The key to successful advocacy is showing up

From left to right, Sheena Rolle, Pamela Jensen, and Theo Merkel.

By Sheena Rolle

Before hopping into the car, Bread for the World member Pamela Jensen quoted Woody Allen: “Eighty percent of success,” she said, “is showing up.”

The car was on its way to North Wales, Pa. and the Toomey for Senate headquarters. Bread members used the 2016 election as a way to reach out to congressional candidates on issues of hunger and poverty and build relationships with leaders.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R), who won re-election on Tuesday after a heated race against challenger Katie McGinty (D), was in our sights.

For months before the Nov. 8 election, we tried to engage with both the Toomey and McGinty campaigns by requesting a face-to-face meeting to ask them what they would do, if elected, to end hunger and poverty. After receiving no response, Bread put out a request for volunteers to visit campaign offices in person. Jensen answered the call immediately.

Jensen showed up armed with the names of over 40,000 voters across the state who had made a commitment to vote to end hunger.

She met with Toomey’s campaign policy and research director Theo Merkel on Oct. 28. She provided information about issues that are high priorities for Pennsylvania voters, such as mass incarceration, food insecurity, childhood nutrition programs, and immigration. During the meeting, she got a commitment that Toomey would meet with Bread members again if re-elected – a promise we will follow-up on.

Building relationships with lawmakers is one of the keys to successful advocacy, even when it is not an election season. Members of Congress depend on connections in their home states and districts to stay in touch with their constituents. Bread members working in their communities to end hunger can be an important resource.

Joyce Rothermel, Bread member and retired CEO of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank knows how constituents can bridge the divide between Washington D.C., and what is happening at home.

McGinty knew exactly who she was when Rothermel showed up at one of her campaign events. “In her remarks, she mentioned meeting me and my connection with food banking,” Rothermel said.

She got a few moments with McGinty’s to talk about hunger and Bread’s advocacy. Although McGinty didn’t win the Senate seat, Rothermel’s actions introduced McGinty, who may again seek public office, to the issues that Bread members care about.

Showing up matters!

The election season gave us plenty of opportunities to attend public events. But the tactic still works in a non-election year.  Members of Congress have busy and unpredictable schedules. It can be difficult to get one-on-one time when they are home in their states or districts. However, lawmakers often have public speeches or town halls planned that give activists an opportunity to engage.

The election season reinforced something we Pennsylvanians already knew: A deep compassion for our neighbors grounded in Christian faith and the persistence to show up and be present is – and will continue to be – the secret to our success. 

Sheena Rolle is a regional organizer at Bread for the World.

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