children do, to visit the historic seat of our country’s government. I toured the Capitol building, staring up in awe at the ceiling of the rotunda, and admiring the gilded hallways leading to the House and the Senate. I visited every memorial on the National Mall, reading quotes from our Founding Fathers about the merits of democracy.┬áBut I never actually learned that I could play a significant role in the democratic process as an American citizen. I never learned how to call or write to my Representative or Senators, so I didn’t realize that my opinions mattered to them.

Last week I had the pleasure of traveling to Washington D.C. again. This time to advocate for DACA recipients. On this trip I didn’t set foot inside the Capitol building. Instead I walked down the modest halls of the congressional office buildings, which house the offices of individual Members of Congress. I met with three Members of Congress who represent the districts I live and work in.

I talked with them and their staff about the contributions that Dreamers make to my community. I shared personal stories about the DACA recipients who are my colleagues and friends. I urged them to act in support of bipartisan legislation like the DREAM Act, which would provide a permanent solution for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as young children. To those who already support such legislation, I expressed my sincere thanks, and with those who did not, I shared my disappointment.

We live in an incredible country, where ordinary citizens can express their political opinions with elected leaders and expect to be heard and respected. Any U.S. citizen can contact the office of their Members of Congress by phone, email, hand written letter, through social media, or even by organizing an in-person meeting to express their concerns or appreciation.

Unfortunately, far too few Americans avail themselves of this privilege and right. In the past, I have been one of them. But after seeing for myself what democracy actually looks like, I am no longer intimidated by it. Democracy is not a historic concept enshrined in formidable monuments. It isn’t a process of government open only to those who meet in the stately rooms of the Capitol building. Instead, democracy describes a form of government in which every citizen is invited to take part, expressing their political opinions through elections and other forms of communication with their representatives.

I don’t know when my next visit to D.C. will be. In fact, many Americans may not have the opportunity to visit the Capitol like I did. But our location outside of Washington does not preclude us from taking part in the democratic process and advocating for the issues we care about. Through emails, phone calls, or social media, we can communicate with our Members of Congress. They can’t read our minds, so this is the only way for us to make our voices and opinions heard. I plan to call, email, or contact my representatives through social media at least once a month to express my opinions (positive or negative) concerning the policies they support.

If you’re intimidated by the thought of contacting your elected representatives, or you aren’t even sure how to get ahold of them, I would recommend the free Stance app. You simply enter your home address and then you can record a message for your Senators or Representative that will be delivered to their voicemail. If you’d like to call the office of a Member of Congress directly, you can find information for Senators here and Representatives here. Together, let’s advocate for the causes we care about.

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