Franklin D. Roosevelt once famously said, “Let us not forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressman and government officials, but the voters of this country.”

The significance of this quote was not evident to me until recently when I made an effort to get to know my elected officials and engage in constructive dialogue with them.

During the spring of my senior year in high school I was a legislative page at the Oklahoma State Capitol, where I had the unique opportunity to meet with state representatives and senators on a daily basis. As I talked to them and got to know them on a deeper level, I was shocked to find out that many of them had never actually engaged in dialogue with an American Muslim. By sharing my experiences and religious perspective with them, I was pleased to find that many of them opened up to me in turn. We talked about growing up in Oklahoma, supporting local sports teams through their ups and downs, and how much being raised here has impacted our worldview and subsequently our understanding of different cultures and religions.

As college started and I immersed myself in my studies, it became challenging to stay connected with my representatives and elected officials on a regular basis. When news emerged of that the Trump travel ban (Muslim Ban) was being challenged in court, I was contacted by a lot of these elected leaders asking how I felt about it, and what they could do to show solidarity with the Oklahoma Muslim community. I was humbled that these officials reached out to me, a young Muslim living in their state. Reading articles or tuning in to the news could have informed them about the issue, but speaking to a Muslim directly gave them a unique and better-informed perspective on the topic.

It is vital to engage with elected officials and those seeking elected office because it is the first step in building long-term bridges of communication and understanding. Often, just talking to someone and sharing your experiences can show them the struggles you deal with on a daily basis. Direct communication through personal stories puts a human face on an issue that no statistic or research report can.

I am glad that I have the opportunity to express my concerns with my elected officials directly, and truly believe that we as a community should be more active in determining our state’s future.

Politicians cannot be your voice at the Capitol if they do not know what concerns you have as an individual and a community. Forming relationships with elected officials and those seeking elected positions should be our priority as individuals living in a democracy, and it is through these relationships that our elected officials will govern in ways that have our best interests in mind.

Roosevelt said that it us, the voters, who are the ultimate rulers of our democracy, and I believe it is crucial that we make our voices heard.