This summer, my family and I went on a week-long vacation to our nation's capital, Washington D.C. We rode the metro, visited some Smithsonian museums and, of course, saw the buildings that house the three branches of government.
We walked past the White House on our first day (after getting lost and following directions from a local). You aren't allowed to get too close, but there was a big school tour group, some other tourist families like us, locals strolling past and even a couple protesters with signs all looking down the lawn at the President's home for the next few years. There were also an abundance of armed security officers, casually standing behind some barriers to somewhat hide the fact that they were carrying machine guns. And if you were wondering, there were no Trump sightings on this trip.
Another day, we were able to go into the Supreme Court building and even got to see all but one of the Justices in a short session. Two statements were given, one by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and the other by Justice John Roberts. Everyone in attendance was put through stringent security screenings and watched closely by secret service agents. My mom got in trouble for wearing her reading glasses on her head!
And of course, we toured the Capitol building. Before the trip, we booked a private tour with the office of Florida Representative Ron DeSantis, whose intern, Jake, showed us around the historical building. The rotunda shone as the highlight of the tour, as well as all the art and statues (the statue of Ronald Reagan has actual pieces of the Berlin Wall in its base!). Each state chooses two statues of great Americans to be placed in the Capitol building. Florida's only statue as of now is John Gorrie, the inventor of air conditioning. Edmund Kirby Smith was our other statue, but he was a Confederate general, so they are in the process of rightly switching him out with Mary McLeod Bethune, a civil rights leader and educator.
At the end of the tour, we were given passes to view the Senate and House floors from the spectator galleries. My little brother, who is passionate about politics, was especially excited for this part of our trip as Congress was in session that week. After intense security screening, we were up in the gallery looking down onto the Senate floor.
However, the Senate floor was essentially empty.
The leading officer was not Vice President Pence, but somebody nobody in my family recognized. In fact, this person was rotated out with another halfway through our time there—in the middle of one of the Senator's speeches. We saw two Senators, Dick Durbin and Bill Nelson, speak to a room of nobody. Okay, well, Bill Nelson was in the room for Dick Durbin's speech. Durbin gave an account of a mother and daughter who were separated at the Mexican border and urged Congress (in this case, an ambiguous idea more than a tangible embodiment) to make or change some laws to prevent this. He did not offer a solution and he left as soon as he was done speaking. Nelson spoke about how he feels that some preexisting conditions set in place on the Affordable Care Act by the Trump administration were unfair. He did not offer a solution and he left as soon as he was done speaking. The Senate was not at quorum so a vote not be called even if a solution was offered, but the opinions of these two Senators were officially on-the-record.
The same happened in the House of Representatives. We did not see Speaker Paul Ryan, but another stand-in. We heard about four Representatives speak about the same issues of immigration. One Representative was the main speaker, and the others came in to show their support. The came in, said a few words, and promptly left. Solutions were not offered, but sympathies were shown and now officially on-the-record.
After witnessing this branch of government, I could not help but wonder, where was everyone? What were they doing? What was more important than running this country? The congressional branch has the most power; yes, even more than the executive branch. They create and can change our laws, which is something that needs to happen in this ever changing world. So where are they?
The House averages out to about 138 days in session every year and the Senate averages out to about 162 days. This is not even half of the year. Our Congressmen and women need to show up for work. Our Congressmen and women need to get things accomplished.
Now, this particular day could just have been a fluke for Congress. After all, I only saw one day while they were in session. But as we were leaving the Senate, one of the Capitol employees mentioned that it was empty like this the majority of the time. This is discouraging and actually made me feel somewhat powerless or misrepresented by my government.
So what can we do, as constituents? We need to contact our Senators and Representatives. We need to tell them what we care about. We need to ask them if they have any solutions in mind. This link will help you find your Representative and this link will help you find your Senators. Write letters, call and let them know that you care. Let them know you trust them to work for you and for the betterment of our country. No matter which side of the aisle you walk.