Citizen Lobbyist: Day Three of Elissa Cottle's Experiences in D.C.

Southwest Minneapolis resident Elissa Cottle lobbied her representatives in Congress at the beginning of April.

Editor's Note: Elissa Cottle is a Southwest Minneapolis resident who travelled to Washington D.C. as a citizen lobbyist for the group Population Connection, which lobbies on issues of overpopulation, the environment and reproductive rights. She sent Patch a diary of her experiences as a citizen lobbyist. This is the third piece.

I returned from Washington, D.C., April 5, and have been working nonstop at three part-time jobs since then. My most important paid job allows me to help support our family of four. Thank you to my great boss for allowing me time to go to Washington April 1-5.

April 4 was the third best day of my life! The first two best days were the days my two sons were born. I was in Washington to ask my representatives in the House and Senate for $1 billion from the proposed 2012 budget for contraceptive supplies (not abortion), and for prenatal and birthing care for families in Africa and India. It sounds like a lot of money. It is. But it only represents .025% of the proposed  budget, or 1/40th of 1%.

What will $1 billion buy the United States? The four Congressional staffers I met on the Hill wanted to know. I met them in the offices of Senators Klobuchar and Franken (Democrats) and House Representatives Paulsen (Republican) and Ellison (Democrat). I was able to answer their question succinctly and accurately, now that I am educated about the needs for family planning in places like Nigeria. Thanks to my sponsor, lobby group Population Connection, for the education. I told Jon Jukuri, staffer to Rep. Pausen, for example, that every minute a woman in the developing world dies in childbirth, usually by bleeding to death. As the country music song I love goes, "Look it up." Newborns often die in these terrible bloody childbirths too. The $1 billion would buy blood banks to save women's lives. It would support health care professionals, people who already live in the countries of need, to help women give birth at home, as many families prefer, or at hospitals when home births suddenly become a matter of life or death. 

I also made a pitch for affordable and accessible contraceptives (again, not abortion) needed in the U.S. Why? Because girls in this country, nearly daily, murder or abandon their newborns. Why? Because they are too frightened and ashamed to tell their parents they are pregnant or about to give birth. Look up the Oprah show about the teen mom in prison for dumping her newborn into a duffel bag, and throwing it into the bottom of a  quarry in Ohio. The bloody bag was found six months later by a deep-sea diver. House Resolution 465 in the Congressional Record, proposed by a Delaware House representative, called for the government to start keeping track of abandoned babies because, essentially, news reports are so frequent about dead or nearly dead newborns found in public toilets, trash bins or in the woods.

On my last day in Washington I was back at the lobby computer in the Churchill Hotel. The bar TV was on behind me. The CNN reporter was telling yet another story, at 4:45 p.m. Eastern time April 5, about a 4-year-old girl beaten to death in these fortunate United States. The night before, after my day on the Hill, I was having a salad and a drink, flanked by two Brits at the hotel bar. The guy on my left was in D.C. with a choir performing in our capital. The guy on my right was Lord Kevin Lumb of London, selling international investments. Washington is such a lovely and exciting place! We talked politics. When in Rome.

I just called Rep. Paulsen's offices in DC and his 3rd District office in Eden Prairie, where I work, to ask how he will be voting. His DC voice mail box was full, which makes sense to me, seeing up close the incredible schedules of people who work on Capitol Hill. But I was able to leave the message today with Margaret in his district office. She had graciously and promptly returned my message before, when I had called with a different question. 

Jukuri, Rep. Paulsen's legislative assistant, reacted how I thought any human being would react to my pitch for $1 billion for the above reasons -- with sincere concern. Jukuri and I met alone in a conference room for about the typical 15 minutes any lobbyist usually is given, in any member of Congress office. Rep. Paulsen and staff occupy 127 Cannon Building, on Independence Avenue, facing the Capitol. Jukuri thanked me for coming to his boss's office. I thanked him for his time, and hand wrote a note also thanking him and Rep. Paulsen for their hard work on behalf of our country. I wish to thank them again - it meant the world to me.

Tonight I am thinking about how easy it is, really, to be a lobbyist for an issue about which one is passionate. Make a phone call to your representative's Washington or district office. Schedule an appointment and tell the person who answers the phone you live or work in the representative's district. You'll be talking to someone like Owen Holm, from Wayzata, a young man with a nice smile at the reception desk in 127 Cannon. Thank you Mr. Holm for the warm greeting, and for your service to our country.

I am also thinking about my eldest son and my abstinence preaching through his high school years, until he became an adult and left home to pursue his career dreams. He got the message. I'm saving his toys for my grandchildren, when they arrive to parents who are ready. No pressure.


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