Friday, April 13, 2012

Paleolibrarian Guest Blogger Commentary: What It’s Like to Lobby Congress on Behalf of Secularism

Ms. Amanda Savitz

*By Amanda Savitz

I am a 29-year-old woman with a degree in Political Science, a passion for politics, and an unhealthy addiction to C-SPAN, but until March 23, 2012, I hadnever lobbied Congress. I can’t explain why. I’ve been very involved in several political causes; I’ve done grassroots organizing, fundraising, teach-ins, and attended marches and rallies, but it never occurred to me that I should be talking to the people who are supposed to represent my interests in government.

Last month, on the weekend of the Reason Rally,I joined Atheists from all over the U.S. for a “Lobby Day for Reason” in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Secular Coalition for America (SCA), a Washington-based umbrella lobbying group. The event was designed to teach us how to effectively lobby Congress on issues important to secular Americans.

We Walk To Capitol Hill

In the morning training session at a nearby hotel, I was assigned to meet with staffers from the offices of Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and Representatives Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney. After the training, we walked to Capitol Hill, which seemed really far with the sun baking down on us, and my fancy shoes already hurting my feet. We entered our first Senate office building, and after setting off the metal detector (with my shoes), I felt rejuvenated by the cool indoor air. I was ready.

With each staffer we met, we discussed the two issues SCA had outlined for us: “Living as a Non-theist in America” and “Religious Discrimination in Health Care.” I discussed health care at three of our visits and felt that our strongest allies on keeping religious dogma out of health care legislation were the staffers in Chuck Schumer and Carolyn Maloney’s offices.

Talking Secular Issues

The difficulties of living as secular Americans were portrayed eloquently by my fellow lobbyists. I found them moving, and I believe that some of the staffers did too. We talked about being excluded from government. We talked about the fear of “coming out” to our families, our communities and our employers.

We told the staffers that our children are bullied too, and we asked that they be protected in anti-bullying legislation. We expressed our dismay with pharmacists who deny women access to birth control and emergency contraception based on their personal religious beliefs. We told the staffers how insulted we were every time the words “god Bless America” were compulsorily uttered by someone who was supposed to represent all of us.

Our Passion and Urgency

I was very impressed by Representative Maloney’s staffer who took copious notes, seemed genuinely interested in what we had to say and even asked an interesting question. At the end of the day, I didn’t know for sure if the staffers we had met with would relay our secular message to our Congressmen with the passion and urgency we had displayed, much less if our Congressional representatives would give a damn.

But lobbying Congress had felt positive and important, and we had had our say. It seemed unlikely that all of the changes we were pushing for in one lobbying visit would be made, but we had shown them that Atheists are constituents too. I realized that this day was a new beginning in our fight for secular values, but that this could not be where it ends.


Paleolibrarian Guest Blogger, new friend and colleague, Ms. Amanda Savitz, is an activist and lives in New York City. She is active in NYCA’s Young Atheist Mover & Shaker’s group. She joined the large NYCA contingent for the Reason Rally. She spent the day before the Rally lobbying Congress on issues related to secularism.  Amanda can be reached via Facebook. This article first appeared in the April issue of the NYCA Newsletter. It is reprinted with permission by the author and organization.

No comments:

Post a Comment