Last week I travelled with twelve other Minnesotans to Washington, DC with the Healing Our Waters Coalition. We were lobbying for three main issues: Continued funding for the Great Lakes Initiative, support for conservation programs in the Farm Bill and support for the Stop Asian Carp bill. Here are some observations from my first experience lobbying:
It’s a long trip. We had to leave a day early and thread the needle between Minnesota snowstorms. It was thirteen hours of travel between my front door and the hotel. No wonder the legislative aides were so impressed by us showing up at their office doors, since they’ve had to take that same trip backwards.
There are lots of young professionals in DC. “Rush hour” seemed to consist of fit young people bustling from office doors to subway stops. Many of them seemed a bit deranged, talking to themselves; as they got closer, I could see that they had tiny earbuds with a microphone in the cable, and they were talking on their iPhones. Those scenes from “West Wing” as the group of aides discussed vital topics in person as they marched through the White House hallways? So last decade.
Watch what’s on the wall. Most of our representatives go overboard to have a touch of Minnesota and their district in their office. Freshman Representative Chip Cravaack was the most bare-bones, with a few photos on the wall and a book on the table of the history of Embarrass, Minnesota. Senator Franken had pennants from every college sports program, and fed us hot cereal from Hell’s Kitchen. Senator Klobuchar had photos of her family. Kline had a map of his district front and center. Representative Michele Bachmann had a mural-sized map of the world.
It’s hard to get the right footwear. We were supposed to dress “business casual,” but for us backwoods hicks that means “the fanciest stuff you’ve got.” Most shiny new shoes from the mall aren’t good for walking five miles a day on pavement; at least one person in the party ended up walking around the Capitol building barefoot.
It felt like democracy in action. The best and the brightest of us (elected, hired, or volunteered) are in town working together and planning our future. Once you made it through security you had access to the most important decision makers in our country. And their hot dish recipes.