Saturday, April 2, 2016

Notes from Washington - Spring Lobby Weekend

Friday, March 11, 2016 - In transit, c. 2:14pm

Flying across the country, I see miles and miles - thousands or more - of patchwork squares and rectangles, and a few circles, below on the ground. I can't comprehend that humans have altered this landscape so incredibly much, to bring this regular geometric forms to such a large expanse of land.

Earlier, when I woke up from my initial in-flight nap, I looked out of the window just as we passed over the Grand Canyon. At least, that's the only logical explanation I could come up with for that big of a gash in the land below, and the flight tracker seemed to confirm that we were in the right place for it.

When I arrive in Kansas City for a layover, I'm challenged on the notion that women's bathrooms are cleaner (although I didn't actually compare) - there's a little gendered thought. Only four or five stalls - my neighbor said it was a small airport. The cardboard box of seat protectors is pushed halfway out of the metal dispenser meant to contain it, leaving it mangled and disgusting.

Back in the air, I'm listening to a book about the history and exploitation of Latin America to prepare for my trip this summer and pass the time. The starting place for my trip is climate change - cambio climático - but as I listen to the history of enslaved indigenous people forced to work in the mines and all the life that has cost, I remember that climate change is merely a symptom of a system. I call it capitalism; some say it is bigger - civilization itself. It is hard to know without learning more about how communist or socialist societies have conducted themselves - did they colonize? I think at times they did. Certainly the Inka seemed to have done so, and from what I understand, they were a very successful socialist society, according to the book 1492.

Saturday, March 12, 2016 - At the conference

In the opening session of Spring Lobby Weekend, during Welcome Reception, attendees stand up and share stories of what brings them here. This includes stories of how and why people have interacted with the criminal justice system - selling drugs, trespassing. We don't get all the background to these stories, but what strikes me is how something deeper is going on here. This isn't just about changing the outer world. This is also about getting to know one another's shadows. In the Quaker community, I sometimes feel there is this shame for not fitting into society or conforming in some ways. Ironic, given Quaker history and legacy of protest and dissent. I don't usually discuss my history with drug use in Quaker circles. This has more to do with how I think it would be received than any rejection of this history I feel.

One of my favorite speakers is Jondhi Harrell from The Center for Returning Citizens. He really brings home the human element of mass incarceration. To learn more about this organization's work, here is their website:

During the first meeting for worship, rich beautiful ministry was shared that reminded me of the value and importance of having a spiritual well from which to draw for our activism. One man mentioned the story of Paul and Silas singing in prison. It reminded me of this song I learned at witchcamp a summer or two ago from Rose May Dance.:

We will rise with the fire of freedom/
Truth is a fire that will burn our chains/
and we will STOP the fires of destruction/
Healing is a fire running through our veins

A Unitarian participant mentioned lighting candles and believing in the good we can accomplish. With songs still in my head, this reminded me of the Nahko song about good things coming.

There's a line in my notes that sounds like a quote, but there's no name attached to it, so I think it came from my own brain - but of course, it was an assemblage of sentiments being expressed in that room; I can't claim I created it anymore than anyone can claim to have originated anything:

"Just like you can't buy God, you can't put a price on human dignity."


 Sunday, March 13 - Monday, March 14, Assorted Factoids, Quotes, & Notes

The structure of the conference is hard for me. I would rather have Meeting for Worship at the end of the day, to integrate the mental and psychological distress of taking in all this information about human suffering. I wish we had already started our lobby training too, gotten to meet our state groups. We need to plan the visit; people are nervous. Nevertheless, I manage to take in some information.


It costs $30,000/year to house imprisoned people.

Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, was moved by grassroots lobbying to take a stance on sentencing reform, and draft the Sentencing Corrections and Reform Act. He was convinced by the fact that many states, "legislative laboratories," have had success with similar legislation.

Please read the sentencing reform bills and dispel some myths about them. They are not "soft on crime" or a "get out of jail free card."  (For FCNL's central page on incarceration legislation, go here.)

The Senate and House of Representatives are people, even though the DNC, RNC, and Congress are themselves corrupted institutions. Faith inspires people to take risks, go against the grain of those corrupted institutions...which creates a chance for a mass of people to seize a moment, a chance, for sudden change.

This is an opportunity to pass meaningful bipartisan legislation at a time when there is not a lot of hope. ... Hope for bipartisan collaboration, hope for a functional Congress.

March 14, 7pm: Cory Booker

He is by far the most charismatic speaker this weekend. I'd never heard of him before, and since getting home, one of the seasoned activists in my community expresses some disappointment in his policy choices in the past - despite acknowledging what a great speaker he is. He's very quotable; in fact, I believe some of my previous notes, that were written after the fact, were influenced by his words. Here are some more:

"If you love your country, you must love your countrywomen and men. ... It will break your heart."


"Cynicism is a refuge for cowards."


"If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains."
"Sometimes you have to fast and pray."
(OK, these last two are actually from the bible).


"Stay faithful." - Mrs. Jones, Cory Booker's old neighbor.


Somewhere along the way, maybe because Cory used to be a mayor, I start thinking to last summer, when we met a DC city councilor as part of our training for Advocacy Corps. I remember how she said that her run for city council included knocking on almost every door in the city, three times each. I think Cory says something like this too, so I start doing math for my future city council run. If there are about 90,000 people in Chico, there should be no more than 45,000 doors, probably less, but some people are single, while others live in families or couples. [I'm damn close - according to the census, there are about 37,000 households - even easier!]

If I allow for up to 20 minutes per conversation, to really meet people, and only spend 3 hours a day doing this (I'll still have to work and have fun while campaigning!), that's 9 doors a day. At that rate, it would take 5,000 days to meet everyone in Chico. ... Uh oh, that's about 15 years. I'm going to have to rethink this somehow. (This is a good example of why money corrupts politics - someone who doesn't have to work to live can campaign all day long without having to support themselves.)

Booklist from the Weekend

The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander
United, Cory Booker (he recorded it himself for audiobook, I now have it on Audible!)
America's Original Sin, Jim Wallis
Just Mercy, Bryan Stephenson




But, wait! Aren't you going to tell us how the lobby visits went?

I think there's enough to chew on here for now. I might come back to that, though I'm not making any promises. You can listen to my cohort's thoughts about it at this podcast, though.

1 comment:

  1. Meagan,

    Great blog entry. I want to hear more of your thoughts about the event. Are we still planning to meet at Chico Friends tomorrow? And, of course, you are always welcome on the podcast to expand you messages reach. It truly is a joy knowing you. You have such a bright mind and bold spirit