By Ronald Wheeler, Director of the Law Library & Information Resources & Associate Professor of Legal Research, Suffolk University Law School
In just five weeks, AALL will host its third Local Advocate Lobby Day in Washington, D.C. Last March, I traveled to D.C. to attend the second Lobby Day and the experience was transformative for me. Here’s why:
Although I had done some lobbying on the state level for LGBT rights issues back when I lived in New Mexico, before my trip to D.C., I had never met face-to-face with a U.S. congressperson or with their staff. I had also never lobbied on issues related to law librarianship or to my professional life. I had always lobbied about deeply personal issues, calling on heartfelt emotions and personal experience to carry me through if I somehow faltered in meetings. So, the idea of meeting with my members of Congress to talk about the issues affecting my job was, frankly, terrifying to me. And, as a resident of California at the time, my members of Congress were media darlings with the equivalent of rock star status in my mind. The prospect of meeting with the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, and Diane Feinstein had me quaking in my boots.
Thankfully, when I arrived in D.C., all of my fears and insecurities were anticipated and expertly dealt with by AALL’s Government Relations Office (GRO) staff. First – after welcoming us to Lobby Day headquarters in Capitol Hill and feeding us breakfast – the GRO staff administered an extremely well-run, detailed, and thorough advocacy training. We AALL volunteer advocates were given a presentation describing the bills we were to focus on, their current progress in Congress, and the issues being currently debated in the legislation. I walked away knowing the pros and cons of each bill, my senators and representative’s position on each, and written talking points to refer to during my conversations with my members of Congress’s staffs. I was given time to ask questions, to familiarize myself with each bill and its issues, and to practice my shtick. By the time we were headed to the Hill, I felt entirely prepared and equipped to engage with my congresspersons.
In the afternoon, I met with staffers from Representative Pelosi, Senator Boxer, and Senator Feinstein’s offices. The legislative staff I spoke with was open and friendly and thankful to be briefed on issues like the Email Privacy Act and the recently-passed name change of the Government Printing Office to the Government Publishing Office.
The experience gave me a feeling of satisfaction for having conquered my fears and for doing essential work for my premier professional association. I learned about the AALL legislative priorities and their significance, I built valuable lobbying skills, and I formed relationships with staffers at my legislators’ offices.
My participation in AALL Lobby Day was a great experience. I highly recommend you give it a try for yourself. I honestly had a blast, and if I can do it, anyone can.