FCNL constituents visited local congressional offices across the country this summer while Congress was home for the August recess. Working with staff from our Washington office, volunteers organized more than 129 lobby visits or in some cases just dropped by congressional offices.
They lobbied on the most pressing legislation that will come to a vote in the fall, including ending forever wars, requiring background checks for gun purchases, and supporting a price on carbon to address the climate emergency.
More than one-third of the people who lobbied this summer had never visited a congressional office as part of the FCNL community. FCNL volunteer lobbyists made three times as many lobby visits as the average for the previous three years.
More than one-third of the people who lobbied this summer had never visited a congressional office as part of the FCNL community.
The big lobbying push this summer is part of our work as a community to accomplish the ambitious goals set out in FCNL’s Five-Year Forward Plan. The plan sets goals for doubling the number of grassroots advocates we bring into congressional offices. It also aims to develop the structures and tools to deepen our individual relationships with members of Congress and their staff.
We do this work not to add numbers on paper but to increase the power of our Quaker-grounded advocacy in Congress. The Forward Plan notes, “FCNL’s relentless advocacy on Capitol Hill and in congressional districts throughout the country will strengthen constituent voices and offer a compelling narrative for peace and social justice, empowering civil dialogue for policy change by Congress.”
Judging from the stories of advocates, FCNL’s approach works.
This year, Rep. Barbara Lee’s (CA-13) bill to repeal legislation that has been used by three presidents to justify expanding military action around the world garnered more cosponsors than in any previous sessions of Congress largely due to the work of FCNL.
Through last spring, congressional staff repeatedly notified FCNL Advocacy Team members that their representative was cosponsoring the bill to repeal the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF)—even before it was officially recorded. At this writing, H.R. 1274 has 77 cosponsors, thanks largely to the 110 active FCNL Advocacy Teams around the country.
One key to FCNL’s advocacy is persistence, especially in building relationships with members of Congress, including those that we don’t agree with on many issues.
One key to FCNL’s advocacy is persistence, especially in building relationships with members of Congress, including those that we don’t agree with on many issues. In a conservative West Virginia district, the FCNL Advocacy Team perceived that their representative was hopeless on this issue.
“He’s frankly somebody who we don’t often agree with. In fact, we’re frequently frustrated by his positions and his communication style,” says Advocacy Team member Meg Kinghorne. But we told her, “No. There is that of God in everyone. We must try. We must do our part.”
Gradually, her team built relationships with their congressman’s office. They met with staff in district, then in Washington, and then met a senior staff person at a local Chamber of Commerce gathering. While they acknowledged that Rep. Lee is one of the most progressive members of Congress, they also noted that H.R. 1274 also was cosponsored by several conservative representatives.
The team also published letters to the editor almost every month in the local newspaper. Once, when the congressman voted to end the war in Syria, they praised him in a letter to the editor. A few months later, the Advocacy Team’s member of Congress cosponsored the bill to repeal the 2001 AUMF.
“We can’t take full credit,” said Kinghorne. “Our work helped show that there is support within the state. And we learned an important lesson: Just go in with a good faith effort, assume the same from the representative, and expect a good turnout, which we got, which we’re very happy about.”
After hundreds of hundreds of lobby visits and thousands of people in congressional offices, we’re seeing positive results.
In another case, our staff lobbyist let Advocacy Teams know that a certain member of Congress would be a critical vote for winning House approval of legislation to repeal the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force that authorized the invasion of Iraq. We did not have an Advocacy Team in this member’s district, but the Concord, New Hampshire Advocacy Team reached out to Quakers at a neighboring Friends meeting. They agreed to visit the member of Congress together. In the end, the member of Congress voted in favor of an amendment attached to a military policy bill that would repeal the 2002 AUMF.
Building relationships in this manner takes time. In some cases it takes our local Advocacy Teams years to get a face-to-face meeting with a member of Congress. But after hundreds of hundreds of lobby visits and thousands of people in congressional offices, we’re seeing positive results.
“I’ve learned so much since I joined our team several years ago, not only about the focus of the year but also about how our government works,” explains Mimi Edgar, who is part of the Santa Cruz Advocacy Team. “Thanks for all your hard work.”