Archive | December 2012

School Of Americas Watch

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More pictures from the School of Americas Watch Protest the weekend of November 16-18. Kelsey and Rebecca participated.

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FCNL: Reflections – Lobbying and Peace Studies

In Mid-November, five QVS volunteers went on a trip to Washington D.C. to experience lobby training and to have the opportunity to lobby our members of Congress through a Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) and Quaker Public Policy Institute (QPPI) program.  In this series, I have written three sections: the first in which I seek to describe the beginning program events and sessions, the second in which I specifically describe the lobby visit experience, and the third in which I reflect and explain how I was affected on a personal level.  As a new college graduate with a major in peace studies, the FCNL program and lobbying visits were an experience of deeper learning and reflection on peace and social change.

The experience and process of lobby visits, for me personally, could be examined and reflected upon by considering it as roughly threefold.  Firstly, as lobbyists, we had a larger ask about decreasing Pentagon spending, yet also discussed the issue in light of our personal concerns.  Secondly, understanding the concerns held by the Congress people was key; in, reaching out with our needs, we had to think deeply about their perspective as well.  Thirdly, I reflected on efforts towards social change, and the question of what is change and what is positive change.

What does it mean to make a larger ask personal, and when is a larger ask already personal?  When are we affected by choices in government spending?  In seeking to make change, we are not just speaking out for others and for people as a whole, people both in the United States and in the world with which we may or may not ever have direct contact; we are speaking out for ourselves.  We are speaking out for our health and safety; we are making a choice about the world in which we want to live.  It is very much our basic needs for food and shelter, the education available for us to receive, and a clean, safe environment in which to live.  Personally, I see the need to return to the basics; can we see beyond the obvious nature of these needs, and realize that they are ‘basic’ and ‘obvious’ for a reason? If we see our government investing in areas that take away from people’s ability to have these needs, why would we not speak out for people and for ourselves?

In speaking out, however, we must also consider the position in which our Congress people are.  During the FCNL program, there were people who stated that the ask for the decrease in Pentagon spending should be significantly more than what FCNL was currently asking.  In what cases should we really challenge what is currently happening and in what cases do we need to work in steps for positive change?  When we bring an ask in the lobby visits, we request something very specific of a member of Congress who has many constituents, some of whom will lobby with a view that opposes our request.  We must also consider what matters to the Congress person.  What is the balance between not compromising one’s convictions and reaching out to understand another perspective?

With consideration of this balance, I return to thinking about what is social change and what is positive change?  Social change should not be about imposing one’s views on others or assuming that one knows the right way; however, at the same time, it means not staying silent in the face of what we know to be negatively impacting the well-being of others and our own well-being.  We may not recognize much change in a visit with a congressperson’s office, yet every time our voice is out there, there exists the opportunity for another person to think differently about an idea, issue, situation, and the opportunity for us to think differently / reexamine our understandings.  Making changes and cultivating peace are beyond just pointing our problems, i.e. excessive Pentagon spending; they are all about working towards creative solutions and learning to work together in order to bring about the well-being of all living beings.  Through this experience, I have learned that in a lobby session, we can share our concerns and also our ideas in efforts towards social change and peace.

FCNL: The Lobby Visits

In Mid-November, five QVS volunteers went on a trip to Washington D.C. to experience lobby training and to have the opportunity to lobby our members of Congress through a Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) and Quaker Public Policy Institute (QPPI) program.  In this series, I have written three sections: the first in which I seek to describe the beginning program events and sessions, the second in which I specifically describe the lobby visit experience, and the third in which I reflect and explain how I was affected on a personal level.  As a new college graduate with a major in peace studies, the FCNL program and lobbying visits were an experience of deeper learning and reflection on peace and social change.

The Friday morning of the lobby visits began with worship sharing. I joined with other Friends for silent worship, a time of open hearts and minds before the day.  This was absolutely a time that I felt the need for worship and spiritual grounding and a time in which I felt that we held each other and the important issues of the day in the light. Then, I met up with Sue May and Judy Lumb for the Georgia lobby visits, and we went to meet with our Congress people.

First, we met with Todd Harmer, Military Legislative Assistant for Senator Saxby Chambliss.  While I observed and made notes, Sue and Judy explained the ask regarding Pentagon spending with their own personal stories that presented issues of education and climate change.  In the larger sense, the importance of a balanced budget and decreasing wasteful spending in every area was the concern that Harmer provided to us in response.

Next we met with Ryan Evans, Legislative Correspondent for Senator Johnny Isakson.  Upon presenting the issues with military spending again, Evans discussed Senator Isakson’s priority to have a sustainable and efficient government.  National security was a significant priority as well. In the meeting we also thanked her for Isakson’s support regarding the START treaty.

Then, we had a last visit for the day with Thomas Dorney, Legislative Assistant for Representative John Lewis.  In this case, Dorney spoke to the ask of cutting one trillion dollars in ten years from Pentagon spending by explaining that everybody takes a part of the issue, yet the spending isn’t necessarily considered as a whole to see the larger picture for such a cut.  A highly significant aspect of this as well was that in light of the Bush tax cuts, there was not a corresponding financial disincentive for going to war.  The idea was that American citizens would be more immediately opposed to war if the immediate effect of a tax increase was present.  Dorney expressed that John Lewis would agree with the position on military spending in our ask.  Finally, he also talked about other areas in need of attention, such as the establishing a greater connection between our priorities and values, the role of grassroots and community organizing, and working on forgiveness as a principle in the efforts for justice and peace.

After the third meeting, we concluded our lobbying visits for the day.  The program events and sessions previous to, and in preparation for, the lobbying visits, along with the actual visits, included issues on which to reflect and contemplate.  I was left to consider how I personally am affected and how these issues affect our nation and world.

FCNL: The Program Events and Sessions

In Mid-November, five QVS volunteers went on a trip to Washington D.C. to experience lobby training and to have the opportunity to lobby our members of Congress through a Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) and Quaker Public Policy Institute (QPPI) program.  In this series, I have written three sections: the first in which I seek to describe the beginning program events and sessions, the second in which I specifically describe the lobby visit experience, and the third in which I reflect and explain how I was affected on a personal level.  As a new college graduate with a major in peace studies, the FCNL program and lobbying visits were an experience of deeper learning and reflection on peace and social change.

The Quaker Public Policy Institute programming began on a Thursday morning.  Everybody that had arrived for the program gathered together, greeting each other and collecting their welcome packets. Then, everybody settled in and FCNL Executive Secretary Diane Randall gave a welcome and introduction. She described what we now face in the United States with a shift from the concern about national security to the issue of job growth. She emphasized that cuts to domestic spending will slow job creation.  The morning continued with speakers discussing the unsustainable nature of long-term debt and the importance of jobs and economic growth.  The main focus of the morning was military spending in the U.S., which is proportionally larger than military spending in the rest of the world. Many speakers discussed how that spending could be redirected to meet other needs.

The afternoon was spent in concurrent in-depth panel briefings, each concentrating on a specific aspect of the effects of military spending or ways to redirect the investments. I attended a session entitled, ‘Investing in Sustainable Energy and the Environment’.  The session reframed the discussion about the fiscal cliff crisis to consider the climate change cliff. The panel defined the climate change cliff as putting money and resources into nonrenewable energy, thus contributing to climate change, which already causes and will continue to cause worldwide conflict.

After the panel briefings, we gathered in groups that were divided by state residency to prepare for lobby visits with our members of Congress. In the visits, our “ask” was to decrease Pentagon spending by one trillion dollars over the next ten years.  In our individual state groups, we worked on developing how the ask affected us personally and what stories we could tell that reflected what we believed were key priorities for the country, whether it be education or the issue of climate change. I joined with the Georgia group, and together we discussed the issues that were personally important to us and the process of lobbying itself.  We were a small group, three total from Atlanta Friends Meeting, including Sue May, Judy Lumb, and me.  As a first timer, I would take the role as observer and note-taker in the lobbying experience.

Following the group lobby-planning sessions, people gathered again to eat and spend time together until the evening plenary.  In this final piece of the day, the evening plenary, a panel of FCNL lobbyists discussed how the results of the 2012 election will affect the issues that concern us and that we care about.  A major issue addressed was security, specifically in relation to people’s concerns about their own security, especially in the realms of healthcare and quality education.  Additionally, another angle of the discussion was in regards to utilizing spending for conflict prevention programs.  As such, the arising question seemed to be: how can we invest in peace and in the prevention of war and what are areas of concern for U.S. citizens in which we could invest more as well?

Also, the matter of civility on Capitol Hill and the partisan divides were another central theme in the plenary. More often than not, the struggle over key issues in the nation becomes a back and forth between political parties. In this plenary, we were left to consider how people can work together, how we can engage in dialogue and listen, and finally, how individual citizens, as constituents, can reach Congress people where they are.  In this way, we learn about what is important to our Congress people while they learn about what is important to us and hopefully engage in the same dialogue with each other.  Finally, the need to thank our Congress people was strongly emphasized; in our lobby visits, we would bring forth our concerns and that for which we were grateful, a process of building healthy and positive relationships between constituents and Capitol Hill Senators and Representatives.  Then, the night concluded, and the next day, lobby visits would begin.

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