As I think back on the 2013 National Convention in Washington, D.C., commemorating the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, also known as Redress, what I remember the most are the legislative visits. This memory truly stands out as a unique experience for a young professional such as myself, but was only one of the many opportunities offered at this year’s convention.
The legislative visits were an amazing experience. For someone who is not well experienced with direct advocacy, I found the whole experience extremely educational. A lot of preparation went into the event: briefing the delegates on the issue of Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) during an hour long workshop; researching our Representatives and Senators’ stance on CIR; thinking of personal stories and tailoring them to support arguments in favor of CIR; conducting a mock dialogue with other members from our district to practice our visit agenda; and not to mention all of the staff and volunteer time to schedule, coordinate, and execute 64 legislative office visits on one day.
Once the big event arrived, the whole process was smooth and efficient. After being adequately briefed, all teams of convention delegates marched to Capital Hill to meet with their members of Congress. The team from Minnesota included all young professionals: Jim Kirihara, Matt Walters, and Cece Campanella. We were guided by an advocacy volunteer who aided in directing us to the proper offices and gave us pointers to make our time with the Congressional staffers the most effective. That day, we met with Senator Amy Klobuchar and Representative Erik Paulsen’s staffers. Considering the Senate passed a version of CIR prior to convention, which then passed the bill to the House, and that Rep. Paulsen was a “persuadable” GOP target, we knew meeting at Paulsen’s office was going to be our biggest challenge. And by the end of the day, it was. But, despite us not convincing Rep. Paulsen’s staffer to support CIR, I came away with a strong sense of why JACL is still relevant today.
JACL is relevant today because we have a strong presence in Washington and in most state capitals around the nation, an ability to organize and advocate for inequality on behalf of other communities who struggle to stand up for themselves. JACL is relevant today, because it exposes and instills in community members the importance of advocating for injustice. Each and every day we are able to represent the underserved. During the Convention, we celebrated how far the JA community has come since its inception, 84 years ago. It is essential we ensure JACL remains relevant in the future.