I Lobbied, and I Liked It

One of the most exciting events that WHO/O participates in is Freedom of Choice Ohio’s annual Lobby Day. This year’s event is called 2012 Lobby Day: Storm the Statehouse. On Wednesday, March 21, from 9:30am to 1pm, we will gather at the Downtown YWCA and meet face-to-face with our state senators. This year we’ll be speaking out against Ohio’s mounting War on Women, and encourage our senators to oppose the so-called Heartbeat Bill abortion ban. We’ll be there in solidarity with our pro-choice allies, and we want you to join us! To register, sign up here.

We would like to share the experience of someone who attended the 2010 FOCO Lobby Day for the first time. Kay serves on the Emeritus Board of Women Have Options, and although she is a longtime supporter of women’s choice in Ohio, she had never tried to talk to her state legislators—just like most of us! We wanted to share her story of gaining the courage to talk to her legislators, so that you might join us at Lobby Day. Here is Kay’s story…

Some people have a fear of flying. I, as I discovered to my dismay a month or so ago, have a fear of lobbying. I became aware of that fear when I first heard about the Freedom of Choice Ohio (FOCO) Lobby Day scheduled for April 21, 2010. Although I feel strongly about the need to protect women’s reproductive choices, I was uncomfortable about the prospect of sharing my feelings with a state legislator, especially the rather conservative ones who represent my district. So I tried to ignore the nagging little voice inside that told me I should at least give lobbying a try. My husband, however, has more faith in me and my powers of persuasion than I do, and he urged me to sign up. Not wishing to disappoint him nor my WHO/O colleagues, I finally signed up as a participant, more or less at the last minute.

For the next week I worried about my rash act while trying to prepare for my encounter with Rep. Jay Hottinger and Sen. Tim Schaffer. (I even asked my husband to role play and ask tough questions so that I wouldn’t “freeze” during the interviews.) Fortunately, FOCO had posted detailed information on its web site so I was able to familiarize myself with the bills we were supporting. In the House, the Compassionate Assistance in Rape Emergencies bill would require hospitals to provide emergency contraception and information about sexually transmitted diseases to rape victims. The Senate bill, called Prevention First, would offer the same guarantees for rape victims as the CARE bill; in addition, it has other provisions to facilitate access to contraception and information related to pregnancy.

Four of us from WHO/O attended the Lobbying Day: Nancy Pitts, Linda FreemanWalker, Angie Shyrigh, and myself. When we arrived at the Lobby Day headquarters, we were trained on how we might best approach the legislators, then sent off to our appointments. Linda and I met with Rep. Hottinger. He was unfamiliar with the CARE bill, but listened attentively as we explained its broad outlines. The father of three teenage daughters, he seemed genuinely concerned about how rape victims are treated. As we were leaving, we asked if he could support the CARE bill, and he indicated that, although he would need to give it closer study, he was in principle in favor. (Senator Schaffer was not in his office, so we were only able to drop off materials there.)

Our lunch program featured three speakers: Sondra Miller of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, Elizabeth Williams (a rape victim who founded Survivors to Alivers) and Rep. Dan Stewart, who sponsors the CARE bill in the house. It was inspiring to see Williams’s personal courage and Stewart’s political courage, and I left our meeting feeling hopeful about the long-term prospects of this important legislation. We were able to chat with Representative Stewart for an extended period, as well as networking with other pro-choice advocates.

Have I conquered my fear of lobbying? Not entirely, but it was definitely a worthwhile day, and I’m glad to be involved in such an important movement. I also felt more optimistic about the future of democracy, both because of Dan Stewart’s support of women’s right to choose and because even conservative representatives like Jay Hottinger took time to listen to our presentation, no matter what their own personal views might be.

As you can see from Kay’s experience, lobbying is worth the effort. It can be intimidating, but it’s empowering, and a great chance to ensure that your voice is heard. We hope that Kay’s story has convinced you to join us on March 21. Let’s storm the statehouse together!

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