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In 2013, Colorado constituent Sara Avery joined a call with FCNL staff about the important role her senator, Michael Bennet, could play in reducing Pentagon spending.

Sarah Avery ouside Sen. Michael Bennet's office after lobby for Iran Nuclear deal in 2015
Sara Avery in Washington, D.C. during the September 2015 push to lobby Sen. Bennet on the Iran Nuclear Deal.

When she heard the most effective way to take action was to gather a group of people to meet with senators directly, Sara said, “My heart sank. There was no way I was going to do this. Who was I to talk to my senator about the Pentagon budget? I’m not a policy expert or a member of the military. Why would he even listen to me?”

Eight years later, Colorado’s Congressional leaders know Sara by name. She has helped organize more than 60 lobby visits with the Colorado Advocacy Team, and played a key role in securing Sen. Bennet’s support for the Iran nuclear deal in 2015. 

This year in March, Sara worked with a coalition of over 50 organizations on the #ResealTheDeal Week of Action to promote a return to the Iran deal. In a live broadcast, she personally introduced two Congressional champions—Sen. Chris Murphy (CT) and Rep. Ro Khanna (CA-17)—when they spoke to hundreds of viewers about the importance of this issue to foster global peace and diplomacy.

I spoke with Sara about her advocacy over the years, her passion for restoring the Iran Deal, and how far she has come from those first days of skepticism, to addressing Congressional leaders as a seasoned advocate.

You have been such a strong advocate for the Iran nuclear deal for over half a decade. Why is it now such a crucial moment for Americans to advocate for a return to the deal?

The JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), or Iran nuclear deal is the strongest nuclear nonproliferation agreement in history, and it was working as intended. Not only did it roll back Iran’s nuclear program, but after its implementation, there were zero Iranian proxy attacks on U.S. forces in the region until the U.S. withdrew. And sanctions relief was making a difference for ordinary Iranians.

Sara Avery and members of the Colorado Advocacy Team during a lobby visit with Rep. Neguse in Feb. 2020
Sara Avery and members of the Colorado Advocacy Team during a lobby visit with Rep. Neguse in Feb. 2020

Trump’s reckless withdrawal from that agreement ratcheted up tensions, pushed Iran closer to a nuclear weapon, damaged U.S. credibility, and brought our countries repeatedly to the brink of war while causing immense suffering for people in Iran.

Time is very short to restore the JCPOA, which is critical not only on the issues it covers, but because the diplomatic space it will reopen can be the starting point to address other areas of disagreement between our countries. It is critical that the Biden Administration knows it has robust, widespread support from the American people to return to diplomacy and to the Iran deal on a compliance-for-compliance basis.

Hearing you talk about this issue, many people would assume you had years of experience working on Capitol Hill as a policy expert. But you approach this work as a grassroots advocate, and the Iran deal was really one of the first issues you lobbied for. What was it like to see your Senator support the deal back in 2015 after the Colorado Advocacy Team urged his support?
Advocates in the senate rotunda
Sara with FCNL advocates in the Russell Building rotunda while lobbying in Washington, D.C.

I remember waking up every morning for a couple of months in 2015 and grabbing my phone to see if Sen. Bennet had announced his position yet. The day he came out in favor of the deal was thrilling for me and our whole Colorado Advocacy Team, who had been working non-stop to make sure Colorado’s members of Congress supported the deal by meeting with them or their staff 25 times, including twelve meetings with Sen. Bennet or his staff. 

I will never forget standing at a coalition press conference in Washington, D.C. the day we found out that we had reached the critical number of 41 senators needed to defeat Congressional disapproval of the JCPOA. We won!

What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned on your journey as an advocate, from those first meetings to now leading high-level coalition events?

The first time I met with Sen. Bennett’s office, I was shocked. I found out that a lobby visit is just a conversation with another human being about things we both cared about. 

Lobbying has taught me that ordinary people like my teammates and me can actually have a real, measurable impact on international issues that are literally life and death, like the JCPOA. 

It’s so easy for many of us to feel removed from the wars our country is waging, so to be able to have a hand in stopping or preventing more of them is incredibly meaningful. When I get tired, I remember that this is my great privilege and responsibility.

Learn how you can schedule a meeting with your Member of Congress, or connect with a local Advocacy Team to lobby with others in your community.

Sarah Freeman-Woolpert

Sarah Freeman-Woolpert

Deputy Director of Strategic Advocacy

As FCNL’s deputy director of Strategic Advocacy, Sarah Freeman-Woolpert was responsible for deepening and expanding our Advocacy Teams program, a network of hundreds of Quakers and friends lobbying to build congressional champions for peace and justice.