Post by AIDemocracy member and Global Scholar alum Nisha Patel, Arizona State University.

Lobbyists hold a lot of importance in our society; they’re the ones who carry the people’s voices and catalyze change to happen in legislation (even if they’re restricted to do their job in certain areas of D.C.)! When we were in training for Lobby Day at the CARE Conference, it never occurred to me that as CARE members being trained… we are both constituents AND lobbyists voicing our concern on the global issues of maternal/pre-natal healthcare, preventing child marriage, and food security.

With small groups of people and hard-core training on understanding the issue and talking points, I felt beyond prepared to persuade Senators and Representatives to co-sponsor these bills and take them to the floor for a vote! I never thought me, a college student and lifelong humanitarian, would get the opportunity to lobby in the Dirksen and Hart buildings and be under the same roof as our country’s most influential people.

When the day finally came to lobby, I was extremely anxious. I’m not too sure why because I knew our issues inside and out, and my group was in the same boat as me- first timer lobbyists. Entering into the first office, I knew it was the time to whip out the light bulbs and touching anecdotes. Time to convince Congress how important these issues are to CARE, people in the U.S., and around the world.

Unfortunately, we didn’t directly talk to any Senators or Representatives directly; we talked to their legislative assistants.  While somewhat disheartening, legislative assistants play a vital role in the advocacy process.  It’s their job to listen to constituents, take notes and brief the Senator/Representative on who we are, what we communicate, and which way we want the Senator/Representative to vote.

So, we stated the facts and share first-hand stories about why these issues were important to us. I expected these legislative assistants to start sobbing or say “yes! Of course he/she will co-sponsor this!!” as soon as we finished our spiel…but that didn’t happen. More commonly they would say, “So and so is really passionate about this issue. I will brief him/her on this issue/bill and thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.” These types of responses mean that a “follow-up” is required, usually in the form of an email and to reiterate what was said during your meeting and see if the Senator or Representative’s stance has shifted. But before we left, we also asked and broke down any reason why the Senator or Representative wouldn’t co-sponsor the bill, so that we could clarify questions later.

CARE conference panels, advocacy training, and lobbying day have all inspired me to become more active in the issues I care about.  If there is an issue that I am concerned with, I will gather a group, make appointments, and take my message to Congress. The power people have on Capitol Hill is immense; we just have to exercise it. The CARE lobby day specifically has made me realize the direct impact I can have as a constituent. I used to rely on paid lobbyists to carry my words and concerns to the halls of power because I thought it was their “job.”

Not anymore.

I plan to get more involved with Arizona’s CARE call to action group. My university doesn’t have a CARE student organization, but next semester I plan on starting one with a CARE toolkit or start another such group that focuses on CARE’s mission statement and CARE’s priorities.

This event was amazing. It was more than a conference and I hope to have more people from Arizona there next year.