Friday, May 30, 2008

Planting seeds in Senator Inouye’s office

This is a recent post on by Robin Stephenson about a recent lobby visit with Senator Inouye of Hawaii. Once again, we hear how much those HANDWRITTEN letters are so valuable!
The challenge of making hunger and poverty history requires the use of our voices, and there is no better way to use them, than to sit down with your local congressional member’s office and plant a mustard seed.

On a recent field trip to the beautiful islands of Hawaii, myself and four other local Bread activists sat down with one of the legislative assistants in Sen. Inouye’s Honolulu office for a chat about global and domestic hunger, the Global Poverty Act (S. 2433) and how to get the Senator’s attention through our letter writing. We left feeling energized and positive. This process not only helped us educate the Senator’s office about our concerns, it gave us the sense that the Senator actually cares for what his constituents think and say.

Setting up the meeting was very easy. We simply called and made an appointment with the legislative aid in Honolulu. She took notes while we talked that she will pass on to the D.C. office. That means our voices will travel from Honolulu directly to Washington D.C. where the policies that affect hunger are made. Given that Senator Inouye is on both Appropriations and the Foreign Operations/State Department subcommittee (the department where poverty-focused development assistance is managed), his knowledge of these issues is essential to moving the dollars in the U.S. budget to helping the most vulnerable.

One of the most poignant things we learned was how important it was for Sen. Inouye to hear from his constituents. The Senator, we were told, prefers to hear from his constituents in Hawaii more than from national lobbyists. Letters are an important way for a Senator, so far away, to hear from the people who voted him into office. But not surprisingly, the letters that mean the most are those hand written personal letters that show the writer understands and cares about the issue. Form letters or dictated letters that are all the same have less of an impact. We were told that it was quality not quantity that made the biggest difference. Check out Communicating with Congress.

It only takes a few minutes to write a personal letter. Three sentences! First, state your motivation: I’m writing because I’m speaking for those unable to speak up. Next, write out the “ask” : Please increase the funding for Poverty-/Focused Development Assistance by $5 billion for FY09 and co-sponsor the Global Poverty Act. And finally, add a fact (unfortunately, there many to choose from): 28,000 children under the age of 5 die every day from preventable causes, half are hunger related.

Mustard seeds are tiny, but “. . . when it is sown, it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” (Mark 4:32).. By having the compassion for those in need and using our tools of voice or simply writing a tiny letter, we can watch that plant grow and those braches can provide the life sustaining food for so many in need, changing the structures that have left them in the scorching sun. After visiting Sen. Inouye’s office, I felt as if our group had planted just one seed. By taking an hour from our busy day, we educated the Senator’s office and by building that face to face relationship, may indeed see our plant grow. I challenge all you gardeners of justice, to follow our example. Make a call to the legislative assistant in your home district. Plant a seed and watch it grow.

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