When I left New Hampshire on that snowy, gray morning, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. My friend Annabel Park had invited me to Washington DC to “lobby on the Hill,” and I quickly agreed, wanting to do something with impact after the horrors of the Trump administration’s first three weeks. But as my bus crawled down the mushy highway toward Logan Airport, intimidating visions of suits and legal pads came over me. I was not a “lobbyist,” how would I possibly change any minds? And my representatives from New Hampshire were pretty left-leaning anyway, so what good would my visit even do?
My tensions were eased somewhat by talking with Annabel upon my arrival. “Don’t worry,” she said, “You’re just going to start a relationship with the staff at each office, and say what’s on your mind.” I remained unconvinced of my capacity to speak eloquently inside the marbled halls of power, but Annabel would be there and could do most of the talking, I reassured myself.
Pungo the dog was a source of support that evening as well.
The next day we made our way to Capitol Hill, stopping to greet a few protesters near the steps of the Russell Senate Building. They were regular folks in plain clothes who had decided, like me, that they could not sit idly at home as the White House behaved with impunity.
Minutes later we were inside and approaching the door to Senator Jean Shaheen’s office, flanked by official senatorial flags. “Ok, I’ll wait for you out here!” said Annabel breezily, coaxing me toward the office. This was not the arrangement I had pictured, and I was about to voice my dismay when a wave of courage came over me. What was the worst that could happen? I went ahead without her through the tall glass doors.
It did not take long for me to realize that my fears had been overblown. Even without a previously scheduled meeting, I was able to meet with a staff member in a matter of minutes. The staffer extended his hand warmly; “I’m Kevin,” he said. He seemed genuinely pleased that I’d come all the way from New Hampshire. And when I described my efforts with Save Main St, and my involvement in grassroots organizing over the last couple of years, he brightened even more. He explained that Senator Shaheen sees value in maintaining communication with grassroots organizers, especially given the climate we are facing in the next four years. He told me to reach out to him if there were rallies or events in New Hampshire that I wanted the Senator to attend.
Throughout the meeting, I got the sense that he is used to speaking with official lobbyists and interest groups who want to steer the Senator in one direction or another. The fact that I was coming with neither a hidden agenda nor a pitch, but rather an earnest desire to work together, must have been refreshing to him.
As the meeting closed we shook hands and exchanged cards, agreeing to stay in touch.
I met with two other staffers that day, at the offices of Senator Maggie Hassan and Congresswoman Annie Kuster (New Hampshire became the first state to send an all-female delegation to Washington in November!).
It was clear from all of my interactions that my presence was welcomed and appreciated on Capitol Hill. And I realized for the first time that my legislators depend on the energy of constituents like me. It was nice to feel needed and respected, even among the suits and legal pads.