Since the election, people of faith from Pasadena and around the country have become more interested and active than ever before in efforts to make our voices heard in Washington, DC, through faith-based lobbying. People of all backgrounds and ages are taking part, including a mother with a 7-month-old baby.
Our first post-election faith-based lobby training in Pasadena took place on Saturday, January 28, at the Orange Grove Friends (Quaker) Meetinghouse, 520 E Orange Grove Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91104. Katie Breslin, a staff person for the the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) came from Washington, DC, to lead the training. Over 60 people took part and 45 signed up to be part of our Advocacy Team. We are forming a listserv and plan to meet on a monthly basis to plan our visits and strategies to influence our elected officials. If you'd like to be part of this team, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FNCL, the oldest faith-based lobby in DC (founded by Quakers in 1942), has an impressive record. For the past few decades it has organized annual lobby days in Washington, DC, twice a year--one for young people and one mainly for older people--that attract hundreds of participants from around the country. FNCL deals with a wide range of issues including promoting peace and advocating for prison and immigration reform, and the environment. Lobby training is open to everyone, regardless of religious background (agnostics are also welcome!). You can find out more at fcnl.org.
What happens in DC over the next few months and years could have a tremendous impact on our city and state. Funds for HUD could be slashed, making it harder to provide affordable housing and help for the homeless. Funds for healthcare could be dramatically reduced if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. Draconian immigration policies could have devastating consequences on our Latino neighbors. We need to let our elected officials know where we stand on these issues.
That's why FCNL has launched "Advocacy Teams" across the country to help citizens to be more effective lobbyists. A San Gabriel Valley Advocacy Team is currently in the process of being expanded after making lobby visits for several years.
One of the things that I most appreciate about faith-based lobbying is that it's not simply about advancing a cause, it's also about building long-term relationships with our elected officials, and each other. A young woman named Elizabeth Malone who made her first lobby visit to the office of Judy Chu wrote that she was very nervous at first, but felt encouraged because she "was listened to." She writes:
" Two aides met with us and listened and encouraged us. We were there sharing our personal stories of working with the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated, wanting to bring further attention to the Sentencing Reforms and Correction Act and the Recidivism Risk and Reductions Act....I look forward to doing more of this in the future. It felt so pro-active and easy at the same time. I shared from my heart and was listened to! I write this to encourage those like me who care a lot but may feel intimidated by the political process."
We are forming a team committed to meeting with elected officials on a regular basis, several times a year, to let them know our concerns. As Quakers, we believe that there is "that of God"--divine goodness--in everyone and we try to reach out to that divine spark in those we lobby, including those with disagree with.
We have been particularly successful in reaching out to conservative Republicans. Thanks in part to visits from young people sponsored by FCNL, Rep. Chris Gibson, a Republican from New York state, was moved to sponsor a resolution acknowledging that climate change is real, human-caused, and needs to be addressed.
This resolution states that members of the House will work to “create and support economically viable, and broadly supported private and public solutions to study and address the causes and effects of measured changes to our global and regional climates, including mitigation efforts and efforts to balance human activities that have been found to have an impact.”
This climate change resolution — supported by 10 other Republicans — is noteworthy in the House, where a majority of members, including Speaker John Boehner, routinely question whether it is occurring.
FCNL also played an important role in helping to pass the Iran treaty, which faced fierce opposition but moved forward because of widespread support from people of faith and conscience.
This fall I helped organize two lobby visits in the LA area--one at the office of Representative Judy Chu, and one at the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein. We focused on Mandatory Sentencing Reform, bills that have bipartisan support.
The lobbyists from Pasadena who went to Rep Judy Chu's office ranged in age from 67 years (that would be me) to 7 months. Sarah Eggers, a family therapist who works with the families of those in prison, cares deeply about the negative impact that incarceration has on family life. The fact that a mother with a 7-month-old baby came to lobby about sentencing reform made a deep impression on Judy Chu's staff. They listened and took notes as we shared our stories about our experiences with prison inmates and why we felt that mandatory sentences need to be reduced.
Another memorable visit involved a team of teenagers from Pasadena's Peace and Justice Academy who spoke out on behalf of the refugee children crossing the border. It is never too early to teach young people about how democracy works!
"We need to hear more from people of faith," a staff person from Senator Feinstein's office told us recently when we made a visit. "We seldom hear from religious people like you."
That's the message we frequently hear from our elected officials and their staff. Most elected officials want to do the right thing, but they are under tremendous pressure from lobbyists hired to advance the interests of billionaires and corporations. We need to let our elected officials know that their constituents deeply care about moral concerns, such as peace, justice, the environment, health care and helping the poor and vulnerable.