"If you don't ask, it won't happen...
"Persistence pays off..."
"Sometimes righteous indignation can lead to good things..."
Okay, I'm paraphrasing these clichés. But in our case they hold true regarding the reason why we were able to hold a face-to-face meeting with Rep. Heather Wilson about the 2007 Farm Bill, which is the subject of our 2007 Offering of Letters"
And much of the credit should go to Ann Sims, who is one of our most passionate Bread for the World activists in New Mexico. We are proud to say that she is also a member of our organization's board of directors.
It's putting it mildly when I say that our visit to Rep. Wilson's office in Washington on Lobby Day (June 12) was extremely disappointing. We met with an unresponsive aide, who took few notes and kept looking at her watch. We felt disrespected.
Rather than shrug off the visit, Ann decided to take action. First she called Rep. Wilson's office to complain. Then she asked if there was a way we could meet with Rep. Wilson here in Albuquerque during the Fourth of July congressional recess. At first, she was told that since we'd already made our case on the Farm Bill in Washington, there was no reason to present the same information to the congresswoman. But Ann insisted. She reiterated the bad experience with the aide, hinting that we were not sure whether our message had gotten through to Rep. Wilson.
So on July 5 we gained a face-to-face audience with our congresswoman here in Albuquerque. Ann and I and two colleagues from coalition partners (Mark Winne from the Community Food Security Coalition and Laurel Wyckoff from the New Mexico Association of Food Banks) were present at the meeting. Ann set the tone for the meeting by pointing out that legislation on the farm bill was the single most important anti-hunger issue that she has lobbied on during her years as Bread activist.
I'm happy to say that our meeting with Rep. Wilson went extremely well. There was a more relaxed feel about it. There's something about meeting outside the Beltway in our home turf (and dare I say the congresswoman's home turf). In fact, I wouldn't call it a meeting. It was more like a conversation. Rep. Wilson was very aware of Bread for the World's concerns regarding the Farm Bill. After all, she had received almost 300 letters from about a dozen offerings of letters in Albuquerque!
Rep. Wilson listened closely to our requests to boost the Food Stamp program, promote rural development, support producers of specialty crops, strengthen nutrition programs and place a limit on subsidies for the five "big" commodities. And Mark and Laurel were able to add their two cents to these issues, as well as bring up related concerns of their own. In the end, she made no specific promises, although she nodded her head in agreement several times during our meeting. Of this we can be sure: that our requests will be prominent on her radar screen when farm-bill legislation reaches the floor of the House.
My thoughts after the meeting were that we probably wouldn't have achieved as much were it not for Ann's persistence.
Read another version of this piece on the Campus Bread blog
(Note: the above photo of Ann was taken by fellow Bread for the World activist Elaine VanCleave from Birmingham at the 2007 National Gathering in Washington)