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Memo from the University of Maryland: Lobbying Congress on Sudan

When fellow TerpsSTAND member Rachel Gordon and I went in to lobby House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s office on April 5, we were feeling pretty out of place among the oversized leather couches and solid marble interior. As college students we’re used to the typical college life surroundings of well-worn dorm furniture and condensed spaces. The normal wardrobe of jeans, t-shirts and Chuck Taylor all-stars wouldn’t fly in such a professional setting, so we opted for “business casual”; the advice of no sneakers echoing in our heads.

How were we supposed to get across an urgent plea of swift action and effectively stress the dire situation on the ground in Sudan without coming across as too emotional? Thanks to STAND’s handy “how-to-lobby” guide, I had prepared a packet to present to the aide who would be meeting with us. Armed with one-pagers on the Sudan elections and the LRA, and copies of H.R. 1019, which calls for active U.S. government involvement in implementing the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, Rachel and I were ushered into a side conference room with legislative aide Fallon Shields.

How much did the Congressman know about the upcoming Sudan elections? Did he know about the millions of Sudanese refugees who were being excluded from the voting process? Was he aware that the LRA had recently found refuge in Southern Sudan and was beginning to expand their reign of terror from the Congo and Northern Uganda? As these questions came out of my mouth, I realized that I really did know what I was talking about and therefore had nothing to worry about. Shields mentioned she had met with a group lobbying for the LRA bill a week previous so she was very familiar with the LRA. This was a plus, since the LRA is unfortunately yet another threat to the Sudanese people.

The meeting was brief, lasting only about 15 minutes or so, but we left feeling proud of ourselves for bringing the plight of the Sudanese people to the attention of Rep. Hoyer’s office. It was hard to tell if we really made an impact though because we have no way of knowing whether Majority Leader Hoyer actually read our packet and Shields was well versed in the legislative demeanor, only offering vague feedback as we parted ways. Lobbying Rep. Hoyer was a challenging experience. It pushed me to formulate talking points to effectively and accurately convey a message of urgency about Sudan while not getting too caught up in an emotional appeal.

Leaving without knowing what impact we made left me feeling a little overwhelmed. In such a large legislative system, taking the time to even schedule a meeting with your Congressman or Senator may seem like a major accomplishment, but it is hard to know if your voice was really heard. You can write as many letters and raise your voice to let your concerns known, but you never know for sure if they notice your noise. Therefore, to me, lobbying presents a challenge: now that I know how to connect to the legislative process, how loud do I have to raise your voice before they answer the call?  I intend to find out.

-Grace Goode, University of Maryland, College Park ’12

Read Grace’s recent article about the Sudanese elections in the Diamondback, the University of Maryland’s independent daily student newspaper.

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