A new year, a new Congress, and a new president offer hope for decisive action and real change from the destructive policies of the last four years. Yet as the new year unfolded, resistance from the departing president, his political allies, and the mobs of extremist white nationalist he nourished and incited underlined the difficulty of this work.
Democracy in the United States has always been a work in progress. But the events of the first few weeks of January remind us of how much work is still needed to address the underlying inequities, the white supremacy, racism, and anti-Semitism that are eroding the foundations of our country.
The Biden administration has outlined an ambitious agenda on some of the issues that are on top of the list of FCNL priorities. Our agenda is, of course, a much bigger agenda than what President Biden is currently advocating. The Biden administration has taken some important actions by executive order, but congressional action will be needed on many of the issues that are priorities for FCNL.
Even with a divided Congress and the insurrection in early January, I’m optimistic that more change will come. Changes regarding how we address the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout are already happening. But we cannot stop there. We also are called by our own priorities to start addressing the underlying racism and structural inequalities in our current system that have been thrown into such stark relief by recent events.
We Know How to Advocate
What we know from our history is that for change to happen, Congress needs to hear early in the year from constituents in their home districts and states. The first eight months of 2021 will be critical to the success of any legislation that can pass in the 117th Congress. By the end of this year, members of Congress will already be running for reelection. Substantive legislative change becomes much more difficult as partisan political posturing takes hold.
We know how to do this work. In the last year, your persistent advocacy provided critical support to pass laws expanding Pell Grants to incarcerated individuals, increasing food assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic, banning the transfers of bayonets and other war equipment to local police, and addressing the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Even with a divided Congress and the insurrection in early January, I’m optimistic that more change will come.
In a time of conflicting priorities, members of Congress listen hard to what they hear from their constituents who have built relationships with their offices. For example, staff for a Republican senator told our members last year that when their senator took a stand against President Trump’s support for the Saudi war in Yemen, the office received a dozen angry calls from constituents asking why the senator was disagreeing with the president.
That explains why the same senate staffer was so appreciative of the support he received in a visit from FCNL constituents. Ultimately, that senator voted to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
Our advocacy isn’t just about the next vote, or the next resolution. The relationships you are building now, across the political spectrum, are the key to making change in Washington. “I don’t always agree with you advocates, but I always appreciate the way you approach these issues,” explained one congressional staffer. During FCNL’s lobbying last November at Annual Meeting, a Republican senator reiterated how much she appreciated her “long-term relationship” with FCNL constituents.
The biggest challenge for the Biden administration and the 117th Congress is how to prioritize policy proposals. President Biden and congressional leaders will drive the agenda. But they also listen closely to what individual members of Congress say they are hearing from constituents. Your respectful meetings with lawmakers early in the year can influence the agenda in both big and small ways.
The independent research organization Congressional Management Foundation affirms our experience that members of Congress place a high value on individuals who build long-term relationships with lawmakers.
Our FCNL community brought thousands of people into virtual meetings with members of Congress and their staff last year. This year, we look forward to working with you to continue and expand this work and take advantage of the change that is possible.