Well I experienced my first "political gathering" this week. Mike Johanns, who is our state senator, was in a nearby town hosting a coffee. I was brave and took my two kids...right after lunch...which is normally their rest time. (Hold your applause; either I'm an idiot or I'm amazing.)
I wasn't sure who would be there or what the format would be. I was guessing that it might be a small crowd of mostly older people. I was pleasantly surprised to see probably 30 people including a handful of college kids, a mom I know from storytime (plus her 3 year old), a school administrator, the town mayor, and several middle aged small business owners. (And of course, a lot of older, retired folks.)
I wasn't sure how the event was organized so I debated going. I wasn't even really sure what my purpose in going was. There are several issues I've been wanting to write my elected officials about but every time I sit down to send an email, I get stuck because what I want to say is not concise and to the point. Mostly I think I went because I felt like I had been invited to go and if I had concerns about political issues then really if I'm able, I ought to go and voice those concerns. Senator Johanns spoke for about 25 minutes, mostly on the federal budget and the national debt. (Issue #1 I had on my list.) He then opened the floor for comments and questions which were mostly related to the federal budget. Issue #2 on my list was comprehensive immigration reform. Since no one had voiced any opinions on that topic, I did broach the topic. It's kind of a weird setting because it's really just a chance to have 2-3 minutes of conversation with the elected official but not in a debate, confrontational way. I was sad to hear him say that his candid opinion was that nothing will happen with comprehensive immigration reform anytime soon. (Not by the end of the year.) I was also sad to hear him say that it is easily one of the most divisive issues for elected officials. He said that between him and his peers, the phones start ringing off the hook when the topic is brought up.
For many of the kids we work with through D's soccer team, they need some answers now. (Actually they needed answers yesterday but...) Many people assert that those here illegally should simply go back to where they came from and gain entry to the U.S. lawfully. What bothers me most about that is that most people don't have any understanding of the desperation people feel when they make the choice to come here illegally and that become a legal resident/citizen is not just as simple as filling out a few pieces of paper and paying some fees. In the case of the kids we serve as teachers and as a coaching family, they are kids who did not choose to come here. They came because their parents came. And now they are adults, who have spent most of their lives living in the U.S. with no recourse for becoming legal except for returning to a country they really don't know and hoping they can wade through the process to gain entry legally. (Which is literally a crap shoot because 1. if you were here illegally and deported you then must wait ten years before you can reapply for entry and 2. the number of visas for unskilled workers is virtually nonexistent meaning their chance of getting a visa is very small.) For our kids, it means finishing high school and then becoming a "fugitive" so to speak where you are very limited as to what you can actually do in terms of school and work. I was glad that I got a chance to share my experience as a teacher, to say how crushing it is to watch kids feel hopeless and ashamed because of their legal status. It is a tough political place but I pray we can somehow embrace some common sense, practical measures that protect our national security while treating people with dignity and fairness.
Through it all, my kids were pretty well behaved. Of course, every noise they made seemed magnified since we were in an "adults only" type setting. And one spilled her water glass. But we managed to last for a full 45 minutes before I decided Conleigh was way too antsy to stay. At one point in time, Conleigh raised her hand and looked at me, hoping someone official would call on her. (Alas, no one did.) Goodness only knows what she would have said...