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FCNL staffer Emily Wirzba (left), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the U.S. Representative for Florida’s 27 th congressional district, and Treston Owens ’18 pause for a photo in the meeting room of the Capitol Building.

Learning to lobby on Capitol Hill

April 10, 2015

Lobbying is a conversation used to initiate a relationship.

That’s what 14 Earlham students learned when they participated in a four-day lobbying course facilitated by the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), the oldest and largest peace-lobbying organization in Washington, D.C., and Earlham's Quaker connection on Capitol Hill.

The one-credit course ran March 14-17 in Washington D.C. The first two days were filled with workshops, panels and speakers. During the final two days, students lobbied either in the offices of their hometown senators and representatives, or in the offices of representatives or senators of their schools hometowns.

Treston Owens ’18 was featured in the Quaker Speak video above titled, "Why Climate Change Is an Issue of Faith: Quakers Lobby Congress."

“The course focused on teaching us lobbying and how to be more effective on Capitol Hill,” says Sonia Norton ’18. “I liked the opportunity to see more of the inside of how Washington D.C. works.”

Treston Owens '18 says he was drawn to the program because of its political aspects. The focus of the lobbying was climate change, in particular the PREPARE Act, or the Preparedness and Risk management for Extreme Weather Patterns Assuring Resilience.

“We were instructed on how to build a conversation about climate change,” Norton explains. “We were encouraged to build a relationship with them so that they would listen.”

Owens, who is from near Miami, Fla., says he learned to incorporate personal stories into his discussions. He talked specifically about saltwater intrusions destroying natural habitats and cited a report that says Miami will be underwater in 50 years because of the rising sea level.

Most of the students met with staffers or legislative assistants, but Owens was fortunate enough to meet face-to-face with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the U.S. Representative for Florida’s 27th congressional district.

“We were told that my rep had been dodging the issue of climate change,” he says. Owens was granted special permission from Ros-Lehtinen’s office to travel through the underground tunnel systems to reach the Capitol Building.

“It was a long underground hallway with buggies attached to the wall to carry the members back and forth, but we used the walking path,” he explains. “We went through so many stairs and elevators that the FCNL staffer had to tell me that we were in the Capitol Building.”

Owens and his group met with Ros-Lehtinen for about 20 minutes, 10 of which were spent discussing climate change.

“She seemed pretty receptive,” he says. “She was much shorter than I thought she would be from having seen her on C-SPAN. She asked me what part of the district I lived in and how I ended up in Indiana. I told her it was because of Earlham College.”

Norton, who is from Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., says the atmosphere was different between the House of Representatives and the senators.

“The representatives’ offices were inviting and friendly, and the senate was super formal,” she says. “The senate was much more intimidating.”

Norton joined other students from California and was able to lobby seven times during the experience.

“Lobbying was really intense, but once you started the conversation, it was not nearly as frightening as I thought it would be,” she says. “And, there are lots of ways to lobby. You can go and actually talk like we did, you can call or email, or you can write a letter to the editor. The important thing is to let your voice be heard about the issues that you are passionate about.”

— EC —

Earlham College, a national liberal arts college located in Richmond, Indiana, is a "College That Changes Lives." We expect our students to be fully present: to think rigorously, value directness and genuineness, and actively seek insights from differing perspectives. The values we practice at Earlham are rooted in centuries of Quaker tradition, but they also constitute the ideal toolkit for contemporary success. Earlham is one of only 40 national liberal arts colleges ranked among U.S. News and World Reports' "Great Schools at a Great Price."

Brian Zimmerman is director of media relations at Earlham College. He can be reached at (765) 983-1256 and zimmebr@earlham.edu.

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