Lobbying Is (NOT) Scary
By Melanie Fox on 07/05/2012 @ 05:07 PM
Lobbying kind of freaks me out. At least, it used to, until last week.
Maybe it's because the first time I ever lobbied my Congress members, I went by myself. Two words for that experience: bad idea. For those of you who have never lobbied before, let's just say I wouldn't recommend that route for your first time.
It was March 2010. I was attending a social justice annual lobbying event called Ecumenical Advocacy Days in which Christians from all denominations, from all across the U.S. come together in the name of learning about social injustices and advocating for a better world. The theme that year: "Development, Security and Economic Justice: What's Gender Got to Do with It?" In order to put feet on our newly found knowledge, we all hit the Hill (Capitol Hill, that is) on Monday morning to lobby for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
At the time, I didn't know much about the Violence Against Women Act other than what I was learning in the presentations and workshops during the weekend. Needless to say, I didn't feel like my lobby visits were as effective as they otherwise could have been.
(Of course now, after having worked at FCNL for almost a year, and having spent the last four months working on and advocating for the reauthorization of the VAWA, I would probably feel a lot more comfortable walking into my rep or senators' offices and giving them a piece of my mind about the issue.)
As a general life rule, I would say that being part of group seems to be the best route to go. Especially when learning how to lobby. After my recent experiences lobbying on the DREAM Act with members of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, I definitely feel like I could dominate my next lobby visit with my members of Congress.
Which is exactly what I did last week.
It was a very impromptu conversation-gone-lobby-meeting with the staffer on immigration issues from Senator Jeff Sessions' office, a senator who has in recent years become very outspoken against immigration reform.
I actually met his staffer on immigration in person several weeks before (long story, but basically we just happened to be volunteering at the same organization). Last Thursday, the Interfaith Immigration Coalition held an event in one of the Senate buildings where young people from New Jersey - at least one or both of their parents had been wrongfully deported - shared their stories about how our broken immigration system has affected their families. It turns out that Sessions' office just happened to be right around the corner from the room where the event was held, so I thought I would pop in to say hi.
That simple hello quickly turned into a 45 minute conversation on what the briefing was about, what Sessions' position on immigration is and why, and the root causes of migration to the U.S.
After I brought up the issue of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) and U.S. corn subsidies (and U.S. trade policy in general) being a major reason for people being forced to migrate to the U.S. in the first place, it was exciting for me to hear the staffer say, "wow, I never really thought about that connection before."
Afterwards, I immediately came back to the office and followed up by sending her an email with some good resources including
- A 10 minute you-tube video: Why Do Mexican Workers Head North?
- An organic blueberry farmer from Georgia describing the H2A temporary worker program (one of the only legal way for low-income workers to come the legal way) as a "well meaning mess"
- Beyond the Border Buildup: Security and Migrants Along the U.S.-Mexico Border - a report by the Washington Office on Latin America
- The Immigration Dilemma - a former FCNL's intern's blog series that is well worth the read
You know FCNL has officially turned you into a policy wonk when you spend an afternoon talking with your Senator's staffer about U.S. foreign trade policy, border security, and the DREAM Act.
The best part? I can now legitimately say that lobbying no longer freaks me out.