Thursday, July 16, 2009

80 Million Strong: Lobbying Congress

We're back from the 80 Million Strong Summit and excited about the issues and possibilities raised by the over 100 Millennials who contributed their ideas. Our own Claire Morgenstern (from Pittsburgh, PA) took part in the conference and lobbied her Congressman on behalf of the 80 Million Strong agenda. Read on to find out how Claire made a difference:

After a long day of formulating policy on everything from green initiatives and health care to student loans and cyber security, we returned to the Capitol to do a crucial final vote in which each participant would rank the policies we had created in order of importance. Once the votes were tallied, we would be able to see which initiatives our group felt were most crucial overall to the health and wealth of the millennial generation.

After an inspirational talk from Van Jones, Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, our main task that day was to leave the security of our meeting room and into the offices of senators and congressmen to lobby for the policies we had spent so many hours fine-tuning the day before. We broke into groups based on our home states and prepared for our pre-scheduled meetings with state representatives. My group, Pennsylvania, was made up of about six constituents who represented various regions throughout the state—Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, State College (home to Penn State), and towns and suburbs in between. We would be meeting with the legislative assistant of democratic senator Bob Casey. Having heard Casey speak in Pittsburgh to endorse Obama last Spring, I knew our proposal wouldn’t be a hard sell; still, it was important that our argument be well-articulated.

Casey’s thing is national security, so we brainstormed ways to connect his interests to our cause—creating more jobs. A pressing concern for our country is the need to increase cybersecurity. We reasoned that young people, on the whole, are more tech savvy than older people, which would make them the ideal candidates to fill new positions in an expanded cybersecurity sector.

Casey’s legislative assistant, Bryn McDonough, met us in the lobby of Casey’s office, which is located in the high-ceilinged, marble-floored Russel Building across the street from the Capitol. She led us into a conference room adorned with Pennsylvania memorabilia—copies of vintage postcards announcing “Greetings From” different cities throughout the state blown up to poster-size and a plate of oversized cookies that claimed to have been baked in Pennsylvania.

“I’m sure you have an agenda prepared,” Bryn said, gesturing to us to start. The chosen member of our group explained the growing need for cybersecurity experts, and that creating new jobs in this field would both employ large numbers of young people and help keep the United States safe. Another member of our group offered a personal story, as we had been told to do during our lobby training session that morning. She had graduated from Penn State a year-and-a-half ago with four degrees in the field of information technology. Since then, she has been unable to find employment, often going through the interview process but never getting hired. She went back to the job she held during high school, working at McDonald’s, but was forced to cut her hours from 40 to 8 hours a week. If her parents hadn’t taken her and her husband in, she said, they would be homeless. If the government created more jobs for information technology professionals, she concluded, she would be able to use her skills in a way that also helped her country.

Bryn patiently took notes while we took turns speaking.

“I completely agree with you,” she said when we were finished. “I am part of your generation too, and we know that the government needs to find a way to use the unique skill set that young people have and older people don’t.” She gave each one of us her card and invited us to a bi-weekly constituent breakfast that Casey holds, which happened to be the following morning. Then she shook our hands and led us out of the building.

What a lot of people don’t realize is how easy it is to make contact with your local state representatives, and that many representatives actually rely on feedback from their constituents to determine future courses of action according to what’s best for their state and the country. So if there’s something bugging you that you think your government representatives might be able to help with, don’t shy away from letting them know. Use the TALK BACK widget on the Declare Yourself website (scroll down) to write an email to your representatives. They’re called representatives for a reason—their job is to represent you. So make sure they’re doing it right!


Anonymous said...

I just wanted to correct something. Person from Penn State. I accidentally got here through my follow on twitter through declare yourself. Hey it's me :) I just wanted to clarify a few things. I probably was crying a little so I was hard to understand. I didn't have four degrees in IT, one of them was, but still. I didn't work at McDonald's in high school, but in general I worked at fast food during high school. I just wanted to be truthful so that there would be no misunderstandings later if someone asked. Thanks :).