“There’s a real person with a real life”: Chance encounters with lawmakers build relationship and Child Tax Credit buy-in
RESULTS advocate David Tate boarded a plane in late November headed for Southern California with no plans other than: get to Los Angeles. Little did he know that he was headed for not one but two advocacy opportunities with members of Congress on his journey. As he put it, “you never know when opportunity knocks.”
A little preparation can pay off, even suddenly
David describes the scene: “The first opportunity came on the plane. I typically do not initiate much conversation with my seatmates […] but halfway through the flight, the flight attendant reached out to shake the lady’s hand next to me saying she appreciates everything she does as her Congresswoman. I thought, ok, you’ve got my attention.” But as an experienced RESULTS volunteer, he knew a little preparation could go a long way when connecting with a lawmaker. So, he first excused himself to catch up with the flight attendant to ask for further details. He verified those details using the in-flight wifi. Through this quick research, David learned that he sat next to Rep. Brownley representing an area northwest of Los Angeles.
A plane ride can become an unofficial lobby meeting and a new Congressional relationship
“For the remainder of the flight, we had a very nice conversation,” says David. He made a pitch for expanding the Child Tax Credit (CTC), which Rep. Brownley supports! David was able to emphasize the urgency around the CTC so that it can remain a priority. With the extra time on the flight, they also got to chat and build rapport. They exchanged stories and David heard a bit about some of the ups and downs of life in the House of Representatives. Rep. Brownley also indicated that there was another member of Congress on the flight about to deplane with them.
We can connect with members of Congress as people
“I was able to recognize the other member of Congress as Rep. Napolitano,” said David, “so the second opportunity arose while waiting for luggage.” Politely approaching Rep. Napolitano resulted in a full 20-minute conversation. David learned that she is a champion for children’s issues and let her know about the aspects of RESULTS work aimed directly at fighting child poverty. They learned about each other’s lives, and Rep. Napolitano proudly shared that she has lived in the same home in Downey, California, for 63 years. She described how she had actually retired twice from professional politics but kept returning out of a sense of responsibility to her constituents—to “stay in the fight” for justice. She strongly encouraged David to follow up with her office, along with other RESULTS advocates.
“Overall, these two very casual conversations made me realize that behind the position, there remains a real person with a real life,” David reflected. He noted that this could be helpful to remember in lobby meetings or other more formal settings. Each of these lawmakers—or their aides—is a person, and connecting with them on that level is important. He also remarked that informal opportunities to get to know lawmakers come up more than an advocate might expect! “During my time with RESULTS, I think I have had more impromptu face-to-face meetings than scheduled ones,” he said, mentioning three interactions he had with senators in elevators in Washington, D.C. When we connect with the people who make up Congressional offices, we break down the barriers and start building the bridges to a future without poverty.