Lobbying in Springfield
So this summer has taken me on a new and exciting adventure… this time into the world of politics and community organizing. I am part of a leadership class in community organizing through Public Action for Change Today (PACT), a community organization of young adults from around Chicago. PACT is a “broad-based” organization, which means it tries to be as diverse as possible; it is made up of different ethnic groups, religious groups, and tries to span the political spectrum to include conservatives, moderates, and liberals.
I’ve been on a few PACT adventures so far, but this one was pretty sweet. A group of eight of us went down to Springfield, IL to lobby our state representatives. We were lobbying for expanded healthcare (we really wanted universal healthcare, but that didn’t look like it was going to happen…), money for a transitional job program for homeless teens, and school finance reform (because IL is the worst state in the country when it comes to inequalities in school funding).
The eight of us met early in Chicago, all dressed up, and made the four hour journey to Springfield. We came armed with statistics, personal stories, and knowledge of what was currently going on in Springfield (the bills, the budgets, the schedule…). We went around all afternoon in small groups getting meetings with our own members of the state house and our state senators, and also meeting with other reps and senators from the Chicago area. Most were nice to us and were in support of some of the things we wanted to do. Others loved all our ideas. And then there were the few that were really really stinking mean (and one who was drunk…).
I had never done anything like this before so it was an amazing experience. I am blown away at how easy it is to get into politics. You just need to show up! Yeah, it was very difficult to get meetings with some people, and lobbying a state rep can be nerve-racking, especially when they disagree with you, but you can do it. Just drive to your state capital and meet with people. (Of course, check the schedule first to make sure that they are in sess
ion.) I had about an hour of training in how to lobby well and studied up on the bills and budgets we were supporting, but it really is pretty easy to do.
I also found out that you can’t really expect to change a senator’s or rep’s mind when you go into a meeting with them. But you can change their mind on the little things, you can let them know what you support, and you can begin to understand where they are coming from. For instance, we met with a freshman senator who was all for universal healthcare (IL SB5) but would not vote for it. The reason? Illinois is deep in debt and is not funding a bunch of programs that were already brought into existence as a state and was promised funding. So although he really wanted to see universal healthcare in IL, he first needed to see the budget balanced and the current programs funded, and then he would fight for universal healthcare. I completely respected him for that- he was a smart and honest man. Plus he met with four of us 20-something women from PACT for almost 45 minutes. That right there is a good senator, in my opinion.
I also met with my own state senator, an awesome woman named Iris Martinez. She was already fighting for many of the things that PACT had been working on. It was after 5 and at the end of a long work day when she agreed to meet with me for a few minutes… which turned into almost a half hour. She was really glad that people from her own district were coming down to see her and we had a good talk about what was going on in our neighborhoods. I’m planning on heading over to her local district office soon and meeting her staff there and seeing how I can get more involved in improving our local community.
If you are able to, you should find a broad-based community organization in your own community. Not only will it be an amazing experience, but you’ll be able to work with a diverse crowd of people from your community to try to make it a better place.