Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Three Quakers and a Muslim walked into a politician's office... (conclusion)

Friendly Lobbying, Step 3

The Sunday afternoon before our visit to the senator's office, we got together at the meeting house where Monica is a member to plan our strategy. It turned out to be pretty simple: She would introduce us and thank the staffer for receiving us; Mazhar would speak about the importance of restoring the right of habeas corpus; Michael would speak about putting an end to torture and other "alternative methods" of interrogation; and I would say something about how, as Quakers, we feel compelled to speak on behalf of those declared non-persons. We thought it a good idea to leave the aide with a letter that could be passed on the senator, and I offered to write it -- or, rather, to piece it together from model letters on the FCNL website.

Friendly Lobbying, Step 4

Monica and I took the train down town together. Michael and Mazhar each got downtown separately. and we all met at the Federal Building, passed through security, and then stopped in the coffee shop to sign the printed copy of the letter that we would leave for the senator.

The rest is pretty anticlimactic.

I remember walking into the reception area of the senator's office suite and thinking: I can't wait until this is over. I announced our arrival to the receptionist, who asked what organization we were with. Interesting ...you have to belong to a group to come speak to the senator or to one of his staff members. Reminds me of Tocqueville, who noted the myriad associations that existed in the U.S. We Americans must have found out early that we needed to organize if we wanted some attention from our elected officials.

The staff member with whom we had the appointment came out, greeted us, took us into the interior part of the office suite, and then ushered us into the senator's own office. It was smallish, almost modest for
the office of a senior senator, with the exception of the majestic, mirror-covered pillar that dominated the room. We each took a place on various pieces of the cream-colored living room set. We talked about the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act, torture, Guantanamo Bay, while our host listened attentively taking brief notes. Every now and then I found myself distracted by his reflection on one side of the mirrored pillar

When it was my turn, I spoke about how Quakers have tried throughout our history come to the defense of those treated like non-persons by societies and governments. In the past, black slaves were such non-persons. "Illegal enemy combatants" are the non-persons of our time, I said, as this classification deprives them of the protections of the Constitution, the Geneva Conventions and even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I said that we were concerned about the treatment and welfare of prisoners being held in conjunction with our war on terror ... individuals such as Abdul Al-Ghizzawi,, held for 5 years without charge at Guantánamo Bay. We are concerned that he will die in captivity because he has not received treatment for a severe liver ailment. I concluded by saying that restoration of the right to habeas corpus would be the best guarantee that Mr. Al-Ghizzawi and other prisoners can get proper medical treatment, because their detention would be subject to courts operating under international standards of justice. I actually managed to get all that out -- rehearsal pays!

Monica asked our host what he saw as the major roadblocks to scheduling hearings on the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act and what we could do to help. He responded that Sen. Specter is no longer chair of the Judiciary Committee and does not, therefore, schedule the hearings. He urged us to contact those who could lobby the current chair, Sen. Leahy. This suggestion seemed rather strange to me, as we are not Sen. Leahy's constituents. The aide did promise to bring all our concerns to the attention of Sen. Specter.

We ended the visit by thanking, our host and giving him our letter and a copy of FCNL's Peaceful Prevention of Deadly Conflict.

In the lobby of the Federal Building, before going our separate ways, Monica, Mazhar, and Michael talked eagerly about doing more of this sort of thing. Michael especially wants to bring the issue of stem-cell research to the attention of our legislators, as he has a family member for whom it represents the only hope of ever walking again.

I came away a bit discouraged, wondering what sort of real influence three Quakers and a Muslim can realistically hope to have when compared to the paid lobbyists who visit our Congresspersons in droves. Nevertheless, we exercised the power that we have as citizens of what is --remarkably, miraculously--still a representative democracy. And I feel so grateful to have been able to plead personally for the freedom and welfare of Mr. Al-Ghizzawi.

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