Students outside the FCNL office in Washington, D.C.
FCNL Fall 2013 Conference and Lobby Day
In the middle of November, I joined a group of Haverford students in attending the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) Fall Annual Meeting and Lobby day to lobby our congressional representatives to cut the Pentagon’s budget while increasing funding for human needs programs like food stamps. Located on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., FCNL is a lobbying organization that focuses on a variety of issues related to peace, equality, simplicity, and truth, all within the larger context of social, environmental, and political issues. Founded in 1943 by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), FCNL is the oldest faith-based advocacy group on Capitol Hill.
The conference was co-sponsored by the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship (CPGC) and the Quaker Affairs Office (QAO), and we had attendees from a wide range of backgrounds, grade levels, majors, and religious backgrounds. For many students, this was their first time lobbying a congressional representative, and everyone left the lobbying day expressing how interesting and gratifying the experience had been. Almost everyone said that they would be interested in attending the Spring FCNL Lobbying Weekend.
I attended the Spring FCNL Lobbying Weekend last year and had a wonderful experience meeting with several of my representatives, which is why I was interested in organizing and participating in this Fall’s lobby day. Other students chose to participate because of their Quaker backgrounds, their interest in FCNL, and their wish to become more civically engaged.
We drove down to D.C. on a Wednesday evening and spent the night in a hostel across the street from the conference center. This gave us time to bond as a group, as we discussed our backgrounds, interests, and experience in political engagement. Early the next morning, we walked over to the conference center to receive our preparation for lobbying. Over breakfast, we met with other adult Quakers from our home districts to form a plan for our lobbying visits. We were all quite grateful that FCNL staffers had set up lobbying visits for us previous, relieving us of a serious logistic burden.
In my group from Wisconsin, we introduced ourselves and shared personal stories of seeing the consequences of human needs programs budget cuts. Some shared stories of seeing their friends and family suffering because of reductions in SNAP (food stamps) funding, while others shared of the tremendous increase in demand for food at local food banks and meal sites. We discussed the background of the individual congressional representatives, where they typically stand on budget and human needs policy, and our tactics for best lobbying them to cut the Pentagon budget while funding other vital programs.
After preparing for the visits, we went down to Capitol Hill to meet with our congressional representatives. As we had expected, none of our Senators or Representatives were in their offices or available to meet, so my Wisconsin delegation met with three engaging, respectful legislative aides. We had prepared our “ask” well, so even in the meeting with the aide from the Tea Party Republican’s office, we felt that we were able to make some progress in getting our concerns voiced.
Most of the other students from Haverford lobbied in groups with adults from their home states, although two students had meetings on their own, accompanied by FCNL staffers. For Clarianne Moscoso '16, this worked out in her favor because when her Senator from Puerto Rico heard that a constituent had traveled to his office on her own, he came out and talked with her for half an hour.
Other students in larger groups of adults from their state found that their group respected the power of the “youth voice.” As Adriana Cvitkovic '16 put it, “I got to speak often in my group as the voice of young people from my state, and express my concerns from that perspective.”
Regardless of the outcomes of their individual meetings, the Haverford students walked away from the lobbying experience feeling hopeful and empowered. As Clarianne put it, “After my visit to DC, I left with a new insight; if citizens from all backgrounds use their voice to state their concerns, change is possible. It can help pop the ‘Capitol Hill Bubble’ that many government officials live in, and remind them of their responsibility to help their constituents.” Calvin Trisolini '17 expressed, “I was given the opportunity to speak truth to power, and I learned more about myself in the process.”
After we returned from our lobbying visits, we regrouped over a delicious dinner provided for us by FCNL. Several FCNL staffers joined us, as we debriefed over how the visits had gone, what had been the most effective lines of reasoning for each representative, and what we had learned about ourselves in the process. Several students also engaged with staffers on issues relating to Middle Eastern policies. After dinner, our group listened to a wonderful talk by Reza Aslan, a religious scholar and the author of the New York Times bestseller Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. The talk situated Jesus of Nazareth in the political context of the time, and had an extensive Q&A session at the end.
As we headed back to Haverford after the talk, students ruminated on the experience and how grateful they were to have been able to participate and gain an understanding into some of the nuts and bolts of the political process. All in all, it was a successful conference, and students are excited to attend the lobby day in the Spring.
Rosemary K Ventura '16