Trained Grassroots FCNL Lobbyists Visit Hill Offices
By Jim Cason on 03/22/2011 @ 10:30 AM
More than 130 people from around the country -- including students, veterans and their families, and many Quakers -- fanned out across Capitol Hill in late March to lobby to end the war in Afghanistan and ask Congress to support deep cuts in the Pentagon budget.
As they have in the past, students from Wilmington College in Ohio formed the largest contingent at FCNL's Annual Spring Lobby weekend. These students were not alone. Some two-dozen students from Earlham College in Indiana also participated, together with students from Iona College in New York, from Roanoke College in Virginia and several other places.
The three lobby weekend included briefings, trainings, and hand-on workshops that prepared them for the final day of lobbying. Highlights included a panel discussion on the Afghanistan war with current and former Congressional staff and a former U.S. Army and State Department veteran who had been involved in the war strategy.
The Afghanistan panel offered an opportunity for the students and Friends from around the East Coast to ask their own questions and hear directly about the failed war strategy in Afghanistan. One new element in the Spring Lobby Weekend was the strong participation of Iraq Veterans Against the War and Military Families Speak Out. The questions from veterans and their families helped focus attention on the problems of repeated deployments.
Congressman Jim McGovern urged participants to take their message back home. Congress should be asking hard questions about the war in Afghanistan, including how long is it going to last and when is the U.S. going to leave, he told the group. McGovern added that one fair question to ask your elected officials is how come Congress is cutting the budget for Pell Grants and putting the costs of the current war on the government's credit card to be paid in the future?
FCNL's Ruth Flower helped brief the group first on the Quaker roots of our lobbying strategy and then she came back in the afternoon to provide details on how to lobby to cut the Pentagon budget. New alliances that include Libertarians from the Cato Institute, taxpayer advocates from Taxpayers for Common Sense, and peace groups such as FCNL are creating opportunities Ruth has not seen in the past to cut the Pentagon budget.
The Monday sessions were devoted to lobby trainings. FCNL's Matt Southworth spent nearly four hours helping the group understand what kind of lobby visits are most effective and walking individuals through the details of the planning for these sessions. Again and again, Matt stressed to participants that each lobby visit must be based on a plan that includes defined roles for the participants, a clear, focused ask to the member of Congress and follow-up.
"What you do when you get home could be even more important than what you do here in Washington," Matt told the group as they transitioned into the afternoon session. Participants talked about working with the media, following up with the district offices of members of Congress and other strategies for success. This is a long-term effort said Matt.
On Tuesday, the newly trained lobbyists fanned out across Capitol Hill for dozens of lobby visits with their Representatives and Senators. Stayed tuned for more information on the lobby weekend and make sure you come next year!