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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