My earliest memory of political involvement is receiving a sticker in elementary school for accompanying my mother to polls. Encouraged by a dose of political activism, I attended presidential rallies, campaigned in my community, registered others to vote and eventually voted myself. However, I still had not completed the most influential form of political involvement: visiting my state legislator.
Maybe, like me, you consider yourself involved and informed, but never thought to visit your legislators. Why would a senator or representative be interested in the opinions of a 20-year-old student? The intimidating “oval-office” style environment I imagined, with lots of staff people and formality, intensified my hesitations to visit my legislators in person.
As an intern at the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) I was asked to put their new Advocacy Toolkit – which walks readers through preparing for and attending a legislative visit – to the test. Would it ease my hesitations? I was challenged to conquer my own misgivings when I read this about political involvement, “This obligation is rooted in our baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ and to bear Christian witness in all we do” (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, USCCB).
Suddenly, conversing with my state senator was not about my nervousness, but about fulfilling a promise I made to Jesus Christ. As if that was not encouragement enough, the Toolkit offered other practical reasons to visit my legislators.
I found my legislator by using the PCC website, pacatholic.org, which generates a list of lawmakers’ contact information based on one’s address. The Toolkit recommended researching the chosen legislator’s background. It’s a good tip – knowing more about Senator Mike Waugh made me feel more at ease when I visited his office.
I also researched Senator Waugh’s voting record on HB 818; a recent bill that prohibited taxpayer supported insurance plans from covering elective abortions. As a young pro-life woman, I wanted to personally thank him for defending life with his “yes” vote on HB 818 and his “no” vote on the weakening amendments.
So, now I was armed with contact information as well as some easily compiled research. I called Senator Waugh’s office, introduced myself and requested a meeting. Due to the hectic timing of the state budget debate, Senator Waugh was not able to meet with me personally. However, as the Toolkit instructs, meeting with a member of the legislator’s staff is equally beneficial. Staff members are often highly educated on issues and provide influential support to the legislator’s position. Do not to become discouraged if the legislator is unavailable or if a meeting is delayed; legislators work for their constituents, and they want to hear from us.
On the day of my meeting with Gregg Beckenbaugh, a member of Senator Waugh’s staff, I skimmed my notes as I walked from the PCC to the Capitol. Traveling to the Capitol was easy for me, but for the sake of convenience, I recommend meeting with legislators in their home district offices.
After a warm greeting, I informed Gregg of my gratitude for Senator Waugh’s “pro-life” vote on HB 818. I briefly explained that as a pro-life Catholic woman it is encouraging to see my state legislator protecting the rights of all women, including women of future generations. Gregg promised to pass my message to the senator, and within minutes, I had accomplished my mission.
It really is that easy! I not only fulfilled my baptismal promise to defend the Faith, but I benefitted from a pleasant conversation with Senator Waugh’s staff and even got a quick tour of their offices. I left knowing that what I said mattered; what I said made a difference.
Surveys show that in-person visits hold the most weight when legislators consider constituent feedback in their decision making. There are over 3 million Catholics in Pennsylvania: 3 million! Imagine if even half of us spent 15 or 30 minutes in our legislators’ offices, advocating on behalf of Catholic teaching. The Church has a profound need for defenders of the faith, and I strongly encourage my fellow Catholics to begin in their home districts. Initiate a conversation with a legislator; fill their office with the word of the Lord, “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:16).
Nicholle Mills is an intern at the PCC. She will be a college junior in the fall. More information, including the Advocacy Toolkit, is available at pacatholic.org.