March 1st Reflections
By Jonathan Pearson on Wednesday, March 21st, 2012
When one of the National Day of Action Capitol Hill participants filled out the section of the evaluation which asked for general comments about the day, she (or he?) wrote:
“Glad I did it and hope it has a positive impact.”
Well, we were certainly glad he (or she?) chose to participate! As one of 75 advocates who came to Capitol Hill on March 1st, representing 23 states, the District of Columbia and every era of Peace Corps service, our 2012 contingent was the largest presence of the Peace Corps community in March, during the eight year history of the National Day of Action.
And, there is no doubt that presence had a positive impact. At a time when Peace Corps faces budget reductions, at a time when many lawmakers are choosing not to take any action to show support for effective, impactful programs because of overriding concerns about deficit spending, the passion of the Peace Corps community nevertheless generated a record number of signatures (for a single year) on Fiscal Year 2013 funding letters in the Senate and House of Representatives.
That presence was bolstered beyond the Beltway, where thousands of follow-up communications from across the country poured in between March 1st and 15th.
In Bradenton, Florida Lisa Ramirez took action from home, made use of NPCA’s background information and support materials to reach out to her lawmakers, and – like so many – personalized her message:
”My mother was a volunteer in Chile in the 60′s, and I am a proud Peace Corps baby, having followed in her footsteps and proudly serving my country as a Peace Corps Volunteer in both Paraguay and the Dominican Republic (97-99)…I know many others who, like me, volunteer to teach English literacy, or work to register new voters to fully and meaningfully participate in the life and culture of Florida.”
Back in Washington, Mary Hoban (Ukraine, 07-09) of Wilmington, Delaware felt equally prepared as she met with staff of one of her Senators, Tom Carper:
“His representative…raised the issue of women’s safety…I relayed a personal experience I had with the police in my town and how the Peace Corps security team quickly responded. I stressed I appreciated her concerns but assured her while they are also my concerns I had confidence in Peace Corps doing everything possible for my safety. I was able to tell her I was in the process of returning to the Peace Corps as a Volunteer and how I personally needed her support.”
This year marked the first time Senator Carper signed the Peace Corps letter. And, among the other first-time signers was one lawmaker with a special distinction:
While we don’t normally track this – we’re pretty certain Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) set a record for a lawmaker to most quickly demonstrate support for the Peace Corps. Back on March 1st, NPCA Board member Pat Wand (Colombia 63-65; Eastern Caribbean 69) visited Bonamici’s office – which was still in the process of being organized. It was a mere 24 days after the Congresswoman was sworn-in to represent Oregon’s 1st District. A friendly impromptu meeting with the lawmaker and her staff took place, some Oregon connections were made and a week later, Representative Bonamici added her name to the letter!
Nearly 130 formal meetings were held on March 1st, and advocates dropped by more than 300 other offices to drop off key information. But the impact and presence of the day went beyond that. Laara Manler (Burkina Faso 01-02; Paraguay 08-10) of Woodbridge, Virginia says she and her fellow team members experienced that immediately:
“I was with three or four members of my team and we were on our way to our first meeting. We had on our ‘Ask Me Why the Peace Corps Matters’ pins, and within a few seconds of stepping into the elevator we got peppered with questions. Turns out the man with whom we stepped into the elevator was an RPCV too. He was glad we were there, telling our stories and reminding our legislators why Peace Corps is so important!”
The advocates who help us out on Capitol Hill have a full-day between meetings, packet drops to other offices, filling out meeting reports and writing thank you notes. But this year’s advocacy day offered up some inspiring perks! The morning began with appearances and remarks by RPCV Congressmen Mike Honda, Sam Farr and John Garamendi. Through the coordination of Congressman Garamendi’s office and tireless RPCV Geri Critchley (Senegal 71-72), many of the participants had a wonderful and energizing mid-day treat when legendary folk singer Peter Yarrow performed for them. That wasn’t all. Many of the participants also ended the day with the opportunity to visit the chamber of the House of Representatives, courtesy of RPCV and former Kentucky Congressman Mike Ward (The Gambia 77-78).
It was a long, busy day for participants, but also a day that forged new connections and friendships that yielded a spirit of accomplishment and commitment. Vince Calabresa (Nicaragua 04-06) of Libertyville, Illinois summed up his experience this way:
Our thanks to everyone who made this year’s Day of Action so memorable.
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