Finding my voice with RESULTS in 1982
“Hey Lenny, can you be at the Arlington Courthouse tomorrow?” asked RESULTS founder Sam Daley-Harris. He had called me from a phone booth in California on his lunch break while substitute teaching. That was the RESULTS office in the early days.
He wanted to know if I could go see my Congressman, Frank Wolf, a Republican from Northern Virginia. It was January 3, 1982, and Rep. Wolf, who was sworn in precisely one year earlier, January 3, 1981, would go on to serve in Congress for 34 years (1981-2015).
This was going to be the first meeting with a member of Congress by a RESULTS volunteer outside of California.
Gee, Frank, that was very short!
Rep. Wolf was going to be at the Arlington Virginia Courthouse meeting constituents one at a time. Sam asked me to see if my Congressman would cosponsor HR 4588, a new global food security bill.
I went and waited for my turn to go into a room that included Rep. Wolf, a member of his staff and a reporter from The Washington Post. When it was my turn, I sat down and the Congressman asked, “What can I do for you?” I asked him about cosponsoring HR 4588. He said, “We will look it up and get back to you…and thanks for coming.”
I knew at that moment the meeting was over. I said, “Gee Frank, that was very short!” I walked out mumbling to myself, “This is BS, and I will tell Sam as soon as I get home.”
By the time I got home and processed my experience, I realized how naive I was that Rep. Wolf should know about HR 4588, as that probably meant that 4,587 other bills had been introduced before it in that session. What did I expect – that my Congressman would say, “Oh, Lenny, tell me what I should do”?
Then the light bulb went off in my head. I realized his response was the appropriate response, and that I had just started the process of finding my voice and acting as a responsible constituent. Also, it was a good thing that he did not know about the bill, as I did not know much about it either!
The next day came the kicker. I was quoted anonymously in The Washington Post as a constituent who had asked about HR 4588 in a brief interaction, and after the meeting ended quickly, had responded, “Gee Frank, that was very short!”
When I told Sam about the quote, he got very excited and said, “See, you were in The Washington Post!”
We aren’t going anywhere
In most organizations, a lousy first meeting with a member of Congress can easily turn out to be the last meeting. But one thing you can say about RESULTS volunteers is: “We aren’t going anywhere.” And we didn’t. Over the next 33 years Congressman Wolf and I got to know each other on a first-name basis and had an empowering relationship.
Rep. Wolf eventually supported creating the Child Survival Fund two years later after going to Somalia with other members of Congress. He came back a different person after that visit.
I too am a different person after my 40 years with RESULTS.