Thursday, December 8, 2016

Faith-based lobbying about sentencing reform at the office of Representative Judy Chu and Senator Dianne Feinstein

One of the things that I most appreciate about the Friends Committee on National Legislation is that it teaches how to do faith-based lobbying. "Faith-based lobbying" means we are not doing it simply to advance a cause, but also to connect from the heart and spiritually as we do this work. 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. This week 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 weren't visiting an opponent, but allies in our concern for prison reform, so it was easy to connect. 

Seven of us from Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace went to the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein, who is a co-sponsor of the Senate Sentencing Reform bill. We spoke with her aides, Amanda Sabra and Cameron Onumah, who were not only well versed in policy but had visited prisons and detention centers and are eager to meet with community leaders around issues of immigration and mass incarceration. They very much appreciated our visit and support, and told us that religious groups like ours seldom come to their office. When we assured them we'd be coming back, and invited them to speak at ICUJP, they were delighted. 

At the office of Senator Feinstein: Carolfrances Likin, Cameron Onumah (aide), Elizabeth Hailey, Rabbi Jonathan Klein, me,, Steve, Ruby, Xochi Sanchez, and Amanda Sabra (aide)
At the office of Judy Chu: Gavin Kelly, Sarah Eggers (with her baby Theo), Elizabeth Malone,Allie, myself and  Judy Chu's aides Elizabeth Andalon and Anna Iskikirian.

Six of us (including Theo, a 7-month-old lobbyist) went to Chu's office  to speak out on behalf of Mandatory Sentencing ReformJudy already supports House: Sentencing Reform Act (H.R. 3713). We urged her also to support the Recidivism Risk Reduction Act (H.R. 759). 

What made each visit special and a spiritual experience was that each of us spoke from the heart, telling personal stories about why we are concerned about prison reform. Some of us have visited or worked with people in prison. Some have worked with their families. We see prisoners not as a problem, but as people, precious in the sight of God. 

As an elder who has spent decades working for peace and justice, it was utterly delightful spend the morning connecting with these wonderful young adults so eager to make this world a better place for everyone, including those in prison. 

My next-door-neighbor Elizabeth Malone shared this thoughtful reflection on her first experience doing faith-based lobbying:

Today was my first experience in visiting a Representative's office. My neighbor, housemate, and a couple of people I met just today gathered and met with the office of Congresswoman Judy Chu. 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. Our beliefs align with Judy Chu's on these matters, but the aides informed us that it is very helpful for groups to come in and share and to make phone calls because it puts these bills more into focus and helps Congresswoman Chu prioritize her support on them. To be honest, I was nervous! I am the type of person who never feels like I know enough and gets paralyzed from taking further action until I feel like I have "enough" information. I don't retain statistics or facts easily either. I am so thankful for my neighbor for inviting me. He has been a Quaker Lobbyist for many years and helped me to have such a positive experience today. 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. Grab a few people, make an appointment, and go. If you disagree with your Representative on issues, then share with kindness and humility. If you agree, encourage them to take a stand or to prioritize whatever it is that you stand for, and keep me accountable to keep doing the same.

If you'd like to support this effort to reduce federal sentencing, go to…/join-me-to-lobby-for-sentencing-ref 

For background about this bill, please read:

Rep Chu will be speaking about "Progressive Agenda in the Age of Trump" on Monday, Dec 12, 7-8 pm at Throop Unitarian Church in Pasadena. I encourage you to join me to hear what she has to say. 

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