As we hit Capitol Hill for our second full day of lobbying for the Army Campaign, we were ready. With 9 volunteers and dozens of lobbying materials, we set out to convince over 50 lawmakers to sign on to the Congressional letter to Secretary Robert Gates, asking that he reconsider the policy that excludes Sikh Americans from our Armed Forces.
But we weren’t necessarily expecting some of the responses we got from some of our meetings. Of course, we thought we’d have some opposition. But we didn’t anticipate the depth of visceral anti-Sikh responses we’d get from some of the same people in charge of running our country. In one case, a military legislative aide from one of the lawmakers’ offices told our representatives that there was “no way” he’d recommend to his boss that soldiers be allowed to “wear 6 yards of cloth on their heads” while they fight with him. In another representative’s office, we were told that while the lawmaker supported religious minorities, it was indeed “unfortunate” that the Sikh religion requires unshorn hair to be considered a practicing Sikh.
While perhaps unsurprising, these reactions were indeed disappointing. Despite placing the Sikh struggle for inclusion into the same frame as the larger civil rights movement, we continue to hear these sentiments from well meaning, educated fellow Americans. The experiences showed us what an uphill battle we have when it comes to the army campaign. Our armed forces are such a powerful symbol for the nation that even an attempt to join them can be met with anger.
In the long run, what can we do to win over the hearts and minds of our neighbors and elected officials? You can start by introducing yourself to those who represent you. Take action this week, by meeting or calling your local Congressperson’s office. Check out our Community Advocacy Toolkit for a step-by-step guide.