We don’t need more lobbyists, but we do need you

I was giving a presentation awhile ago to an incredible group of Latino college students who have committed themselves to working as educators in under-resourced schools, mostly with Limited English Proficient students. Their presence in those classrooms, as not only highly-trained teachers but also true role models, will absolutely make a difference.

I’m honored every time I get to work with them.

Mostly, we talk about policy.

I walk them through the basics of immigration policy and how it affects their students, and what they might expect to see in their classrooms in terms of the effects on families and, by extension, on how children can learn.

I help them understand our school finance formula and what it means for at-risk students, and also how the debate over school finance is shaping how patrons view English-language-learners and immigrant students within their schools.

And, together, we think about how they can be advocates, and educators, and how finding ways to embrace both of those roles provides their students the best chance of success.

And when I talk with groups like these, my core message is always the same:

To [end poverty], [counter racism], [win fair immigration policies], [pass a truly pro-family budget], we don’t necessarily need more lobbyists. You know that I think that lobbyists play an essential role in the policymaking process, but I don’t pretend that it’s for everybody, and I don’t think it’s the key to the victories we so desperately need.

Instead, what we need is everyone, from the primary role that does feed their souls (parent, teacher, direct-practice social worker, chef, librarian), finding ways to integrate effective advocacy into that work, so that their interactions with public officials spring from an authentic and renewing place in their lives.

That would be game-changing.

If members of Congress and state legislators had to respond to millions of people who aren’t lobbyists, and certainly don’t think of themselves that way, but who are justifiably outraged by a policy injustice that affects their work or their communities, and who took the 10 minutes to contact their lawmaker to demand redress…they’d notice.

It’s the reason why students and teachers and parents who come to testify on a particular issue in the state legislature get the committee members to put down their newspapers and sometimes even applaud, the way that we lobbyists seldom do.

So my goal in talking with people like these students is not to steer them from their chosen path and make advocacy their one true calling.

It’s to make advocacy a part of their way of life, in small, seamless ways, with the assured knowledge that doing so will play a part in reshaping the policy landscape that impacts the work, and the people, that they really care about.

Relax. We don’t need more lobbyists.

But we do need you.

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