Texas group had their first meeting in the early morning with a staff member from Sen. Ted Cruz’s office. To prepare for this meeting, which no doubt would be a challenging office to lobby for support in favor of Poverty Focused Development Assistance, Jerry asked us some tough questions, and students presented us with opposing comments – all, so that we would have the chance to respond, and see how we would continue to further our issue.
I remember one of the students in the class responded to our group by saying something along the lines of, “Well, we’re not interested in supporting this assistance, so we are not in favor of maintaining this budget.” Basically, it was something along the lines of, “N-O.” Jerry then said to her, “Ok, let’s be a little bit more open, so that they will at least have a chance to respond!”
Well, little did we know that when meeting with a staff member that next morning, we would be faced with that absolute opposition! I remember sitting in the room with our two Texan students. We were all prepared! Well, except for the fact that once the staffer started speaking, I realized I forgot a pen! Thank goodness one of the other students started speaking and that gave me a chance to try to quietly scavenge my bag for a pen (which of course, was at the BOTTOM – go figure!)
One of the students presented our issue and gave an introduction, and then BOOM. We received a response that was something along the lines of, “Yeah..um, NOPE.” Almost immediately, at that! Apparently the poor people were not our responsibility. Given that response, well, our personal scripts were thrown out the window, and so we had to use another tactic…ASK QUESTIONS!
At that point, I was immediately transported to my weekly sales meetings way back when, when I would sense a “Thanks, but no thanks – not interested” response, in which case I would…ASK QUESTIONS! At least that way, I learned, it was more consultative, rather than interrogative and not focused only on my agenda.
Back to the office that morning, the staffer provided us with some helpful information on what initiatives they WERE interested in looking at and revisiting. Now, that was helpful.
While we did not necessarily achieve any sense of commonality (there did not even seem like there was any room for that!), we certainly learned about Cruz’s agenda and where he stood with PFDA. At the same time, that short, 10-minute meeting kick-started us into high alert for our next meetings for the day. Talk about silver lining!
The next two meetings, I will summarize in “Tips for Lobbying” form:
- Know who you are meeting with and arrive on time.
- Know the names of your state representatives.
- Know the stance of your state representatives on various issues, but especially on the issue that you are lobbying for.
- Don’t get too down on yourself if you leave an office feeling defeated – you did the best you could!
- Speak from the heart – I remember when I was speaking with one of the staffers, and sharing my experience at Cabrini Ministries in Swaziland, Africa, I wanted so badly for them to understand and feel the great work that was being done through PEPFAR aid, so I just let my personal experience tell the story.
- Relax – while it may be somewhat intimidating and you may be nervous, especially prior to entering the meeting, knowing that you are basically throwing yourselves into a room with highlighter colored poster boards with big fat “NO”s written in black sharpee on them… relax anyway. 🙂
- Speak up! It is very important to speak and listen, and be attentive to the conversation and the exchange in communication.
- Be critical – understand that some of the responses you may receive are “cheap punches” to what you are trying to advocate for – listen, dismiss those, and stay on track!
- Be confident – know what you are talking about (that goes along with doing your homework before the meeting) and you will be more able to express yourself more clearly
- Bring a pen (READILY AVAILABLE) with your notebook/folder – notes are good to take, especially because the day can seem like a whirlwind, and there’s no way you would be able to remember what was said in the early morning meetings!
Afterwards, we met with the PA and NJ groups and they had much more favorable experiences with their state representatives. My response to that: MUST BE NICE!! Haha, but really, it was awesome to hear about their individual experiences too! Such a variety. Everyone was full of energy when the meetings were done! Oh…but so tired too. 🙂
After taking a few pics at the Capitol, courtesy of Jerry (seen here), we headed over to the CRS office and met with Eric (from CRS) and Steve (from USCCB). We discussed our lobbying experiences and shared them as a large group. At the same time, we learned more about how our advocacy work fits into the work of CRS. Hearing more about that really placed our lobbying efforts into a larger context – how great!
Yes, we shared our personal stories from Guatemala, the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, and we wanted to be listened to and heard loud and clear, but this advocacy work fits into a greater context, and that is the work that CRS does, as well as the other international aid organizations who serve the poorest of the poor with the greatest needs.
I think when we can recall the faces, replay the stories in our minds of our encounters and experiences with the poor or other marginalized communities, those may very well serve as the touchstones which will be our greatest argument and motivation. We can not be defeated there.
The work must continue, and we now have the great opportunity to be the feet and the voices of those we lived alongside for our one-week, two-month, two-year experiences. It’s a tough battle, but there is power in numbers!
Great job everyone!