Wanted: Peace Lobbyists
By Adam Cohen on 10/04/2012 @ 04:07 PM
It poured on Tuesday morning. Great, I thought to myself as I walked out the door to begin my commute. One more thing to worry about this morning.
And worried I was. You see, this was the morning of my very first lobby visit. I imagined sitting in a pristine room around an oak table across from powerful, dismissive experts wearing pressed suits. I doubted they’d care to hear my opinion. If I did have an opening to talk they’d probably nod their heads but wouldn’t write anything down unless my remarks were truly inspiring. The whole venture seemed daunting, cold as you’d imagine the top of the Legislative peak to be, and possibly doomed from the start. This is Congress we’re talking about!
But I was wrong about all of it. I was pleasantly surprised to be welcomed into a room in the Senator’s office and to sit at a table with Matt Southworth, my supervisor, and two Legislative Assistants dressed no fancier than I was. One of them leaned back casually in his chair and smiled across at us as we started to talk about the news. The conversation shifted to the focus of our meeting and we sank into foreign policy. Matt promised me from the outset that he’d give me a chance to speak and he kept his word. The fruits of the research I’ve been doing did not evade me when I opened my mouth. Matt and I played off of each other and provided our stance on the issues at hand. To my surprise, the two staffers listened closely, nodded and took notes. I could barely hold back my ever-widening smile.
The experience was empowering. All of the training FCNL gave us when we first got here last month was worth it. It seemed that we made our mark and began to plant the seeds of an effective relationship based on similar policy interests. As we left, we shook hands and exchanged business cards before heading back out into the rain. Thankfully, we didn’t have far to go: FCNL is right across the street.
Almost every American citizen has the right to vote, but that is not the only means of engaging with the democratic process. Lobbying may have negative connotations both on and off the Hill, but when done by concerned individuals it represents a critical pillar of democracy. It is a surprisingly well-kept secret that we can interact with our elected officials even after election season passes. Through phone calls, letter-writing campaigns, op-eds and letters-to-the-editor, we can keep our representatives in the Legislature aware of our sentiments and attuned to our principles. If you really want to leave an impression, you can take the next step by scheduling a visit in a senator’s local office.
Not enough of us take advantage of this avenue of political participation. Our government can only work on our behalf if we are consistent in letting it know what we want. It is our responsibility to keep our officials aware of our concerns. If we fail to communicate to Congress what sorts of policies we want to see enacted, we cannot expect that our elected officials will vote for what we believe in. Members of Congress and their staff are not mind-readers. We need to constantly remind them of what we want them to do.
This problem is especially glaring on foreign policy issues. Due to pressing economic concerns, emphasized in recent years more than in most, those few who do come to Washington often neglect to talk about issues such as the wars we fight, the governments we support and the way we carry ourselves in the world. Our representatives sit on various committees that oversee the preparation legislation that determine how much international aid we give, how much we spend on defense, what sorts of programs we create or destroy, what treaties we ratify, who we engage in trade with and what wars we do and do not fight. These decisions impact not just the character of the government, but they influence the greater world and affect many aspects of domestic life here in America as well. Sadly, we are taking ourselves out of this important conversation. A government whose deliberation on international challenges involves negligible public input cannot be said to have a democratic foreign policy at all. Our inaction is moving us dangerously close to this reality.
But we can change this. Lobbying might appear daunting to anyone. I know, believe me. But if my experience on “the Hill” this week is any example, communicating directly with Congress is not as hard as it appears. With a healthy dose of preparation, confidence and conviction anyone can be an effective lobbyist for peace here in Washington. You can even lobby with us during Quaker Public Policy Institute and Lobby Weekend from November 15th through the 18th. We’ll give you all of the tools to succeed. You just need to take the first step.