Lobby Day Experiences
By Chapter Leader Esther Smith
Prior to speaking with my Alaskan politicians, I had concocted several potential scenarios. The first was hardly imaginative, but the most hoped for: complete success and reception regarding anti-genocidal activism. The second wasn’t hoped for, but far more likely: polite dialogue and half-hearted promises of action. And, the third was least liked and (in my nervous mind) most likely: complete rejection and utter embarrassment for my first attempts at lobbying. With three close STAND friends—Katy Lindquist (Colby College), Sonia Sen (U. of Arizona), and Danny Hirschel-Burns (Swarthmore College)—I spent the night before anxiously reading materials about South Kordofan and memorizing points of interest. I perused my Senators’ history of anti-genocidal action, crafting unique ways to remember the specifics of the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act and the details of slaughter in the Nuba Mountains.
So, admittedly, I had butterflies doing gymnastics in my stomach as Capitol Hill came into sight on Monday, August 1st. Despite my feigned confidence, I expected apathy—remembering Congressional disinterest or blatant opposition to past efforts in Rwanda, Yugoslavia, and Darfur. I was absolutely shocked, as one can imagine, when my dream, first scenario was realized. As an Alaskan resident, I was graced by opportunistic meetings with not just one, but two of my Senatorial offices. Additionally—and most excellently—I personally spoke with both of my Senators. The success story—the meeting that was most impressionable and valuable—is the one I want to relay here.
Although STANDcamp offered me a first opportunity for lobbying, I have met and spoken with Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski in the past. Slight political disagreements aside, she has always been amicable, kind, and incredibly receptive to the pleas (or criticisms) of her constituency. I was delighted that her very values seemed to transcend into her staff, counsel members, and interns. Upon arrival a few minutes prior to the 10:00AM meeting, I chatted with her office staff about Alaskan locations, sports, etc. With great delight, and without delay, I was introduced to Nathan S. Bergerbest (Senior Counsel for Senator Murkowski). Mr. Bergerbest quickly became (and has continued to be) a valuable asset in communication with my Senator.
Maintaining what I hoped was respectful brevity (accompanied by succinct analysis), I explained the purpose of my visit—speaking about STAND’s mission, the reality of South Kordofon, and the measures we’d like implemented. In addition, I pointed out Senator Murkowski’s past history of involvement with human rights legislation (drawing parallels to the U.S.’s relationship with Darfur, Sudan). Mr. Bergerbest comfortably dialogued with me on the subject of South Kordofan, sustaining my sneaking hope that the meeting would yield tangible support. As the conversation progressed, he expressed wonder at STAND’s advocacy and appreciation for youth activism.
Wonderfully, the meeting did not end with the conclusion of our conversation—but continued with several minutes of audience with Senator Lisa Murkowski. Similar to Mr. Bergerbest in reaction, she was delighted by our meeting and supportive of further action. Specifically, her office was requesting further information regarding the creation of a sign-on letter that would petition the United Nations to investigate Omar Al-Bashir’s violence in South Kordofan. After digressing and concluding with pleasantries that surrounded local Alaskan dives and activities, I departed with uninhibited hope and the promise of future communication. And, I’m happy to report that the following interaction (generated through e-mail) hasn’t punctured that buoyant balloon of hope (if I can be so dramatic in diction). The last few weeks have been filled with purposeful communication between Mr. Bergerbest and myself, with a few noteworthy additional contacts. In particular, I have contacted (and e-mailed with) Allyson Neville-Morgan (the Senior Advocacy Associate at GI-Net) and Darren Fenwick (the Senior Manager of Government Affairs at Enough). The four of us—and countless others, I’m sure—are focusing on a draft letter to the United Nations. This week, in addition, I will be included in a conference call with several of the people listed above. All of this in mind, I am relentlessly excited for STAND’s future.
Indubitably, my first experience with lobbying was remarkably rewarding and overwhelmingly successful. As a college student, Alaskan voter, and human rights activist, I felt like I had a direct voice. I am honored to be a part of a political process that has the potential to shape global history in a way that respects and promotes human rights.
President of STAND at
Hawaii Pacific University
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the STAND.