by Rachael Marglous & Analia Salomon

Houston Congregation for Reform Judaism (Houston, TX ) & URJ Greene Family Camp

Two years ago, when I was a sophomore, Analia and I were invited to join to join the Greene Family Camp delegation to the Religious Action Center’s L’Taken Social Justice Seminar in Washington D.C. Neither of us were well versed in political ideologies or in Judaism, and the trip was halfway across the country. We were petrified. But we took a leap of faith and traveled to D.C. for a weekend that would ultimately change our lives forever.

I know this seems dramatic. It was one weekend, just three and a half days, there’s no way it could’ve had that huge an impact on us. But those three and a half days, filled to the brim with services, social justice-based lectures and programs, and actual lobbying of our representatives, taught us more about how we, two high school students from Houston, Texas, could have a real say in our political system than we had ever learned at school. After the weekend was over, we both went home feeling noticeably different.

I had always been aware of social injustices. I was raised by a politically active family who always told me that, if we have the privilege to have a voice that people will listen to, it is our obligation to use it to protect those who are not given voices loud enough to speak for themselves. However, it wasn’t until my first L’Taken weekend that I knew I wanted to devote my life to helping those who are not given the privileges or the devices to help themselves. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I decided that all my efforts for the rest of my life would be put towards eliminating these injustices.

This year, as seniors, we both went back to L’taken. It was Analia’s second time attending, and my third; and for both of us, it was our last. She went back as a prospective psychology major, dedicating to becoming a professor to teach the next generation of game-changers. I went back as a political science major at Vanderbilt University, with plans in my head to put myself, as Lin-Manuel Miranda says, “in the room where it happens,” to make the laws that will change and improve our American political system.

Somehow, this year was different than our past experiences attending the seminar. With a new administration in the White House, the issues we discussed had a new, more urgent air about them. Lobbying on Capitol Hill felt more important. We put everything we had into our speech and our lobbying efforts. On our previous visits, Analia had lobbied for reproductive rights and was quickly shut down by the staffer who listened to her speech — “you and I both know where the Senator stands on this issue” was the only response she was given. The intern took no notes on what Analia had to say. I previously lobbied for criminal justice reform – the issue I’m most passionate about.

This year, Analia and I lobbied together for a bill that proposed measures to reform our money bail system and sentencing laws. Our speech represented the culmination of our high school activism; we put our hearts and souls into every word, and we were rewarded with perhaps the best thing a high school lobbyist could imagine — we were asked to send our speech so that it could be shared with the Senator. Our words, our opinions, our legislative asks would actually reach the ears of one of the two men who represent our state as a whole. It was the biggest victory we could have asked for.

Our experiences with the Religious Action Center (RAC) and the L’Taken Social Justice Seminar prompted us to investigate internships both with the RAC and with other lobbying groups in D.C. This may have been the end of the first chapter of our activism, but we still have a whole book to finish writing. Our generation will be the one to change society for the better, once and for all, and L’Taken has shown us how we can take part in the revolution.

If you are wondering whether or not to attend this trip, do it. If you aren’t involved in politics, do it. If you are unsure about how loud your voice could really be, do it. There is nothing more empowering than to be taught that you — your actions, your ideas, your voice — can change our country for the better. We didn’t know that before. Thanks to L’Taken, we do now.