Friday, September 17, 2010

John Hill on Advocating for Economic Justice

Did you know that The United Methodist Building is the only non-government building on Capitol Hill?  It’s right across the street from the Capitol, closer than the offices of most senators and representatives. During our time in Washington, it has been our headquarters – not just because it’s so convenient and welcoming, but because it houses the General Board of Church and Society. GBCS is the public policy and social justice agency of The United Methodist Church. Its role is to implement the Church’s Social Principles through education, witness, and advocacy.

We met with John S. Hill, Director for Economic and Environmental Justice, whose portfolio covers issues of poverty and hunger in the U.S. John left his former position after realizing that the role he played as a lobbyist on Capitol Hill required him to work for issues at odds with his own deep-seated personal beliefs. John is vibrant, energetic, and principled – we’re so fortunate to have him working for issues of social justice.

John described the approach he takes to advocacy. Some of the things that most impressed us were these:
  • Advocacy involves not just lobbying legislators, but also educating people on social policy and equipping them with actions that may transform themselves and the social systems in which they participate.
  • Staff members from all the religious groups in Washington work together to advocate for their common issues. For example, the Washington Interreligious Staff Community (WISC) is a clearinghouse of people in the DC area that work from a faith-based position on issues of social concern. They meet twice a month to share information, pool resources, invite speakers on issue of current concern, and set up joint meetings with house and senate staff members.
  • When you and I contact our legislators with an issue, the most effective method is an in-person visit, either in their Washington or their district offices. Also effective are individualized letters and e-mail messages from individuals and from those who represent a large number of the legislator’s constituents. When sending written correspondence, it’s best to send it to the legislator’s local office, since surface mail to Washington DC offices can take a very long time to clear security.  Remember to thank congresspeople for working on the issues we care about, even if the work is only behind the scenes.
When John works with groups of people, he helps move them from “mercy ministry” toward “justice ministry.” In other words, not only should we feed hungry people but we must also work to ensure that our society provides fair access to nutritious food and adequate income to afford it.

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