Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Springfield Lobbying Trip

On April 9th I loaded my belongings in a rental car leaving sky scrapers behind for corn fields. We drove through the afternoon, destination: Springfield. We arrived at our motel early evening. We were there for a planned “lobby day”. Put together by ISEC, or the Illinois Student Environmental Coalition it was an annual trip to empower concerned student activists and let them speak out on a number of environmental topics.

We dropped off our belongings and headed over to a gathering in downtown Springfield. There were environmentalists and politicians together, mingling and chatting. We ate dinner and had a very inspiring conversation with representative Julie Hamos. It calmed some nerves about the situation as we got to converse openly and naturally. She has been involved with political lobbying in Illinois since the 1970’s and has a vast understanding on the subject. To our surprise, she was willing to share loads of it. It was a good practice run for the next day.

Before bed, we were put through an hour training session with representatives from the Sierra Club. What could we expect? What would we do in certain situations? ISEC-related students were separated into groups and assigned a packet. Each packet had different state senators and representatives that we were going to discuss issues with. It included detailed information on each individual politician from pictures and office numbers to bill sponsor details. Tracking them down was made as pain-free as possible. It was a really well thought out plan by every organization involved. I was encouraged by the buzz in the room and found it hard to sleep that night.

We woke early on Wednesday. I studied fact sheets and did some last minute cramming before we were to put our knowledge and preparation to the test. Energized by coffee and the beautiful sunshine I set off for the Capitol. I was partnered with a fellow E.P.I.C. (Environmental Protection Initiative at Columbia College) member and friend. We became more confident in our work as the day went on, we were a successful team.

We focused intently on four bills. The first was a package that pertained to solar energy. It would do great things such as lower barriers of entry for homeowners that want to use solar, increase the solar portfolio (make a higher regulated amount of solar necessary as a fraction of all energy use), and also allow citizens with solar panels to give excess energy back to the grid (preferably making some money from it). The second was a bill against Bisophenal-A, or bpa. It has been discovered as a cancer causing agent that still makes up many plastics, especially infant products. This bill would eradicate bpa from child products and force corporations to label any goods that include it. The third bill would allow new housing developments to be built on flood plains. We spoke out against this bill citing various environmental and social repercussions. For example, the big Mississippi River flood of 1993 cost the government over $500 million to move residents out of disaster areas and clean up the damage. The fourth bill we opposed, proposed lifting the moratorium on nuclear plants. We explained that we can’t have any more nuclear waste created if we still don’t have a reasonable way of disposing of it!

We went from office to office leaving business cards and fact sheets in case we couldn’t catch up with our intended “targets” of the day. We wanted them to know that we are paying attention. We got to meet with one representative in her office and a few others in passing. We made a strong case for each environmental bill. At first thought, lobbying seemed a very daunting task as we were up against experience and corporate power. Some of these lobbyists were people that were paid to do just that. We felt fresh and new in comparison, but we did have some important power on our side. We were young, educated and passionate. Soon, our generation will be making most of this country’s decisions.

I can’t stress how vital it is for young people to get involved in their political process. After overcoming the initial shock, one will realize that politicians are just people. If they don’t hear your concerns, how they can be held responsible? The political system as confusing and scary as it is, doesn’t work without citizen cooperation and there’s no better time to start then now.


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