In November, 1994 I had the opportunity to be part of history when Republicans took over the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years. Of course, I was on the losing side of that battle: my boss lost his seat and I lost a job I loved. And I wasn’t alone. Most of the people I knew on the hill – from senior Committee staff to lowly staff assistants -- lost their jobs. Two-income families suddenly become no-income. Staffers with 19 years of experience took jobs as front desk staff to hang on to their pensions. Very few organizations off the hill wanted to hire Democrats and some people were out of work for months. And to top it off we saw dramatic changes being proposed to some of the institutions we’d spent years nurturing – from public broadcasting to welfare. It was a tough time.
Perhaps the Democrats had become arrogant and complaisant and deserved to be taken down a peg. Perhaps Congress needed a shake-up and some new perspectives. Nevertheless, as I boarded the long flight home from the campaign on the day after the election (wearing dark glasses to hide my red, puffy eyes) it was impossible to have such a philosophical perspective about the future. I was unemployed and potentially unemployable, as was almost everyone I knew – it was like the Great Depression had hit.
Today I’ll admit that it’s tempting to gloat. Now the “other side” is going to get a taste of what it’s like to reduce staff levels by 2/3rds and suddenly have everyone stop returning your phone calls. But gloating probably isn’t going to get any of us anywhere. If the American people “spoke” (as many people say they did), they said “let’s stop bickering like 12-year olds and actually do some real work.”
As to the exact nature of that “real work,” well, reasonable people will disagree. Some will consider dealing with the war in Iraq as most important. Others will want Congress to focus on increasing access to health care. Still others will consider ethics reform as the most important matter. The thing about “real work” is that it’s a little like pornography – it’s difficult to describe, but we’ll know it when we see it.
Clearly, it will take some time for the new leadership to sort out their priorities, and that’s where your efforts come in. Grassroots organizations have a golden opportunity in the next few months to let elected officials know what YOU think should be brought to the forefront. Elections serve as important reminders to “those people in Washington” that the people play a critical role in our American democracy. Newly elected members and incumbents alike are thinking about their constituents right now. Take advantage of this time to have your voice heard!
As always, tips on effective advocacy can be found on our resource page at http://www.advocacyguru.com/resources.htm. You can also find the book on effective communication with Congress at http://www.advocacyguru.com/books.htm
Go forth – and no gloating.