For most, the August congressional recess is as a momentary respite in the busy political calendar. With members of Congress returning to their home states and districts, Capitol Hill settles into a period of relative calm.
But FCNL Advocacy Teams also know this about August recess: With lawmakers back in their communities, it’s a perfect time to engage with your members and share your concerns.
In the past few weeks, Advocacy Teams in Iowa and Utah seized this key window for action. Their stories of meaningful relationship-building with members of Congress are inspiring examples of the power of constituent-led advocacy.
An Unexpected Meeting with Rep. Chris Stewart
For weeks, the Salt Lake City (UT) Advocacy Team struggled to secure a Zoom meeting with Rep. Chris Stewart’s (UT- 2) office. They were eager to learn more about the representative’s stance on ending U.S. complicity in the Saudi-led war on Yemen, but phone calls and emails to the office went unanswered.
“If anyone would have told me a year ago that I’d be having an in-person conversation with my congressional representative…I most likely would not have believed you.”
So, Heidi Van Ert and Deb Sawyer took matters into their own hands. Together, they decided to drive to Rep. Stewart’s district office in Bountiful, UT with the hopes of speaking with a staffer directly.
Their effort paid off. They were able to meet with Rep. Stewart’s director of outreach, and for the next 30 minutes, they discussed how Congress can stop U.S. complicity in the devastating war in Yemen. Their ask to Rep. Stewart: Support the Yemen War Powers Resolution (H.J. Res. 87), which would end U.S. participation in the Saudi-led coalition’s war and blockade.
Then, just as Heidi and Deb were preparing to leave, Rep. Stewart himself popped into the room. He said he had two minutes to spare, but ended up spending nearly ten with the Advocacy Team members. Heidi and Deb delivered their ask again and handed him a document outlining the importance of the Yemen War Powers Resolution.
“I have not been with FCNL for too long, but if anyone would have told me a year ago that I’d be having an in-person conversation with my congressional representative, and that this conversation would be respectful, full of genuine listening and an authentic exchange of ideas, I most likely would not have believed you,” Heidi said.
Hosting a District Director at Ames Meetinghouse
As the Ames (IA) Advocacy Team thought of ways to engage with their members of Congress this summer, they were struck by an idea: What if they brought the congressional office to them?
“I am certain that our group now has a very positive relationship with a staffer who can provide additional access to the office.”
On Aug. 24, they turned into the idea into reality and hosted Rep. Randy Feenstra’s (IA-4) district director at Ames Friends Meetinghouse. They spoke with her about the ongoing war in Yemen, and emphasized that the Yemen War Powers Resolution is a prime opportunity for Congress to act.
The district director listened carefully, and said that she would speak with Rep. Feenstra about the issue. Further, she indicated that she would raise the war in Yemen as a possible focus for the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of 58 Republicans and Democrats that aims to foster bipartisan solutions to key issues.
The caucus, of which Rep. Feenstra is a member, could be a key base of support in getting the Yemen War Powers Resolution passed.
“I don’t know if this conversation is going to change the congressman’s positions, or his possible votes,” said Charlie Johnson, a member of the Ames Advocacy Team. “However, I am certain that our group now has a very positive relationship with a staffer who can provide additional access to the office.”