On the Need to Take Back Our Power

by Trang-Thu (Mimi) Duong interning in the office of Representative Gene Wu

Here, at the Capitol, I’m experiencing what the depths of power look like. Every day I walk into an elevator that takes me underground, two floors beneath the massive 308-foot pink dome that holds up the Texas Goddess of Liberty. The elevator opens up to a maze of hallways and arches. I walk out among the thousands of people running inside and underneath the Capitol that will keep the place running for the next 97 days. We only have 97 days (including weekends) before the end of the 85th Texas Legislative Session. The power to pull off that combined effort is an awesome thing to be in. Awesome in the sense of inspiring extreme admiration and awesome in the sense of invoking total and complete fear. I’ve never been this close to it before.

State Representatives and Senators (collectively called Members) think of an idea ideally brought up by people who live in their hometowns around Texas. They come up with these ideas in different ways, some as simple as the phone ringing and a constituent saying, “Hello?? We need to be doing better for those foster care kids!” Someone like the Member I work for, Representative Gene Wu of Southwest Houston, will then talk to experts like judges, attorneys, CPS case workers, child welfare advocates, etc. to flesh out what can and should be done to meet that concern. Rep. Wu, who is a practicing lawyer for CPS and youth in the juvenile justice system, works with his power-grinding staff and a group of lawyers called the Texas Legislative Council. On a daily basis, they work together to draft up bills that could become laws. They write the next RULES OF TEXAS. Our Texas! They get to decide how we learn in school, what air we breathe, who gets to live in our state, who goes to jail for what, what pipelines go where… and I’m sitting here watching them come up with rules on how we live.

I’m helping them, too. I’m pushing bills that address the root causes of social problems. This means that I’m a part of meetings with experts and professionals that discuss unintended consequences and who work to move these bills forward. I track our bills through the legislative process. And, really, I get to try to do better for our kids. To work as a health and human services policy analyst for a progressive and well-informed member, a Southeast Asian immigrant member who represents a district made up of people of color, immigrants, and refugees is humbling, especially because it’s the neighborhood I grew up in. It’s like watching someone you love open a present that you know they REALLY wanted; it’s heartbreaking and beautiful to be a part of the happiness that you contributed to. You know for a brief moment in time that someone’s life was better. And that’s an awesome feeling.

But then there’s the total and complete fear side of awe. The side that makes your skin jump away from your bones and leaves you feeling naked. The fear when you look around and realize a Member seems to have no idea what deporting real Texans will do for our state or has never met a transgender person. The fear when you look around and recognize the same personalities and egos you met in high school when you were a teenager. I see the awkward science club kids who meet at school on a Friday night, the loners, rich popular cliques, and teachers’ pets. I see the bullies. I see people who say what women choose to do with their bodies is wrong, that they know better. Because they think they’re awesome.

My Chief of Staff says that the Texas Legislative process is meant to kill more bills than to pass them into law, and that every day I’m not pushing my bills means that they are dying. So, I know that many of the bills that make me feel sad are dying too. However, maybe we can also get one step closer to doing better for our kids. Just maybe, if more science club kids were involved in this process, our lives could be safer. Social workers need to be here. Attorneys for children need to be here. People who believe Black Lives Matter need to be here, and immigrants who don’t believe in the Muslim ban do too. People who don’t think it’s weird to have equal rights for all people should be pushing bills. We all need to know the depths of awesome power these Members have over our lives. We need to know how to tap into that power, and we need to work together to make sure it doesn’t consume us. Because absolute power corrupts absolutely, and we need good representatives to make sure power stays among the people.
I may not be able to press a button and vote on the House or Senate floor saying, “yes, my will to become law,” but I had no idea how much power I have to make sure me, my family, my neighborhoods, and my friends who don’t have it as good as me get to live awesome, safe, and happy lives.

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About GCSW Legislative Interns

This blog is brought to you courtesy of The Graduate College of Social Work's Austin Legislative Internship Program. The College selects graduate MSW students to intern at the Texas Legislature during its legislative session every two years. Student interns work as full-time staffers in the Legislature, either as policy analysts with the Legislative Study Group, a Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives, or in legislators’ offices. Here, they will share their unique experiences!
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