The People’s House
The entrance to the U.S. House of Representatives is adorned by the following words of Alexander Hamilton, “Here, sir, the people govern.” For a representative democracy to work well it needs a fluid process of deliberation, negotiation and compromise. Indispensable to this process is for citizens to understand how important it is to engage with their elected officials. This means doing their part by monitoring actions of their representatives in Congress, contacting them to express their views on public policies, and attending public forums to gain a more informed and reasoned perspective.
Former Congressman Lee H. Hamilton (D-Indiana), in remarks he made several years ago to the American Political Science Association annual meeting, made the following point about members of Congress and their constituents:
“Of course, Members of Congress are influenced by special interests – often too much, in my view – but they are even more influenced by their constituents.”
Members are – for the most part – very good politicians. They know what their constituents think. They hold numerous public meetings, poll their districts regularly, talk on the phone with constituents frequently, and answer hundreds of letters and e-mail messages daily. They are constantly helping to solve constituents’ problems.
Members really do believe that constituent views are important; during all my years in Congress I never heard a Member say otherwise.”
The relationship between elected officials and those they represent is paramount to make our representative democracy work more effectively. One way to strengthen that relationship is for teachers to reach out to the office of their U.S. Congressperson and invite them, or a staff member from their local district office, to visit their classroom and discuss current political issues with students. The experience will help students understand what’s at stake in our democracy and why their participation in government matters. It will also help breakdown the often cynical and stereotypic views that young people have about politicians. As has been said, cynicism is the great enemy of democracy. You can reach your member’s website using this link: https://www.house.gov/representatives
Mark J. Molli, Associate Director
Center for Civic Education