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.