Lobbying for change

By Vickie Papageorge
April 17, 2008

Jerry Zurek/submitted photo

Twenty three students in the Working for Global Justice seminar class traveled from their Cabrini classroom to Washington D.C., on Friday, April 11, in order to lobby Congress on the topic of foreign assistance for underdeveloped countries and additional funding for food aid.

The trip was a result of close collaboration of the students with Catholic Relief Services. They went through semester-long training for advocacy and how to lobby Congress.

“The students also learned about the role the U.S. government plays in these global issues and that because of our democratic system, they have the right and the responsibility to tell their government how to address these issues. This is the essence of advocacy – to inform our elected officials of our opinion in order to influence their decisions,” Brendan Cavanagh, CRS grassroots advocacy specialist, said.

Divided in three groups of seven to eight people, each group sat with the staff of Senators Arlen Specter, Robert Casey and Robert Menendez and discussed the important need of support for the Farm Bill and the Global Poverty Act to aid poor countries in Africa, South America and other parts of the world.

The Farm Bill defines international and domestic U.S. food and agriculture policy for five years. Provisions in the bill, known as P.L. 480 Title II food aid, specify how the United States responds to food needs of poor people worldwide during emergencies such as war and drought and also for long-term development such as using food to promote education, health and agriculture.

It ensures safe living and working conditions for farm workers, promotes fairness for farmers in developing countries and provides food security aid efficiently and effectively to hungry people worldwide.

The Global Poverty Act aims to further the United States foreign policy objective of promoting the reduction of global poverty, the elimination of extreme global poverty and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal of reducing by one-half the proportion of people worldwide who live on less than $1 per day by 2015.

“Students sometimes go to Congress to advocate for better financial aid or other topics that hit home for them. But these 23 students lobbied Congress on behalf of those who have no voices–people starving, people infected with AIDS,” said Dr. Jerry Zurek, professor and chairman of the communication department.

The students passionately explained the need for additional funding of food aid programs in poor countries; giving personal accounts and knowledge attained from the classroom.

Cavanagh said, “All of the students did a wonderful job and I was extremely pleased to listen to the feedback after the Hill visits. It was especially nice to hear that they were taken seriously. It is important to understand that although they may be young, they do have clout. They are informed voters so politicians have to consider their opinions.”

“What these students did was an exceptional example of engaged citizenship and true solidarity with the poor around the world. These students spoke with expertise and with passion. The legislative aides who write our American laws listened and were impressed,” Zurek said.

Throughout the semester, the students have become knowledgeable of the major issues concerning countries abroad as well as the most effective forms of action to take in addressing these issues to improve the situations in the poor countries of the world.

“I’ve had no experience with lobbying or anything like that before, and I went in thinking that it was going to be extremely intense. It wasn’t. It felt totally comfortable. It’s such a liberating experience to have your voice heard and to know that you can make a difference,” said Jessica Storm, junior studio arts and English major.

Conference calls with the president of CRS Ken Hackett; Thomas Awiapo, the senior program director for CRS Ghana and numerous other experts in world issues, as well as in-class speakers such as Dr. Arlene Flaherty from the northeast branch of CRS and other CRS representatives, and lastly, readings of various books such as “The End of Poverty” by economist Jeffrey Sachs, all have helped develop the students’ understanding of issues such as poverty, hunger, Iraqi refugees and HIV/AIDS.

Their semester-long class partnered with a day-long training course at Villanova University held by Bread for the World representatives readied them to take on Washington D.C. on Friday.

Gina Sciubba, elementary and early childhood education major, said, “I felt that going down to D.C. was an experience I would not have gotten to do without this class, and to be honest I really enjoyed it and I felt as though I made some sort of impact on the world.”

The day began with a briefing with CRS representatives, Brendan Cavanagh, the CRS grassroots advocacy specialist, and CRS legislative assistant Jenna Welch. It ended with 23 smiling students and several impressed and blown away Congress staff members.

Cavanagh said, “I’m very proud that CRS was a partner in this practicum. CRS was able to share its advocacy expertise and in return got valuable advocacy support. I am confident that all of the students who participated came away with an understanding of advocacy and an appreciation of its importance.”

“It is a good thing to contribute money or canned goods to help a hungry family. It is another thing entirely to change the laws that can make a better life for one billion people around the world,” said Zurek.

Vickie Papageorge

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