By Carol Harrison
As a longtime member of Bread for the World, I’ve faithfully written letters and emails to Congress, but I haven’t visited legislators. Until now.
Recently, Bread invited me to go to Washington D.C., as part of an interfaith team to speak with members of Congress about poverty-focused development assistance. I accepted and prepared by reading Bread material as well as “How to Conduct an In-District meeting with a Member of Congress (or the Staff).”
Once we arrived in Washington, Bread’s policy team briefed us, helping us focus on specific legislation rather than worry about the full scope of Bread’s work. We thought about what we’d like to share and created a list of “talking points.” I think it’s best to speak from your experience and your heart. A few well-chosen examples can go a long way to illustrate your concerns. Why did you become part of Bread for the World? What have you seen in your life, in your town, or perhaps on a mission trip that captured your imagination or broke your heart?
For example, I am a nurse and have seen too much of what poor nutrition can do to mortgage futures and interfere with healing. You don’t have to be a policy expert. Just respectfully share your story. You are there to share your story and build a relationship.
The next day I went to see my members of Congress as one of five constituents from California. We spoke with aides from the offices of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Sen. Dianne Feinstein. We decided ahead of time that the person who was from the legislator’s district would guide that discussion and write the thank-you note.
A couple of our meetings were “walk-ins” where we simply walked into the legislator’s office, introduced ourselves and our topic, and asked if there was someone we could speak with. There are no guarantees with walk-ins, but we had two productive meetings this way. The staffers we met with were gracious and asked good questions, and I got their business cards so we could send thank-you notes promptly.
Washington, D.C., is unforgettable. When the work at hand is done I’d encourage you to take time to visit at least one site while you are in Washington—a monument, museum, or something else you’ve always wanted to see.
When you get home, tell everyone who will listen about your experience. In my case that has included a group of friends who get together for lunch, folks at church whom I’d asked to pray for me while I was gone, my hairdresser because she typically asks me what is new in my life, another friend on an out-of-state phone call, and some family members who didn’t know about this trip until after I’d returned home.
You will develop one, three, and five-minute summaries of the experience to share. This is a unique expression of your citizenship and your faith.
This year when I eased onto the couch to watch the National Memorial Day Concert on PBS, I smiled remembering that I had been in Washington, D.C., not so long ago.
Carol Harrison is a longtime Bread for the World member from California.