Allison Conley supports the 1st Amendment right to desecrate the flag. Not that she has any plans to burn one this Fourth of July; but she supports the act as an example of the right to free speech.
Having recently completed a semester serving as a U.S. Senate page in Washington, the 17-year-old Mater Dei student adamantly believes that people should tell their representatives how they feel.
But she wasn't always so sure of herself.
In January, during her first days as a page, she was asked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) how she felt about the issue of flag-burning. Conley changed the subject.
"Feinstein was opposed to flag desecration," Conley said. "She asked me how I felt and my stomach just dropped."
Call it a mixture of respect for the woman who was sponsoring her appointment to the page program and intimidation at disagreeing with a U.S. senator.
However, after spending several weeks on the Senate floor meeting such politicians as Vice President Al Gore and Colombian President Andres Pastrana, Conley learned that it was not only OK to disagree with elected officials, but necessary and important.
Conley said people may not have faith in government, "but they don't realize how important it is to their futures. If you want something done, write to your senators. They do listen."
Conley said she saw protesters every day outside the Capitol building, and she was amazed to learn that many of their issues had been or were going to be addressed by members of Congress.
"A lot of [the senators] are really down-to-earth people," Conley said. "You really get to find out a lot about them and joke around with them during votes."
As one of the 30 Senate pages accepted each year, Conley attended classes from 6:15 to 10 a.m., then worked all day on the Senate floor, delivering bills and amendments, phone messages and often water.
She recalled one day when Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) was passionately addressing the body, with his arms flailing. She was trying to deliver a glass of water to him without getting in his way. He knocked over the glass, spilling water on his speech, but he didn't notice it until she had returned to her seat.
"I was kind of embarrassed," Conley said. "He stopped speaking and looked back slowly. He was totally OK, though. He knew the speech.
"I've found that many of the senators do speak off the top of their heads. Many people don't realize it but they really know their issues. Their staffs don't just put speeches together for them."
Back from Washington, Conley is working as an intern in the office of Assemblyman Lou Correa (D--Anaheim). Though she's not certain whether a career in politics is in her future, she hopes to attend American University in Washington so she can continue serving in government internships.
Chris Ceballos can be reached at (714) 966-7440