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

Elissa Cottle prepares to meet with her representatives.

Editor's Note: Elissa Cottle is a Southwest Minneapolis resident travelling to Washington D.C. as a citizen lobbyist for the group Population Connection, which lobbies on issues of overpopulation, the environment and reproductive rights. While her comments aren't an endorsement by Patch of her specific views on the issues, it's an interesting opportunity to hear about the experiences of a local citizen as they seek to impact government policy. She'll send Patch updates of her lobbying experiences for the next few days.
Preview, Day One.

By Elissa Cottle

It is Sunday night, after 11 p.m., in the lobby of the Churchill Hotel on Connecticut Avenue in D.C. A game is on the hotel bar TV behind me. One of my colleagues, a woman studying to be a doula and midwife, is working intently at the other computer provided for hotel guests. We share a long black marble counter, one monitor on each end, a single printer between us. After 14 hours of training by Population Connection to be an educated and persuasive lobbyist, from Friday night through Sunday morning, I am wiped out.

The most exciting news for me came at the end of the training today, when I was told by a Population Connection staffer that my request was granted to meet with House Rep. Erik Paulsen, a Republican representing the 3rd Congressional District. While I am not a 3rd District resident, I work in his district and therefore will be given a meeting in his office at 127 Cannon House at 1:30 p.m., Monday.

I asked to meet in Rep. Paulsen's office because he is assumed to be against Population Action's goal of seeing our government spend $1 billion in fiscal year 2011 for contraceptives and prenatal and birthing care for women in the developing world, which amounts to .025 percent of 2012's proposed budget. My own House Representative, Keith Ellison, already favors such a goal, and time is short on the Hill. However, PC arranged for me to have meetings in both Paulsen's and Ellison's offices, as well as in the offices of Senators Klobuchar and Franken.

I am the only Minnesota lobbyist in the group of 78 of us attending Capitol Hill Days 2011, the 13th annual event put on by Population Connection. The other citizen lobbyists come from about 10 other states, including California, Washington state, Nevada, Ohio and five New England states flanking D.C.

Last night I hit the town with lobbyists from Rhode Island and Texas, enjoying "soul food"—so-named by the outside sign—and drink, in a crowded bar and restaurant a few blocks away. The rowhouse of businesses is adorned by giant murals painted on the outside walls (see the photo taken by Jonathon Look, Jr., the Texas lobbyist). An acoustic band played on a small stage and when weren't were talking loudly about politics and our passion for healthy families on the other side of the globe. We talked favorite music (mine - the Stones, JT, and Sting to name a few). Tonight I enjoyed dinner at a Turkish restaurant with a lovely couple from New Hampshire, married 59 years. We also talked politics, not quite as loudly, but hitting the big topics—wars, weapons, walking the talk, or just plain walking where your heart beats.

Tomorrow I'll be dressed in wool gray jacket with a velvet collar, a dramatic magenta scarf for luck from Abu Dhabi from my aunt. I will thank all the representatives I visit for their hard work on behalf of our country. I do not expect to find anyone on the Hill tomorrow whose heart wouldn't break at the sight of a woman bleeding to death trying to have a baby she didn't intend to conceive. A baby from which her body was unable survive the birthing, because she couldn't afford birthing care, because her family was already large beyond its means. I just expect to find another human being on the other side of the table who will listen and be listened to by a novice lobbyist.

I believe most people can and do help themselves when life roughs them up. And sometimes life accumulates like high water, and someone else needs to jump in and grab you. Sometimes it takes a whole country to throw the rope to another country in rough water, or in blood pooling onto a dirt floor in front of a child's eyes.

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