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An hour-by-hour account of NPCA’s National Day of Advocacy on Capitol Hill

By Flavio Cabrera

 

8:30AM It is a windy morning when I arrive at our Peace Corps meeting point in an old church located two blocks away from the Supreme Court and the Capitol building. Ever since I moved to Washington D.C., I am continuously amazed and humbled by our nation’s magnificent venues. When I arrive at the church, I am impressed by the large number of former Peace Corps Volunteers who, like me, had served our country in previous years. Everyone I greet is kind as we share experiences about serving on the ground with our global communities.

8:45AM Jonathan Pearson, Peace Corps Advocacy Director, takes the stage to formally introduce himself and thanks everyone in the room for attending on such an important day. The NPCA’s diligent team members and generous volunteers distribute our “advocacy packets,” which contain legislative information, including voting records for Peace Corps funding, for the respective Senators and Representatives we are about to visit. As an American originally from the border city of El Paso, Texas, I am eager to thank Representative Veronica Escobar (D-TX) for her adamant support in approving the Peace Corps annual budget, and to encourage Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) to sign on to the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act when it comes to the Senate.

9:15AM Once the opening remarks conclude, it’s time to meet our politically-savvy, kind and vigorous “Texas” team leader Athena, and we head immediately to the Dirksen Senate Building to meet with Senator Cruz.

 

As an American originally from the border city of El Paso, Texas, I am eager to thank Representative Veronica Escobar for her adamant support… and to encourage Senator John Cornyn and Senator Ted Cruz to sign on.

 

9:35AM The TSA security checkpoint in the Senate is thorough, and we just make it on time for our first encounter. Even though Senator Cruz himself is not present in the meeting, we meet with Ricardo Pita, Cruz’s assistant and team member who takes notes on the various reasons we believe Senator Cruz should vote “yes” on the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act. After a 15-minute conversation, we move to the Russell building in order to be on time with Senator Cornyn.

10:30AM Next we walk across the great halls of the Russell building, where our senators’ offices are full of citizens advocating for their own causes. Seeing this active citizenship energized me even more to meet Senator Cornyn who in previous years has supported our agency efforts in promoting world peace and friendship.

Top: Athena Fulay (Uzbekistan 1999–2001) directs her RPCA advocacy group just before visiting elected officials on Capitol Hill last March. Photo by Tiffany James

10:45AM At Senator Cornyn’s office we are greeted with a warm Texas welcome from staff members John and Henry, who share with us their own experiences in the international arena and how fiercely our senator has been engaged in global affairs. After the fruitful conversation, we leave just in time for a well-deserved team break and enjoy a delicious lunch at a sustainable local restaurant near Washington’s beautiful Eastern Market.

2:00PM Once back on Capitol Hill, we now head in direction of the Rayburn Building to meet with our elected officials in the House of Representatives. This was my second time in the “halls of power” since 2015, when I had the opportunity to visit my Representative Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) and exchange some ideas on how the humanitarian crisis at the border could be improved.

2:30PM As I enter my representative’s office, I gaze over some works of art in the welcome reception. I am interrupted by her staff members, who share stories with me from their time living in El Paso. As we exchange points of view on the humanitarian crisis at the border, I feel transported back to the majestic Franklin mountains where I used to hike.

5:00PM Finally, after an intense day of advocacy on behalf of thousands of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, Jonathan Pearson organized a meet and greet event for us in one of the many rooms in the House of Representatives. As we enjoy some drinks, Mr. Pearson thanks everyone on behalf of NPCA. For me it is the culmination of an arduous and insightful journey into the halls of our precious democracy. Nowadays, I find myself living in our nation’s capital as I enter my last year of human development graduate studies. There is no day that passes without me thinking how proud I am to have served our nation abroad.


Left: “The people that I hang with in Congress recognize that it’s an incredible program. All the Peace Corps volunteers I know come back very engaged. I’d like to see other programs use this model to get people involved.” —Representative Mike Thompson (D-CA)

 

 


Pro-Tips Three veteran RPCV advocates on making the most of Capitol Hill Advocacy Day

1. FIND OUT WHO YOU ARE MEETING WITH Often advocates will meet with a staffer. Use Google or LinkedIN to find out a bit about the person you’ll be meeting, especially if there are any kind of connections like a common school or university, city, town, etc. —Tim Garvin (Jamaica 1991-1992)

2 . DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF MEETING WITH A STAFFER Any staffer in the legislator’s office can be helpful. Just because it’s not the legislator themselves doesn’t mean the meeting isn’t significant. These staffers’ roles are to report back, and they will! The legislator’s ears aren’t the only ones that matter! —Lori Halvorson (Burkina Faso 2007-2009)

3. HAVE PRINTED MATERIALS that address the information and issues NPCA is pursuing. This is very helpful to give in person, but I also utilize this virtually, which I send a few days before the meeting to further promote questions and dialogue. These meetings have always had a great outcome. —Melissa Edwards-Lasa (Peru 2019-2023) Virtual Pilot Program

This piece appears in the Spring 2023 edition of WorldView Magazine.


Flavio Cabrera (Peru 2019-21) is originally from El Paso, Texas. After serving in the Peace Corps for two years, Flavio was accepted into the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University where he is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Global Human Development. Mr. Cabrera lives in Washington, D.C.