QVS makes a visit to DC

The title of the “leave-behind” – the sheet of paper that stayed with the staffer after our lobby visit – was simply titled “A Straightforward Way to End the Endless Wars.” It repeated the call we had just made for our congressperson to co-sponsor and vote for HR 2324, a bill to repeal the Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), and in short bullet-points summarized what workshops and panels throughout Spring Lobby Weekend had taught us about how the AUMF is being used as a blank check for war.

This year, Quaker Voluntary Service and Friends Committee on National Legislation partnered to send 8 of this year’s volunteers to DC to participate in Spring Lobby Weekend, joining nearly 200 other individuals – primarily young adults – in an extended weekend to learn about and then lobby on one issue.

A student at Bryn Mawr College, a fellow QVS Philly Volunteer, and I are constituents of Pennsylvania’s 2nd district who traveled to DC for the weekend. On Tuesday, we met with Jared Bass, one of our representative Chaka Fattah’s staffers. The day before, we had spent a working lunch preparing for the visit with guidance from FCNL’s Lobby Visit road map. We shared the responsibilities of thanking the representative for work he has done in the past we appreciate – including votes to repeal indefinite military detention and to close Guantanamo Bay – making the ask that he co-sponsor the bill, and sharing relevant personal stories. We practiced with a few run-throughs and tested ideas on each other – and already began wondering what kind of outcome we could expect.

In the workshops and panels on Sunday and Monday, we and other F/friends learned about how important it is to repeal the AUMF – and how effective we can be at making this work happen. Hearing from many folks, including a Lieutenant Colonel, a human rights lawyer, FCNL staff and policy fellows, and current and former congressional staff, we were exposed to the history of the policy and how it is used to excuse a wide variety of unpopular actions currently being taken by the US government in the war on terror.

Congressional staffers spoke to us about how to craft a winning argument – and common blunders to avoid. What may have surprised me most was to hear that our representatives enjoy getting visits from their constituents – they’re tired of constantly hearing from lobbyists who are invested in issues because of money. Diane Randall, General Secretary of FCNL, assured us that our representatives want to hear from us, and especially “us” as faith communities.

“A Straightforward Way to End The Endless Wars” by repealing the AUMF nearly seems too good to be true. It may not be taking away the occasion for wars, but ending this endless war on “terror” is quite a goal. I was amazed to learn just how much power the president still has from 60 words passed in response to the evens of September 11th, 2001 – and how much the vague wording of the bill is being used to expand this power. Most surprising to me was the variety of military actions that I was aware of and considered isolated problems that had been justified in whole or in part by the AUMF – such as indefinite detention of suspected terrorists, indiscriminate and unacknowledged drone strikes, and even NSA spying activity.

I came to DC with no experience of connecting with my national legislators, and only a public-school civics curriculum awareness of how I could be involved in national politics. I’ve been aware enough to be angry at how much big money gets funneled into lobbying efforts against the public interest, and thus to wonder how a small voice like my own could possibly be effective. It was pretty scary to realize how much has been done under the AUMF – but it was also pretty powerful to know that so many concerns I had with our foreign policy could be addressed by the repeal of one bill. This is an issue I would not have fully understood and certainly not felt empowered to act on without the guidance of Spring Lobby Weekend. I’m very grateful for the exposure to this work through QVS and FCNL, because now I feel prepared to continue acting in national politics as a testimony of my Quaker faith.

-Maire

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