Each year, the University of Mount Union has groups of students participate in Spring Lobby Weekend to gain experience and insight on the process of lobbying. Students Claudia Harris and Shelby Summers wrote the following pieces to reflect on their experiences participating in the annual event, which is sponsored by the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL).
This past March, over 500 students from across the nation came together to advocate for changes in policing and the justice system. This was not a protest. All these students gathered virtually and met with their congressional representatives to talk about their concerns and urge their lawmakers to support the Justice in Policing Act, H.R. 1280.
FCNL is a non-profit organization that teaches young people to lobby and advocate for change. It is a Quaker affiliated organization that is focused on advocating for social change and peace as part of Quaker values. March 22 was a part of their annual Spring Lobby Weekend where young people were taught how to lobby a specific bill FCNL was advocating. Forty-three states were represented and over 80 congressional offices were visited by young people hoping to make a change with FCNL on Spring Lobby Weekend 2021.
This is my second year participating in Spring Lobby Weekend. As an engineering student, I never pictured myself lobbying my congressional representatives. I thought lobbying was only allowed for big-wig corporate lobbyists, but I have learned through this experience that lobbying is an effective way to communicate to your representatives about any issue of concern.
During Spring Lobby Weekend, FCNL taught me how to lobby the important points of the Justice in Policing Act. The four meaningful provisions of the Justice in Policing Act we lobbied for includes banning choke holds and no-knock warrants, reforming the 1033 program, raising the use of force standard, and reforming qualified immunity. After explaining how we were personally affected by police militarization and why these provisions in the Justice in Policing Act are necessary, we asked our lawmakers to support or cosponsor the bill.
Even after all our training during Spring Lobby Weekend, I was nervous to talk to my legislators. I was worried about the pushback I would receive because I did not know everything about the bill. FCNL places a lot of emphasis on telling your story when you talk to your representatives because your representatives do not have your life experiences. I went into my lobbying visits still nervous about the technical aspects of the bill, but ready to tell my story of how the current state of policing has affected me personally. By focusing on my story, I was reassured that my representatives could not so easily dismiss my point-of-view because my lived experiences were not up for debate, the bill was. It was an empowering experience being able to talk to my lawmakers about how their choices are affecting my life. I look forward to using all the knowledge I gained during Spring Lobby Weekend for future lobbying for issues I am passionate about!
This year I participated with FCNL to lobby for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. I knew nothing about FCNL or how to lobby, but after a few hours of lobby training, I learned how to fight for the Act on Zoom. Going into this, I was very nervous speaking to our representatives. I had no idea how they would react to us or if they would ignore us. During our training session, I was too nervous to speak up. I watched as other Ohio group members gathered personal stories and information about this bill. FCNL gave us a guide to follow; one person was the leader, another person introduced the ask, three people shared their stories, we reintroduced the ask with three questions about the bill; while all of this happened, we had another person taking notes. Lastly, we all thanked them, sent an email to the representative and sent the information we gathered to FCNL.
The first meeting was with Senator Sherrod Brown; he was the only senator who supported the bill. I thought we would talk to our senator and representatives directly via phone call or zoom. But we met with people who work with them. The first meeting went smoothly. We received insight into why he voted yes and what he supported. The next session was with Bob Gibbs; he is the representative for District 7. This group was tiny — there were only five people. I became the leader and told a story. The person we talked to didn’t know much about what Gibbs supported and the meeting lasted 15 minutes. Although the meeting was short, I felt accomplished. I did something I never thought I could do, which was using my voice to tell my story. The last meeting was with Rob Portman, who also voted against the Act. We also met with someone who worked with him. No matter how hard we pressed with questions, they didn’t know much but stated they would ask Portman our questions. After these three meetings, my anxiety faded. It was fascinating to talk to people who work with our senators and representatives.
Overall, it was a great experience to take part in this lobbying experience. I recommend if you want to see a change, participate next year. Usually, we would go to Washington, DC and lobby in person. Imagine sitting in your representative’s office, lobbying for a change — it’s a great feeling.