Engaging the 112th Congress
Bread for the World advocates and staff are now in full swing reaching out to the 112th Congress, particularly to newly-elected members. Bread activists from several regions have held meetings in district offices, and more are being scheduled.
To help jump-start conversations, Bread’s organizers visited Capitol Hill on a late January afternoon. They focused on in introducing Bread to new members of Congress and their staffs. They delivered materials about Bread and talked briefly with congressional aides. Organizers emphasized that Bread is a grassroots organization with members in every congressional district.
According to the organizers, the impromptu meetings were positive, sometimes perhaps even more so than might have been expected. When organizer Zach Schmidt was speaking with an aide to a representative who has spoken out about the need to “rein in the out-of-control spending in Washington,” he assured her that Bread is aware of concerns about the federal budget deficit. Encouragingly, though, her response was that the United States is still very fortunate and that it’s important to continue to help people in need.
Many of the legislative staff for new members told Bread organizers that they are “very new to the issues” and were eager to learn more. Several said they were happy to get Bread’s print materials -- one asked organizer David Maus to send her back issues of the Hunger Reports.
Organizers also picked up helpful bits of information during their Capitol Hill visits. When senior organizer Larry Hollar learned that a new representative had just been appointed to the House Foreign Affairs Committee--a key committee for Bread’s work–he shared this information with Bread members who had already scheduled a meeting in the representative’s district. “Our meetings are introductory meetings,” said Hollar, “but when we know a new member is on a key committee, that has to be part of our presentation.”
Activists found it helpful to prepare ahead of time for district visits. Before meeting with staff for their new representative in Congress, for example, a Bread Team in Michigan decided on participants’ roles in the meeting. There were four “speaking parts” – leading initial greetings, giving a brief introduction of Bread, starting a dialogue, and describing the goals of the 2011 Offering of Letters. The activists also agreed to focus on listening and avoid overwhelming the aide with too much information at once.
Bread activist Sarah Harrington shared with other Bread members her experiences in meeting with candidates and new representatives in Congress. “[One candidate] was honest and said he isn’t up to speed on hunger/poverty issues and legislation, but he is interested and suggested that we meet [again]… so that he can understand more about who we are.” As Bread members, we shouldn’t underestimate the impact that asking questions or having brief conversations can have, Harrington said. “The only time the question is too late is if it isn’t asked at all,” she wrote in a post to Bread’s blog. “Hunger and poverty don’t stop, and neither can we!”