From Our Student Minister
Lobbying in Madison
On March 14, 2013 Nancy Neumann, Dean Johnson, and I represented UCN as we lobbied our state representatives and legislatures for prison reform. We were part of a coalition of religious groups urging lawmakers to set aside more money in the state budget for alternatives to prison for low risk offenders. The day did not start out too well. It was an unseasonably cold March day as three of us met up with other concerned religious people at Congregation Sinai in Fox Point to take a bus to Madison. We waited and waited and the bus did not show. We still were determined to go and Nancy volunteered to drive. We found another individual to carpool with us. So, three UU’s and a Lutheran drive to Madison…..sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. But our conversation was rich, insightful, and covered many topics.
We arrived at our destination, a Lutheran church just block from the capitol, found parking, registered, and pretty soon we were all having coffee together in the church basement. First up, there was an excellent speech by a Catholic priest and professor at Marquette, who it turns out baptized one of Nancy’s children. He was an excellent speaker who rhetorically asked why we were doing this work. He gave several reasons: we are given into each other’s care, we owe it to each other to try re-integrate everyone into our community because we have a sacred covenant with each other, because of the inherent worth of each person and how a person’s dignity is not won or lost by behavior.
Next, logistics were explained and we had informational meetings about the particular issues and topics. Then we broke into groups who have the same state senators and representatives and had lunch together. Next there was a rally on the capitol steps. It was a cold walk to the capitol and then it began to snow. Did I mention it was very cold? We then headed into the capitol building. I met with my state senator, Nikiya Harris. There were so many people to see her that we had to get a larger room. People gave testimonies about how prison ruined their lives and could now not get jobs because they were felons. One woman spoke about how she grew up without parents because both were in prison. Some people talked about the long term cost saving of having more drug courts and prison alternatives. Then someone asked Senator Harris what we could do to help her get prison reform legislation passed. Her answer was simple. She was already on board, that she has three brothers that were in prison. She encouraged us to talk to the senators that opposed prison reform. I then thought of Dean and Nancy who were supposed to meet with Alberta Darling and Jim Ott.
Afterwards, I was to meet with my state representative, Evan Goyke. He was not there and about a dozen of us left a note with some literature on prison reform. He later sent me a hand written letter expressing his regrets for not being able to meet with me and let me know that he backed this particular issue.
I then went to Jim Ott’s office to try and find Nancy and Dean but only his staffer was there. Nancy and Dean not in sight, I went back to the room we planned to meet in. As it turned out they did not get to speak to Darling or Ott, just there staffers. Their staffers did listen and promised to relay the information on.
This experience had a profound impact on my ministry. While it is important to help and give to those in need, it is just as important to work on the systematic change. I found out a lot more about who represents me on the state level, how to maneuver through the capitol and the important task we all have to be a voice for the voiceless. Our voices can be louder when we work together with an interfaith group. In addition, I felt that my state representatives listened to me and they both provided ways that I could connect with them in the future. Lastly, we made a good impression on our carpool buddy. When we got back to the parking lot in Fox Point, he said to us, “I never met a Unitarian I did not like.”