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To read Part 1 of this political thriller, just click on my name or this link:

http://www.dailykos.com/...


I called 20 or so Senate offices on the Monday and Tuesday prior to my trip. I explained that I would be in DC on Thursday and Friday, delivering information on electronic voting machines to as many Senate offices as possible in that time. If the senator was a sponsor or cosponsor of one of the voter-verified paper audit trail bills introduced in the 109th Congress, I asked if I could make an appointment with the appropriate aide to discuss expectations for the 110th.  Otherwise, I said I would like to be able to put the material directly into the hands of the aide responsible for the issue and take a minute to walk them through the information.  I made a point of clarifying that I had little to recommend me in terms of political clout, as I was not one of their constituents (except in Dole’s case), did not represent any organization, and was not even a Democrat/Republican.

Sometimes the person who was responsible for directing traffic to the appropriate aides apologized for not knowing who was responsible for the issue of electronic voting machines; I assured them they were not alone and explained that this was one reason for my trip...to increase awareness of the issue. When I was referred to a specific aide, I was sometimes able to speak to the aide then and there, but, in most cases, I had to leave a voice mail message. Roughly 1/3 of the aides with whom I left messages returned my call.  Of the aides with whom I was able to speak before leaving for DC, most either scheduled an appointment with me or told me to drop by any time during my visit and ask for them.

I was able to make appointments with the staff of six Senators:

Hillary Rodham Clinton (D, NY)
Tom Coburn (R, OK)
Richard Durbin (D, IL)
Elizabeth Dole (R, NC)
Dianne Feinstein (D, CA)
Jack Reed (D, RI)

My original plan was to work late finishing up my notebooks on Tuesday night and depart at a leisurely mid-morning hour on Wednesday. This would leave me with plenty of time for the 5-hour drive to DC, arriving before rush hour to check into my hotel and have a nice dinner before turning in early for a good night’s sleep. Then I would be ready to get up bright and early Thursday morning.

When one of the legislative aides returned my call early Wednesday afternoon and asked politely how I was, I laughed. "Just great for someone who was supposed to be on the road four hours ago."

Around 6:00 PM I finally threw everything "as is" into the car and headed toward DC, arriving at my hotel around 11:00 PM. I was delighted...and amazed...to discover that their business center offered free copying! Gee, did they ever live to regret that. I stayed up all night, doing more notebooks and running their toner cartridge dry as a bone. So I did indeed get an early start on Thursday morning, LOL. Bright, I’m not so sure about.

A little before 8:00 AM I loaded a bunch of notebooks into one of those big file boxes on wheels and hopped into a cab. "To the Senate!" I cried, "And make it snappy!" (OK, so I didn't really say that, but I've always wanted to.)

Coming soon, or whenever I get around to it:  Part 3, where I do what I came to do...

Originally posted to Free Spirit on Sat Apr 07, 2007 at 08:29 AM PDT.

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So now what do you think?

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55%34 votes
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| 61 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip jar...sort of (17+ / 0-)

    For someone who isn't even a Democrat, I'm surprising well set with mojo, so I'd much rather see the diary get a Rec. And I can always use a good "how to" tip on visiting elected officials.

    The Senate is the last bastion of white supremacy. --Andrew Gumbel

    by Free Spirit on Sat Apr 07, 2007 at 08:30:23 AM PDT

    •  Good stuff, Sorry (0+ / 0-)

      that I didn't see it until the recommend time had run out. So, here is a virtual cool point......

      Phil

      Every day you ask a question, you save a brain cell. What you choose to do with that brain cell is another matter.

      by pegwinn2 on Wed Apr 18, 2007 at 07:20:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Well, you have me on the edge of my seat (6+ / 0-)

    but I'm a Senate geek. Thanks to C-Span, I find I can identify almost every Senator by voice, back of head, or their mingling demeanor in the well. I don't admit any of that in public.

    Anyway, I'm looking forward to your next exciting installment.

    Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change. - Tennyson

    by bumblebums on Sat Apr 07, 2007 at 08:33:11 AM PDT

  •  You Took the Time to Go (7+ / 0-)

    That's important.

    Educating those who 'need to know' is very important.

    Thank you.

    I'm the person your mother warned you about.

    by Unique Material on Sat Apr 07, 2007 at 08:33:57 AM PDT

    •  Demystifying (8+ / 0-)

      Part of my reason for posting the story here is to demystify political activism. Ordinary citizens are too easily buffaloed into thinking they need to leave things to the experts, they will just make a fool of themselves, they will damage the cause, etc.

      I wish voters were better informed, but, in the end, we are never going to have a fully informed population. If that's your requirement for a democracy, you may as well cash it in right now.

      My position is that we don't need to be...WE are The People, and they just need to deal with that.  I think the whole meme about "informed" is often a destructive one, and not alway well-intentioned. If you are "informed," they can "reason" with you. I do try to educate myself, but...there's just too much information. So, when I'm ignorant, I'm happy to be considered ignorant. I like to think it scares them, LOL.

      The Senate is the last bastion of white supremacy. --Andrew Gumbel

      by Free Spirit on Sat Apr 07, 2007 at 08:50:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Can't wait for part 3 (4+ / 0-)

    I'm looking forward to part 3.  It's nice to see Spirit go to Washington and make a citizen's voice heard.  And some people say that a single person can't make a difference.  That is only true if you dont' try.  I hope your visit was successful!  

  •  What a great thing to do (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gogol, dadanation, Susan Something

    I went calling on congesscritters for the first time in February, and was surprised at what an easy process it really is - and how much difference citizwns can make...so far as getting information to the politicians.  They are responsible for so many decisions, there is no way they can possibly know it all - they rely so much on the people around them to be informed on the details of so many issues.

    I am really happy to hear you took the time and made the effort to contact all those offices and set appointments with so many staff members.

    Good luck - I am waitning for the next installment!

    And, great series too - the idea of demystifying the process is a great one!  It sounds so very intimidating to GO TO CONGRESS and speak to the lawmakers, but usually, you just wind up speaking with the staff.  But, being there in person is very important.

    I was told also, that a written thank you to follow up is very important too.

    •  I hope an email will do (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      dadanation, Susan Something

      I did follow up with thank you notes, but sent them via email.  Partly 'cause I'm an email kinda girl, and partly because I was repeatedly advised that security measures have made the congressional postal service very, very, very slow.

      The Senate is the last bastion of white supremacy. --Andrew Gumbel

      by Free Spirit on Sat Apr 07, 2007 at 09:55:13 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yeah - I have to admit (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        gogol, dadanation

        I went the email route too.

        And, the staffers responded!  I think email is the most efficient way to go because of the security measures.

        Plus, I hate to waste paper.

        But the folks that were training us really stressed real paper thank you notes!  

        Of course, I had to stand up for blogs too - there were those present that dismissed them right away.  I am new to the blogoshpere, but I really believe this is the place to be to reach real activists  and spread the word about a particular issue to people far and wide.  It all depends on which blog you use - I think many people equate blogs with MySpace and Facebook. Places like DKos and some of the specific issue blogs are not on their radar at all.

        Good luck - I'll need to go back to read your initial installment.  I am always happy to read about people that step away from the keyboards and take some positive action in the real world.  And then come back and inspire the rest of us!

        Now, if more of the chickenhawks would step away from their keyboards and enlist, the army would not be so short of soldiers, would it?

        •  Yes (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          dadanation

          I find it rather discouraging that people think of MySpace and Facebook...mostly silly adolescent nonsense, in my admittedly scroogey view of the world. But, there you go...we need to educate them otherwise.

          LOL...reading the latter part of your post, I could hear a Joe Friday kind of voice in my head, "Just step away from the keyboard, ma'am."  Hmmm. Not a bad title for a diary.

          The Senate is the last bastion of white supremacy. --Andrew Gumbel

          by Free Spirit on Sat Apr 07, 2007 at 12:04:57 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  thanks f.s. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dadanation

    free copying? wow. i'm in the initial stages of planning to hold a convention of student delegates in d.c. later this year. may i ask where you stayed? and did they have a ballroom?

    i appreciate your efforts. if you have time, please take a look at the information here: http://www.foavc.org

    •  Well...they did (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      gogol, dadanation, john de herrera

      I'm not sure if they are offering it any more, LOL.

      It was the Hilton Garden Inn across the river in Arlington:

      http://hiltongardeninn.hilton.com/...

      It is not a huge hotel, so it depends on the size of your group. Another bonus is that Kinko's, Staples, the Metro are all within walking distance.

      No, I don't own stock in the company. :-)  But I have made many trips to the DC area over the past 20 years, and the north end of Arlington is my favorite place to stay. That was my first time at this place (a really cheap Quality Inn down the street finally closed), and I liked it quite a bit. Stayed there again for the Peace March in January (but didn't use the copier on that trip!). Their business center also has two computers set up with internet access, which I love. I don't really like lugging my laptop along if all I'm going to do is check email (and Dkos) once or twice day.

      Seriously, if you decide to book soomething in that area, get in touch and I'll tell you what I know about the other hotels there.  My all time favorite is the Marriott, but it's more expensive.

      The Senate is the last bastion of white supremacy. --Andrew Gumbel

      by Free Spirit on Sat Apr 07, 2007 at 10:05:23 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Watching two banks merge (0+ / 0-)

    is pretty exciting, if you bank at one of them.

    I've done this three times.

    I also got excited when Verizon ate my phone company, leaving just a hollow shell.

  •  Reno 911 summed DC up nicely (0+ / 0-)

    "Liars and whores".  Of course, that would NOT include MY elected representatives, with the exception of Dianne Feinstein.

  •  ok so now i am hooked (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Susan Something

    you really do illustrate the importance of actually visiting the member and staff on the hill.  that impact can not under-rated.

    lobbying/advocating/being seen and heard -- i don't care how it is termed, the fact remains it is quintess3ential if we want to help educate and do our part in influencing the nature of the debates and discussions about issues we care deeply about.

    the truth of the matter is that it is ok to be less-than-perfect in your spiel, in your overall knowledge etc. of legislative history, etc.  heaven knows that for some of us, who did or do this kind of education/activism/advocacy work, we all make or made our share of big and little screw-ups (like calling a representative "senator" to getting int a yelling match with a particular senator over her staff who had been misrepresenting a recent funding allocation in her bill). at the end of the day, if i could look back and know that i was honest, present and did my best to tell y story, it was a good day on the hill.

    so, bring on part 3!!!!!!!

    _________________________________

    "...Repeat, the dog pisses on the gardenia at midnight. Over."...

    -8.25, -6.15

    by dadanation on Sat Apr 07, 2007 at 08:14:51 PM PDT

    •  Background (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      dadanation

      Later I wished I'd given the history on this trip in part 1 and how I came to decide to do this.  I left it out because my original approach was to just post what I had already posted to my election integrity listservs, and they already knew the history.  After posting part 1, I realized I probably needed to expand on the story more for DKos readers.  So I'll explain in this comment:

      I've been involved with this issue at the state level, where we have had more than modest success at improving the integrity of our elections. Last spring, things hit a lull here and all eyes turned to Rush Holt's bill in the House.  My own rep was one of its original cosponsors, so no point in lobbying him. But I also thought that someone should be paying attention to the Senate, since we wouldn't get from a bill to a law without their votes, too. There wasn't even a companion bill for HR 550 in the Senate.

      I'm an unaffiliated voter represented by two Republican senators. Most of the people involved in this issue are Democrats, and a lot of them don't have the most productive attitude when it comes to dealing with Republicans.  I had an unusually light schedule, it was spring, I love DC, and I have no quarrel with Republicans per se. What the heck, I thought, I'll take the bold move and go ask one my Republican senators to introduce a companion bill to HR 550.  

      I never for a moment expected them to actually do it (good thing too, LOL), but I thought the trip would be pleasant, the experience educational, and that I might at least get the issue some attention. (I dunno, but I was thinking it isn't every day that a citizen saunters in and asks a senator to introduce a companion to a bill sponsored by the other party.)

      That visit is a whole 'nother story, but, since I was basically on vacaction, I had plenty of time and broke da rules by "popping in" to the offices of several other senators while I was there, and chatting up the nice folks at the desk.  The main thing I came away with from this first visit was the idea that, in sharp contrast to the House, this issue was nowhere on anyone's radar in the Senate.

      Driving home, I tried to think of something I could do to raise awareness. As an independent, I tend to individual activism, so I didn't think in terms of rounding up a posse to charge the gates. I also have experience as a writer and editor, so my ideas often involve lots of paper, LOL. And, I dunno, but I was thinking it isn't every day that an individual citizen takes the time to compile a lot of information on a topic and drive 5 hours to DC to personally deliver it to a bunch of Senate offices.  

      My "message" was not that we need paper trails and audits, nor that I wanted them to pass a particular piece of legislation. It was simply that at least one ordinary citizen out there thinks that this issue is important enough to have invested a good chunk of her time on it.

      The Senate is the last bastion of white supremacy. --Andrew Gumbel

      by Free Spirit on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 06:55:13 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  what is very striking between the two chambers... (0+ / 0-)

        often is the degree to which the house side seems to have a grasp on more of the minutiae of the local jurisdiction wile the senate seems to be focused more on abstract or bugger hot issues.

        they made the house "the peoples house" for a reason ad i actually preferred lobbying the house since there were far more characters, far more intriguing folks and a larger audience to tray to sway or help move in the right direction.

        imho.

        one thing tat was chilling during he gingrich-hastert reign was the decided partisan nature of many of the offices, as if gingrch and hastert had made it finally acceptable for republican house members to simply not see anyone who was not of their political persuasion.  some of the offices could be quite adamant bout that, even if you represented a national non-profit, they were very stern about only wanting delegations of republican advocates/citizens...

        i hope that trend has been turned around...

        _________________________________

        "...Repeat, the dog pisses on the gardenia at midnight. Over."...

        -8.25, -6.15

        by dadanation on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 10:02:42 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Haven't tried the House (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          dadanation

          But I have wondered whether the fact that I am not affiliated with any political party, nor was I representing any activist group, had any impact on my experience.

          The Senate is the last bastion of white supremacy. --Andrew Gumbel

          by Free Spirit on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 04:42:18 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  i thin the fact that you invested thought (0+ / 0-)

            in both the "why" you were going and the "what" you would be presenting -- in a clear and objective fashion -- made a huge difference.  

            _________________________________

            "...Repeat, the dog pisses on the gardenia at midnight. Over."...

            -8.25, -6.15

            by dadanation on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 11:01:26 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Came to this diary too late (0+ / 0-)

    but I did enjoy it.

    Note to self: check my hotlist, where I've subscribed to your diaries.

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