Until I, myself, lobbied on Capitol Hill, I never realized how simple it really is. Whenever I thought of lobbyists, I always pictured middle-aged white men making under-the-table deals with Congresspeople to further corporate interests, but this past summer, I – a 20 year old, female college student – sat down with my Senators and Representatives to oppose the Global Gag rule and support comprehensive sexual education in schools across the country.
In its essence, lobbying is simply trying to convince someone to support or oppose something: it’s a tool that anyone can use to further their political agenda. Sure, it’s often used by big corporations and anti-human rights movements, but lobbying can be – and is – also used to further human rights, and not just by professional lobbyists.
When I went to the Hill to talk with my legislators, I and two other Massachusetts constituents visited three MA Congressional offices: Senator Ed Markey, Representative Niki Tsongas of the 3rd district, and Representative Mike Capuano of the 7th district. We sat down with one of the staffers to discuss why we thought our Congressperson should support the Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights (HER) Act, which would stop the Global Gag rule, and the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act (REHYA), which would provide federal funding for comprehensive sex education in U.S. schools.
All three of our Congresspeople had already co-sponsored the Global HER Act, so we asked that they become champions of the bill by pushing it on their social media and rallying the other Massachusetts representatives to sponsor it as well. However, neither of our representatives had co-sponsored REHYA yet; I was surprised by this because both have supported education and reproductive rights bills in the past. When I went to their office, I was upset and ready to call them out for their lack of support, but during my meeting with their staffers, I quickly realized that they hadn’t sponsored the bill simply because they didn’t know about it. With so much going on in our political system right now, REYHA had just flown under their radar.
I explained to the staffer about why REHYA is so important and told my anecdote of how I never received sex education growing up in Massachusetts public schools. The staffers took notes during my pitch, asked questions about the bill and my experiences, and were overall quite respectful and engaged with what I was saying. After we were finished talking, I left them with some educational materials on the two bills and thanked them for their time and hard work. In total, the meeting lasted about 15 minutes.
Sitting down with Congressional staffers and talking about bills that I deeply care about made me feel energized and powerful. Plus, it had a real effect: one week after my meeting, Representative Mike Capuano co-sponsored REHYA.
My experience on the Hill taught me how useful lobbying and advocacy can be, especially for younger or lesser known pieces of legislation, and how anyone can do it – even you. If there’s something you want your Congressional representatives to speak up for (or against), call their office and ask to set up a meeting with one of their staffers. You can find your Congressperson’s contact information on their website. The more prepared you are with handouts and data, the better, but remember – these people work for you. It is quite literally their job to listen to your concerns and requests. Your voice matters, so make it heard.
Want to get your own chance to let your legislators know what causes you care about – and why they should care about them too? Join us at the 15th annual National Young Feminist Leadership Conference, where hundreds of young feminists from around the country will spend the weekend (Saturday, March 9 and Sunday, March 10) growing knowledge, sharing strategies, and building power together – all leading up to our Congressional Visit Day on Monday, March 11, where we’ll take to Capitol Hill to advocate for change.
Learn to make change on your campus, in your community, and in your rep’s office with us at NYFLC 2019!