Can one average citizen change Congress? No. But can one politically engaged citizen change Congress? Yes.
One Person Cannot Change Congress
I attended one of the town hall meetings my representative in Congress, Rep. George Miller, held today. It was the third of three back-to-back meetings he’d held that morning. I arrived late. Surprisingly, he hadn’t.
When I entered the school multi-purpose room, he was updating the standing-room-only crowd on what was happening in D.C. regarding the economy, budget cuts, minimum wage, immigration reform, education, and Obamacare (AKA, the Affordable Care Act). While Miller was partway through talking about, I think, Obamacare, a man from the back of the room shouted, “You lie!”
Miller paused and let the man voice his opinion. Miller then tried to go on with his update. The man again shouted, “You lie” and continued venting his beliefs.
The crowd grew restless. For the next several minutes various audience members tried to get the man to quiet down by shouting, “Let him (Miller) talk!”, “We came to hear him talk, not you.”, “You talk for yourself, not us.”, etc.
Eventually, the crowd’s displeasure with the man quieted him down. Miller went on with his update and told the crowd there would be time to comment or ask him questions about the things they were interested in. The Affordable Care Act, the economy, foreign aid, etc.
Did the shouting man change Congress? No. He didn’t even change the mind of the one person in Congress he was talking to. What he did do, though, was make a lot of people frustrated and angry. He was exercising his First Amendment right. Good. But it took several minutes and the crowd’s ire before he was willing to let others exercise their First Amendment rights. Not good.
People wonder why Congress acts so childish. Because Congress is made of human beings who each have their own beliefs (sometimes strongly held beliefs), goals, viewpoints, aspirations, and personality. Just like the folks in the school multi-purpose room I was in today. Two or three hundred people with their own individual beliefs, opinions, concerns, and objectives. And one who was convinced Miller was lying and was willing to stop the meeting until he got whatever it was that he wanted. Miller to stop believing his own beliefs and adopt the one’s beliefs? I don’t know. The man didn’t say what he wanted, other than for Miller to stop lying.
RESULTS Changing Congress
After the meeting I talked with a women beside me who’d asked Miller how she could change Congress. I had hoped he would say, “Ask that man standing next to you.” He didn’t. After the meeting I did.
I told her about the group I volunteer with. The one that’s been called, “the most effective lobby in Congress”. I told her about RESULTS and invited her attend one of my group’s meetings.
While talking with the woman, one of the volunteers in my RESULTS group, Sharon Solstice, joined us. A couple more people joined the discussion and I left. I wanted to give a copy of a recently published letter to the editor I’d written to Miller. I ended up giving the copy to one of his local staffers and rejoined Sharon and the group talking about changing Congress.
Shouting at members of Congress, telling them they’re wrong and they lie is not the way to change Congress. RESULTS volunteers have, however, changed Congress. We’ve gotten Congress to appropriate billions of dollars for anti-poverty programs that otherwise would not have been funded.
RESULTS volunteers are average citizens. There’s nothing special about RESULTS volunteers–except for one thing. One thing that makes us different from average citizens. RESULTS volunteers are politically engaged in a way that makes us far better at influencing Congress. RESULTS volunteers take the time to learn about the issues that concern them; how Congress works; how to become effective grassroots, citizen lobbyists; and we spend some of our time lobbying.
Why are we so effective? By doing the following with representatives and senators from both political parties:
- Developing personal relationships with them through face-to-face meetings
- Presenting information and listening to them in a respectful way
- Doing the same with their staff members
- Calling their D.C. and district offices to ask they take specific actions with specific bills, letters, committees, and Congress leaders
- Keeping in contact with them throughout the year
- Writing letters to them
- Voting for or against them when they’re up for reelection.
Of that entire list, most citizens will only do the last one or two things. But RESULTS volunteers also
- Develop relationships with those in the community who influence members of Congress
- Generate media such as editorials, op-eds, letters to the editor, radio interviews, etc.
- Talk with others in the community
- Organize letter and postcard writing meetings with other citizens
All to educate others about our issues and urge them to advocate for our positions with Congress.
One Person Can Change Congress
Remember when I wrote that Miller told the crowd he would open the meeting up for questions and comments about things the they were interested in? Miller was looking at me when he said foreign aid.
I’ve met with him two or three times in his district office with my RESULTS group and three or four times in town hall meetings over the years. I think he saw me at the meeting today, remembered my interest in foreign aid, and mentioned foreign aid because he saw me standing near the back of the room.
I and the members of my RESULTS group have gotten him to support legislation that reduces poverty overseas. Because of Miller’s leadership position on the Education and the Workforce committee, RESULTS volunteers nationwide sometimes ask their representatives to talk with Miller and urge him to support particular legislation his committee oversees.
In a democracy, even a federal democracy like our own, one person by him or herself doesn’t change anything. But the accumulation of individual votes past a tipping point does. Is the vote that pushes the total over the tipping point more valuable than the first vote? What would happen if the first vote went the other way?
RESULTS volunteers have consistently gotten enough votes to forward policies and programs that reduce hunger and poverty for over 30 years. Each RESULTS volunteer has connected with their own political power and made a difference.
I hope the man who yelled “You lie!”, and the many others in the room who wondered how they can influence Congress, learns how RESULTS volunteers have done it. The U.S. needs a well-informed, well-engaged citizenry for our nation to work for the benefit of us all.