Offered as bonus material for the "We the People" collection, this full interview features Rep. Colin Allred, (D) Texas. The "We the People" videos are produced in collaboration with the U.S. Capitol Historical Society.
Bonus Material -- Rep. Colin Allred (Full Interview)
Rep. COLIN ALLRED (D-TX): My name is Congressman Colin Allred. I represent Texas’s 32nd Congressional District, which is Dallas and the suburbs that are north and northeast of Dallas.
I am your representative in Congress. So, I am the Congressman for that area.We have 435 members of Congress who are split up representing different parts of the country. We all represent somewhere around 750,000 people. And I'm very proud to represent the district that I was born and raised in, and it's a real honor.
Congress is the legislative branch. And the legislative branch is made up of two houses. We have the House of Representatives and the Senate, so it's what's known as a bicameral body. And Article I of the Constitution establishes the Congress and legislative branch. Article II establishes the presidency, which is the executive branch and then Article III is our courts, the judiciary. And so we have three branches of our government and we have what's known as the checks and balances system, in which each branch checks and balances the other, and it all works together.
Well the legislative branch is the branch that is the law-making branch. So we write the laws that are then executed by the executive branch. What that means is, they carry out the laws that we write. So while the president signs laws into law, the president and the executive branch are really there to make sure that what we write in Congress is carried out and so that the government that you see follows the laws that were written in the Congress. And then the courts, they interpret the law and also interpret the Constitution to make sure that any laws that were passed or are being enacted are consistent with the Constitution. And it all works together, as I said, in a form of checks and balances to make sure that no one branch is more powerful or able to do anything that is inconsistent with our values or inconsistent with the Constitution. And that was the framework that the Founders came up with.
Well, our Founding Fathers wanted to create an entirely new idea, a democracy that was made up of, for, and by the people. And at that time it was a very radical idea because most governments were led by kings, and queens, people who inherited through hereditary means their power. But in our government, the power comes from the people. And we represent the people. And so it was a very, very new idea. And what they were thinking was, they didn't want to have any one branch of government become too powerful or any one person also become too powerful. And so first we had the Articles of Confederation, which didn't work out quite as well and then the Founders wrote the Constitution and it was a big fight to make sure that it got passed and that it was adopted. Because it established an entirely new framework in which we had a federal government with these three branches and with these powers that we all see today. And it's working well. We're the oldest democracy in the world and we are an example to the rest of the world of how democracy can actually work.
The Bill of Rights is very, very important because the Constitution is not just a document that’s set in stone. And the Bill of Rights were our first amendments to the Constitution. So when you hear about a Constitutional amendment, you begin with the first ten, which is what we call the Bill of Rights. The first one, of course, is about free speech and the freedom of association, which basically means that you can gather and say whatever you want in our country. It's one of the foundational pieces of our democracy, which is that your government is not going to silence your speech or stop you from saying something or forming a group or getting involved in your democracy just because of your beliefs and how they might contradict those of whoever is in power at that time. And so it was really, really critical to establish in that Bill of Rights some basic, fundamental rights, whether it's freedom from having the government seize your property or freedom to have-- be treated equally. The Bill of Rights and the amendments that came afterwards have helped us grow the Constitution over time, change it into the government that we recognize today and it is a living document and it is something that changes and can still change.
Our democracy is not a spectator sport. It's something in which you have to be actively involved in. And as a citizen, as anybody who's here in our country, it's not just about voting, although when you turn 18, you should certainly vote. You can get involved. What our First Amendment is about, it's about your right to express yourself, your right to express your disagreement, even, with what the government is doing. And in a lot of countries around the world, you can't do that. You can't express you disagreement with what the ruling power at that time says. But that's one of the foundations of our government. That even if the government is doing something and you disagree with it, that you can say something, you can stand up. And really, every movement in our country, that has ever been started, that's ever accomplished anything transformational, has involved young people, has involved students, has involved people who couldn't even vote yet, but who used their time, their energy and their voices to make our country a better place.
I think it's so important that the Constitutions begins with the preamble, with 'We the People'. Because that's what the source of that document is and that's what's establishing who the power of that document is establishing, who it's responsible to. That it's us. Government is not them, it's us. It's made up of us. It's your democracy, it's your government. And you have to be involved. And the Constitution from the very beginning sets that out in the Preamble. And really the entire document is something that's set out to basically make sure that the voice of the people is not drowned out by any force in this country, by any power that might be granted to our government, because this is your democracy, it's made up of, for, and by the people. And that's a real radical idea at the time and a transformational ideal for our world and around the world. That idea is a symbol to the rest of the world of how a democracy can actually work and how in countries that don't have the rights that we have, what they can strive to try and achieve.
In the Declaration of Independence, it says that we are granted certain rights by our Creator. The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And that's a really important thing, because it's a radical idea at the time that our rights don't come from a single person or from a monarchy or from any source of government, but that we are given those rights and they are unalienable rights, that we have them implicitly. And everything that we've done since then, from the Constitution, to the amendments, the Bill of Rights, to the amendments passed after the Civil War, are trying to reach that goal and to perfect our Union. We were not perfect from our beginning, but we are working on it, we're constantly evolving, and changing, and that's one of the most wonderful things about our country, is that we have worked so hard to continue to improve over time and that's something the rest of the world appreciates about us, looks to us for leadership on, and I think it's one of the most important ideas that we have to remember, which is that this is a living, breathing document, the Constitution is, that we can change it, that the ideas that were set down in our foundational documents, that we are still chasing them. But that that chase is just as important as achieving that goal.
I played football. I played at Baylor University and then in the NFL as a linebacker for five years, but I always knew that I wanted to go to law school. And so, when I was in my fifth year in the NFL, I was injured and decided to go to law school and get involved in what was known as civil rights law. And basically what that means is using the law to try and protect your foundational civil rights. And the area that I focused on specifically was voting rights because I thought that everything we do in our government, every issue that you care about, what it all comes down to is your ability to interact with your democracy, and how do we do that in our country? We do it by voting. We do it by using our voice at the ballot box. When we have disagreements, we settle them at the ballot box. And that's one of the most important things about our country. We don't resort to violence, we don't have revolutions. We go and we have elections. And that's what the rest of the world appreciates about us and looks to us on leadership for. And so I wanted to make sure that every single person could cast their ballot for whoever they wanted to, for whatever idea they wanted to defend because that is the beauty of our democracy. And I was also fortunate enough to serve in the Obama Administration. So I worked in the White House, in the Department of Justice, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. And those are agencies in the executive branch. Now I'm in the legislative branch, so I've experienced two branches of our government. And of course we have the judicial branch, the third branch of our government that I tried cases in front of. So I've experienced all three areas of our government and I can tell you that they work, but they are dependent on generations of Americans. All of us have a responsibility to stand up, get involved and make sure that we understand our government, that we're involved in our government, and that we are involved in our democracy through voting and making our voices heard.