Monday, July 02, 2007

Lobbying for ENDA

The United States Constitution promises an accessible government. However, those we elect to represent us, as U.S. citizens, often seem out of reach. It seems, at times, infeasible to contact the elected body and, as a result, many constituents complain to friends and family when something goes wrong in the political world, rather than to their Representatives, Senators, and President. Many voters, including ourselves until recently, had never taken advantage of our ability to meet with our Congressmen and Senators.
As part of the New Faces, More Voices leadership training program for DC Interns working for Women’s Organizations, though, we had the irreplaceable opportunity to “lobby” for an issue of our choice. After some consideration, we chose the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a federal bill which would protect against discrimination for sexual orientation and gender identity in the workforce. We then researched when the proposed bill was expected to leave committee, who was co-sponsoring it, and who generally supported the issue of equality, double checking most of our information with the Human Rights Campaign. We then made an adapted sheet of facts about ENDA to leave behind at the congressional offices we visited.
Once all of the research was finished, all that was left to do was make the appointments with the offices of our Congressmen and Senators, which was easier said than done. After several phone calls, emails, and repeated faxing of meeting requests, we were able to secure four appointments with our congressional offices.
On “Lobby Day,” we spoke with staff members, usually Legislative Directors, from the offices of Senator Hutchinson (R-TX), Senator McConnell (R-KY) and Congressman Davis (R-KY), all of whom listened attentively as we described ENDA and the equality it would ensure. At our last appointment of the day, Congressman Yarmuth (D-KY) himself sat down with us to discuss his unwavering support of ENDA and equal rights. Instead of shooing us out of his office after he assured us of his support, he stayed for nearly an hour to discuss student loans, the immigration debate, and the media.

Walking through the halls of the House and Senate buildings and advocating for ENDA was a truly awakening experience. We realized how lucky we are to live in a democratic society where we can express our opinions, not just to our friends, but to those who represent us and vote on the issues of importance. We learned that setting up an appointment and taking the time to go speak with the elected body really does make a difference. After sending those who met with us thank you emails, for example, we received two replies promising updates on the Congressman’s position on ENDA and offers to meet again to discuss any other issue of importance to the young community—proof that our advocacy did not fall on deaf ears.
After our experience, we plan to return to the Hill to lobby others to support ENDA and, after some practice, hope to expand to other issues as well. We hope, too, that all young people will take the time to visit the Capitol or write their Representatives so that, collectively and powerfully, our voices will be heard.

Martha Young and Sarah Brown

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