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The Power of an Ask

I’ll admit it—I own a power outfit. And it was only a few weeks ago that I woke up in a D.C. hotel room, put on my pressed skirt and my sensible (but classy) black heels, and took a bus with my friends to Capitol Hill. I remember listening to my shoes click on the marble floor, shuffling through printed pages of talking points, a nervous, excited energy rising from the center of my stomach.

I have participated in lobbying campaigns twice in my life, one at the state level (mentioned here in another one of my blog posts) and one at the national level. Since I am not old enough to vote yet, lobbying is one of the only ways I can make my voice heard and the voices of other young teens heard to the legislators we could not elect.

Lobbying is a right that American citizens have under the First Amendment, as part of our right to petition the government with grievances. While some people lobby professionally, small, grassroots movements often send lobbyists to their legislators as well. When I lobbied with my temple and with the L’Taken Social Justice Seminar, we brought a bill-in-progress to our legislators’ attention. Both times I lobbied it was to ask for wider abortion access. In Massachusetts in 2014 I lobbied for loosened parental consent laws; in DC earlier this year I lobbied for a repeal on TRAP laws similar to those discussed in Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt a few weeks ago. As a girl with a girl’s body, but the inability to vote to protect it, lobbying for abortion rights for future generations is a way I can ask for change without needing to fill out a ballot.

During each meeting, my peers and I would explain to our legislator or one of their legislative aides who we were, why we were there, what bill we were advocating for, and why. We would share personal experiences and use them to show the importance of the topic to the legislators. In one case, the legislator was already publically supporting the bill. So instead, we used our meeting time to thank the legislative staff for their support, which is equally important--this way they know the people they represent are behind their decisions and are grateful for their efforts, a sentiment that I’m sure they’re excited to hear.

In my opinion, the problem with lobbying is that it’s very individual. It’s easy to walk out of a lobby meeting feeling proud of your own work, but difficult to feel you have accomplished anything major. Only four percent of bills actually become laws, forcing one to enter a lobby meeting with sort of blind faith. But while one group of teens asking for abortion access may not have an impact on our government officials, what if ten groups came in demanding the same legislature? What if offices received visitors every day who shared their stories about their inability to receive reproductive care in time, the medical hoops they needed to jump through, or their success stories from places where the laws are less restrictive?

Lobbying, like any other form of petition, relies on harnessing the power of strength in numbers. The work one person does is only worthwhile if others raise their voices, concerns and questions to their government. The government should represent everyone, even those who cannot make their voices heard by voting. Lobbying is a direct and personal way to interact with your legislators; you get to talk to a real person and share personal stories in a way that is impossible on a ballot.

I left Capitol Hill that day in February elated at the attention we had received at our meetings, feeling confident as I hung my skirt back in my closet. I hoped it would be soon that I could pull the power outfit out again and return to Washington or the Massachusetts State House with a new set of notes concerning a new legislative ask. Participating in these campaigns has opened up the political world for me, and had made me concerned and passionate about topics like abortion access years before I am able to vote. Lobbying has taught me that I can assert my beliefs to my government, and while my personal impact may be small, I am humbled to be a link in the chain of women fighting the sexism deeply ingrained in the laws of our country. 

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United States Capitol
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Photograph of the United States Capitol taken by Pete Groustra.
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How to cite this page

Groustra, Sarah. "The Power of an Ask." 6 April 2016. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 13, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/power-of-ask>.

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