By Alison Weeks
Last week, I had the privilege of attending a lobbying-training event with 430 other Quakers and non-Quakers at the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), a 71-year old Quaker public policy organization located strategically across from the Senate Hart building in Washington, DC.
We were there just in time to focus our efforts on supporting diplomacy to secure a nuclear-deal with Iran--one which will prevent a nuclear-armed Iran and a potential new war in the region.
Since the deadline for diplomacy was November 24th, it was an ideal time to meet with representatives to urge them to support--and not block--the diplomatic process. The deadline has fortunately been extended until July 1st, 2015, but will need public support to not be overturned by the new congress.
I grew up "culturally Quaker," as one Quaker elder identified me at the lobbying event. I'm not a Quaker, but I attended Quaker schools and camps during my formative early teen and then college years. Given the long history of Quakers in the peace movement, there is some irony that I ended up with Quakers after my Navy-pilot father was killed in a military accident. I have experienced profound personal loss as the result of the military.
I am neither a Middle East expert, nor have I previously been active as a political lobbyist. I was, until last week, a total lobbying virgin. I do write my representatives. I've called to let them know what I think about important issues. Especially recently. But I had spent many years pursuing a "spiritual path" that did not include being very engaged with the political process, even though I've always voted.
Why did I wait so long to engage as a citizen of a representative democracy?
A light went on for me in the fall of 2013 in the lead up to potential air strikes on Syria, especially related to the work of FCNL. By way of their very easy-to-use "Action Alerts" newsletter, I started to write and call my representatives. A massive wave of public outcry, tracked and measured by FCNL, did, in fact, sway congressional members to oppose air strikes. I saw that calling and writing my representatives actually could--and DID--have an impact. Quite honestly, this left me with no choice other than to re-engage and address my latent cynicism about the political process. I'm now building relationships with my representatives and they will be hearing from me.
One of the FCNL staffers said during the training, "We talk to everybody"--meaning Democrats and Republicans across the whole spectrum of views. I realized that I can talk to everybody and could do this with those on both sides of an issue to find common ground to move the needle toward peace and justice. How could I not do this? Lobbying is just dialogue. (See photo: Alison talking with Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley.)
I have thought a lot about the non-religious spiritual community in this country. Truthfully, I think we have been some of the least politically engaged, despite our love of peace. But inner peace will only be as peaceful as the outer world reflects it back to us. We really must step up and use our political process.
So, if you have the ability to "talk to everybody," please talk to your representatives. Call. Write. You don't have to be an expert on an issue. Speak from personal experience. I heard again and again this week that our representatives want to hear from us and their phones aren't ringing enough. We CAN make a difference by simply creating more dialogue with our elected representatives.
Will you join me in talking to everybody? To make it easy, please sign up for FCNL Action Alerts here: http://fcnl.org/action/alert/
Alison Weeks, Director of Business Development