Record number prepare for lobby in D.C.

Leslie Combs

Although the University closed Monday in honor of the late Martin Luther King Jr., some students still chose to rise early to attend a lobbying workshop sponsored by the Office of Peace and Justice. Network, a national Catholic Social Justice lobby based in Washington, D.C., ran the training session in Bartley Hall from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Network workers explained to the 50-plus students in attendance the historical legacy of voting in the United States and stressed the concept that citizen participation should not end at the ballot booth. Linking its program to Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of peaceful protest, Network taught the students how build relationships with legislators.

By opening a discussion and building relationships with legislators, Network hopes students will learn to voice their own opinions and concerns on both foreign and domestic policies.

After watching a sample demonstration of a lobby visit by the Network workers, the students came together in preparation for their own University-sponsored visit to Capitol Hill on Jan. 30. There, students will put the skills they learned from Network to practice.

The lobbying workshop and Washington trip mark the second straight year Peace and Justice has paired up with Network in honor of the University’s Dr. Martin Luther King Day of Service.

Dr. Suzanne Toton of the Center of Peace and Justice explained that while Villanova traditionally offers many volunteer opportunities, the center is now focusing on concrete activities the students can do after volunteer experiences often leave them with more questions and concerns than answers or a feeling of a rewarding experience.

“Villanova has been really good to promote service, but once students’ feet are wet we have not helped with the next step and are not getting to the root of the problem,” Toton said.

“Hopefully students can learn how to address the structural roots to make sure that the system does not produce poverty and war.”

After a much smaller amount of student participation in its first year, this year over 35 students have signed up to lobby on Capital Hill representing such campus organizations as Bread for the World, Villanovans for Life, Villanova Environmental Group, Amnesty International and Villanovans for Peace.

After meeting with Network for a quick review session, the students will then go to a prearranged meeting with either their own member of Congress or that member’s assistant on a platform of their choice.

“You have to break the ice sometimes, and the first time is always the hardest, but this is a great, safe way to give people training,” Toton said.

Even more important is that the members of Congress will hear from the students and learn that the educated, future generation of our country is concerned about how their representatives vote.

“When legislators hear that young people are not just concerned for themselves, they pay attention,” Toton said.

“Young people have a lot of influence and they [legislators] know that you are not going to keep quiet.”

The center for Peace and Justice hopes that the success of its contract with Network will continue to grow and is already looking into expanding its lobbying workshop to other universities.