Three Quakers and a Muslim walked into a politician's office...
No, it's not one of those bad religious jokes. It's the story of my first political lobbying experience.
It all started back in February, when an FCNL staff member came to a nearby monthly meeting to speak about the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act, introduced into the Senate by Arlen Specter (PA) and Patrick Leahy (VT). The bill started out in life as an amendment to the Military Commissions Act, which strips individuals (even American citizens...ever read about the José Padilla case?) of the right to challenge their detention in a court of law once they've been branded "unlawful enemy combatants" by the government. Sen. Specter was actually troubled enough about the abrogation of the right to habeas corpus that he tried to amend the MCA. However, when his amendment did not even come up for discussion he voted for the MCA anyway, hoping --as he later explained-- that the courts would overturn it. I won't even comment on this dismal state of affairs, with Congress passing the buck to the Supreme Court because it can't do what's right in the first place. (BTW, the Supreme Court's decision a few weeks ago not even to hear the habeas corpus case brought on behalf of Guantánamo detainees tells you that even the Justices --how did they ever get that name?-- have been infected with the we-can't-offend-the-neo-con-voting-base virus.)
Well, since the last election, Specter is no longer chair of the Judiciary Committee. He is, however, our state's senior senator and quite influential. So FCNL see Pennsylvania as a key state in getting this law passed. So they're urging PA residents to lobby the senator to try to get hearings on the bill, which is the next step in moving it forward for an eventual vote. Strange, isn't it, that the senator who sponsored a bill in the first place needs to be lobbied to move it forward? Well, no one will ever accuse me of being politically astute.
Friendly Lobbying, Step 1
I was ably mentored in our endeavor by the local FCNL coordinator. She advised me that the first step was to fax a letter requesting a visit to the Senator's Washington,D.C. office, as well as to his Philadelphia office (the location we were interested in). The fax was to be followed up by a phone call verifying that it was received. The first few phone calls didn't seem terribly promising. I was told by someone in the Washington office that yes, they had received the fax and that someone would be in touch with me. Sure, I thought ...prepared to call again the next week. The next time I called I was told that the scheduling person was out of the office for the next two weeks (it was Easter/Passover time by then) and that I should call back after this period. OK, I thought. Just needs a bit of persistence. Then just a couple of days later, upon returning from work, my husband said that someone had called and left a message. I immediately returned the call. It was a staffer at the Philadelphia office who said that she had gotten my previous messages but could not locate the letter I had faxed. I sent it again the next day, called to verify, and yes, this time it arrived safe and sound. Less than a week later, I received a call from another very affable aide to the senator who offered to speak with us, even though, as he said, his area was not human rights. He did promise to listen to our concerns and to relay them to the Senator's Washington bureau...
(more to come)