Earlier this week, when I was sitting in a taxi on the way to the Capitol for my lobbying meetings (the final component of AIPAC’s Policy Conference), running late due to D.C. traffic, I had one thing on my mind. I was looking at my iPad, quickly writing last minute notes on my talking points. As the cab pulled up to the Capitol, I got out and proceeded as quickly as possible through security, checked in with the visitor center attendant, and walked into a senate meeting room, relieved that I had made it on time. I then proceeded to explain to Senator McCaskill why she should vote to impose further sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missile program and attempts to destabilize the Middle East. I had treated all of this as if it were any meeting. It was not until after that I realized that, for the first time, I had walked by (and in this case, into) the Capitol Building without taking a picture of it, or even stopping to look up.

As I spent the rest of that day in meetings with other representatives, I started to realize that, for the first time, I was not in D.C. as a tourist. I was there with a purpose, and I had entered the Capitol building not to observe the legislative process from the outside, but to take part in it. As I walked the halls of the Capitol, passing by everyone from other advocates to young interns to Congressmen themselves, I did not feel starstruck or out of place. Instead, I felt a rush of passion and patriotism as I explained my opinions to members of Congress.

AIPAC’s Policy Conference was an incredible experience. For those who don't know, AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is a nationwide bipartisan lobby that advocates for the U.S.-Israel relationship. Not only did I hear speeches with some of our country’s top politicians, including the Vice President, the leaders of both chambers of Congress, and one of the Senators from my home state, but I was also surrounded by 18,000 people who shared my goal — to advocate for a strong relationship between the U.S. and Israel. To top it all off, the experience of advocating for my beliefs directly to my representatives in Congress was one like no other. I had the opportunity to discuss my opinions directly with a few of the men and women who shape our country’s policies, and when doing so, I felt a rush of patriotism and empowerment. These feelings give me the drive to continue my political activism, and they are feelings that, as long as I continue fighting for what I believe in, will never go away.

I’m a freshman in college, and I had the opportunity to speak directly to our lawmakers. As much as I like to think otherwise, there’s nothing special about me. I’m just another American, just like any one of you that is reading this right now. The fact is, even though it might seem like it, our politicians are not above us; they are accountable to us. Every American citizen has the right to participate in our government, to contact legislators, and to voice personal opinions. That is the beauty of democracy. The impact of a single citizen’s participation on the government may not be immediately noticeable, but at the end of the day, decisions are made by those who show up. Furthermore, the personal impact of participating in government creates a special feeling of patriotism and pride that is unlike anything else. I encourage everyone to exercise their right to participate in our government, as it is a truly powerful and inspiring experience.