To say I understand my life would be a total farce. Thursday morning, I found myself at Le Comptoir des Saint Peres in Paris meeting with a colleague from SciencesPo (France’s international relations school) and discussing the recent dismissal of France’s Minster of Justice. By Monday, I’m in the U.S. Congress lobbying for representatives and senators to pass legislation that works to prevent — or at least interrupt — genocide.
What a delicious start to 2016…
Learning to Lobby
For my doctoral work, I interviewed lobbyists and studied the mechanisms of lobbying, to better understand what happened during the French National Railroad conflict (see here for summary). but had never done it. It was new to me and since it is something open to all of us, I wanted to share what I learned as part of the Lemkin Summit.
The Lemkin Summit is a weekend dedicated to atrocity/genocide prevention and sponsored by the Enough Project and Jewish World Watch. Scholars, activists and students came together to share their world around the world to reduce genocide and then we talked about legislative bills currently floating around congress related to mass violence.
10 Things I Learned About Lobbying
Lobbying is something anyone can do. “Lobbyist” is just an official designation for which one has to register. The Verb is open to anyone. You register for the Noun.
Unless you’re a professional, you’re most powerful lobbying in the state where you vote. It helps if you actually vote… (so please vote)
Your Senator/Representative has staffers whose job it is to meet with you. You can simply contact the office and request a meeting.
You want to be able to speak to specific bills related to a cause that matters to you. Reach out to advocacy groups for your cause and ask them “What are you pushing forward on the Hill?”
You need to know the name of the bill, what it does, whether it has passed in the House or Senate, what committee it is in.
Tell the person you’re meeting with why this issue matters to you. Just speak from the heart. Statistics are great too, but being real helps.
Not every issue is politically divisive. For our bills, we had equal numbers of democrats and republicans supporting them.
You might be shocked at the age of the staffer and/or congress person. These folks are young. Don’t hold it against them.
Members of Congress want the support of their constituents and want to know what you want.
You can meet with your representatives in D.C. or in your home state.
Democrats and Republicans Don’t Fight About Everything
The prevailing discourse is that our congress has become so divided along party lines that nothing can be done. One of the nice things about working on genocide prevention is that — as they pointed out at the Lemkin Summit — no one is lobbying FOR genocide.
No Member of Congress (I think I can safely say) wants to see thousands of people slaughtered and thrown into mass graves to serve the interests of power-hungry war lords who increasingly kidnap children to do their killing for them.
Of course we may disagree how best to interrupt violence and how much the United States is willing to invest…but we are agreed that no one wants it.
Maybe lobbying for clean water (poor Flint, MI) is the same.
Why You Want to Lobby At Least Once
I loved the lobby day because it helped me remember on a visceral level that this is MY government too. That I do have a voice— it might be small. But maybe not. And it is exciting and quite precious to have a system like we do. Why not use it?
It also made the world seem a bit smaller and less frightening. There are faces on my representatives now. I know what their offices look like and have a sense of what matters to them.
Yesterday The Washington Post published a front-page story about loneliness being a serious health risk. Lobbying helped a bit with a kind of political isolation I was feeling from my own government. TV, media, and the imposing buildings make the government feel far away and larger than life.
Go in, knock on the door…you actually do not even need an appointment. Let me know how it goes…