Friday, May 02, 2008

Spiritual Approach To Lobbying

Or more appropriatel

Novice Approach To Lobbying
As Parent Activists Join the UTLA To Lobby the State Capitol Against Pending Budget Cuts

What did it feel like to be a Mom on The Hill?

I could talk about getting up at the crack of dawn, (actually pre-crack because at 4 in the morning it's still pitch black outside), and what it feels like to drive through LA without seeing any cars on the road. Kinda freakish actually.

I could talk about what it felt like to absorb as many names and faces and their respective committees into my brain as I tried to cram highlights of key players from a whole new universe into about 48 hours pre-flight. Brain freeze.

I could talk about what it felt like to don an expensive black suit and heels instead of my usual faded ill-fitting jeans and soccer mom clogs, the smooth black leather bag on my shoulder stuffed with a portfolio of notes and strategies, targeted State Senators and Assemblymen, and how it made me feel elevated, more grown up, and somehow more officially capable, even though I am quite the imposter in both scenarios.

I could talk about the feeling I got when I realized I had already pegged the "dog and pony show" we walked into two days before we even got there, (this being my first capitol hill experience), and the sense of victory I had when the research I stayed up collecting paid off for us since we ended up ditching the union's intended schedule and instead bushwhacked our way through the halls, knocking on doors, seizing any face time we could grab with the other side, exiting with the brilliant "leave-behind" flier my colleague created of the four of us highlighting our Herculean in-the-public-school-trenches grassroots-building efforts, our websites, our contact info, our mission, and most importantly pictures of us with our kids, because as parents-- not professional lobbyists or union agenda drivers--we were there fighting for the hundreds of thousands of kids and families we represent.

I could talk about what a relief it felt to have all my expenses paid for, for a change…airfare, shuttles, meals, everything…knowing that we would just show up and everything would be provided for us, (thank you UTLA), and that the good work we were doing, for once at least, wasn't costing us money.

And I could talk about the way I felt when surrounded with equally passionate, articulate, thoughtful peers, brilliant leaders whose work makes mine pale in comparison, where the inspired conversation flowed easily and effortlessly and I felt refreshingly smart and insightful, on par and in my element, not further along nor struggling to keep up. Where one person's insight spurred another's and on and on…like firecrackers, popcorn, little jewels exploding with light.

Lobbying up in Sacramento against pending budget cuts? Who would have ever thought I'd be here. A mom on a mission. Surrounded by equally passionate visionaries.

To say the least, it was a heady, heady experience. Quite out of body, yet we were fully in our element….making something happen where we had never gone before. Going for it assuredly, fearlessly, intelligently. And as a team. That is a high I want to stay in.

Here's the deal. The state's run out of money. We're in a budget crisis. It was put plainly to us that there will be no quick fixes this time.

As of August 1 there's no more state cash. The latest figure straight from the halls of Sacramento is that California is $20 BILLION DOLLARS IN DEBT! And the incoming tax revenues will be lower than expected. California. The 6th wealthiest economy in the world can't get its economic shit together. You know, incoming, outgoing, staying within budget, long-term planning, Economics 101.

All this to say that we've gotten ourselves between a rock and a hard place financially speaking.

California, 6th wealthiest economy in the world. California. $20 Billion dollars in debt. Governor. Calling for The Year of Education. Governor. Ready to slash $5 Billion dollars in public education funds. $500 million dollars in our district alone.

The Dems want to find income streams (progressive tax reform, fees, raise taxes, create new taxes, close tax loopholes) so they can keep funding public services, and the Reps want to be fiscally responsible, won't budge on new revenue streams, and want to slash 10% of all state-funded services across the board, (lateral cuts as opposed to prioritized cuts), of which education is a biggie.

Then there's Prop 13, about to "celebrate" its 30th anniversary, which severely limits the amount of home assessment/tax valuation which configures property taxes, therefore greatly reducing income for the state. So a million dollar home bought 10 years ago for 275K is still only taxed at 275K, thus allowing the long-term homeowner, particularly the elderly, a way to afford to stay in their homes. (Under this Prop, property values never assess at market level until time of sale or a major remodel, and this tax assessment is inheritable.) With our housing market tripling in the last decade, this is surely an important issue for state income.

Back to the Budget Cuts. Dems have a pact to not cut education. Reps have a pact to cut spending ie. public services including education, and to not raise taxes. Neither is budging from their party solidarity. We need a 2/3 majority vote.

We started our first scheduled meeting with Democratic Assemblyman Mike Feuer. Schools are his priority. His kids went to Castle Heights Elementary. He doesn't want to make cuts, but we're in a tough position, he said. It was preaching to the choir, as was to be expected. No point lobbying to the converted. So then we got out our list and kamikazed a few meetings with Reps. Gotta say, they had a point about not wanting to keep funding a broken system. I wouldn't buy a cheap product over and over if it kept failing me either, especially if I was going broke doing it. They politely listened to us. We listened to them. We saw the complexity. We at least were received. We made our points.

Back to rock and a hard place.

This is where we changed tactics. Since we were non-professionals, yet were the conduit if you will to thousands and thousands of families (never underestimate the power of being a layperson with a brain), we turned things around.

How can we help you? We can reach the people. We are part of a groundswell of grassroots activism with our own issues with the district, even with the teachers union, but nonetheless working hard to make things better in the public system. How can we work on this together? This will be where we might make some headway.

Pulling back the focus, I see the conflict: I've got something you want but am not going to give it. You want what I have but you can't get it. You want to raise taxes. I want to cut spending. You want to pay for everybody including those who can't help themselves. I want to reward those who worked hard and made their pile already, those who don't need my help not those who suck me dry.

Elevating higher, beyond the play yard politics reminiscent of a preschool toyfight, I see the game. The roles. We all have our piece. We all play our part. It gets dramatic. Billions of dollars and livelihoods and lives are at stake here. Human lives. Neighborhoods. Cities. The future of our country, our children, our teenagers, our future workforce, our future tax burden, our future economic fallout. Cycles.

And yet, it too is illusion. We are all part of the One. All creating this drama for some higher intent. If you look in a non-detached kind of way, its all ants scurrying around a picnic table fighting over crumbs. Not enough to go around. Hear me, what about me, what about this, did you think about that, don't cut that, cut this, not me, them, how can I convince you otherwise, what do you need, what have you got, what can we trade, buzz, buzz, buzz, scurry, scurry, scurry….

Old systems falling apart. Old archaic systems long outdated. And somewhere in all this, this too shall rise. This too shall elevate.

And so my take away is this. There was a special opening for the four of us to be there, myself included. We represent local change, big picture ideas, light, healing, building bridges. There's a lot to digest. It was thrilling. It was eventful. Surely this is the beginning of more to come. But I am full. I shall rest now until next steps present themselves. This is the only way I know to walk onward since I've bushwhacked far into the woods. But there's a reason I've made it this far. And I'm not alone.

Oh, and there is still a speech to write for my upcoming NYC trip. Motherhood and Social Activism: "Rocking The Public Schools."

What a blessed, incredible opportunity.

I am grateful to feel so full.

The LD 3 Parent Team:
Kelly Kane, President WPEF
Bill Ring, Dir TransParent and all-around activist
John Ayers, Uber-FOB Dad
me, founder


Unknown said...

Thanks for taking that trip, Tanya. I have to say, I felt your tactics to be very Obama-esque - very "let's remind ourselves that we have similar goals underneath all this" - and even if the representatives you met with end up approving the budget cuts, I am sure it will be with a great deal more insight and thoughtfulness because of your visit. Of course it would be great if they change their minds and get their priorities straight too. After all, since our kids have to save the world, the least we can do is prepare them for it with a proper education.

Mama 'N Me said...

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead

Congratulations on changing the world, my friend. Small steps, certainly. But you've created awareness and space for next steps.

All will be revealed. And you will continue to shine.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

This is my favorite Mother Teresa quote: "In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love."

You believe in what you are doing and bring with it great love. Greatness will come from that.