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Citizen Lobbyist Training

By Anastasiia Vorobeva
On February 2, 2017

Students who attended the training. 
Photo Courtesy of Anastasiia Vorobeva

“I came here to learn how I make my voice, my presence count” said a woman in a crowded States Room at Concord University on January 26 during the West Virginia Citizen Lobby Training. It was brought to Athens by the Concord Student Chapter of Our Children, Our Future along with the Beginners Grassroots Advocacy Class.

    The energetic audience was made of people of all ages who came to learn from local progressive organizations about legislative processes, tips on speaking with elected officials and current issues. Three main speakers - Lida Shepherd from American Friends Service Committee, Ciera Pennington from West Virginia Citizen Action Group and Rick Wilson, director of the American Friends Service Committee’s Economic Justice Project, kicked off the event by asking the audience what they hoped to learn from the training, which became the start for a very interactive event in general. The hosts asked the audience to meet someone they didn’t know, participate in role play, which included a “legislator and activist” to learn how to speak with people in power. In the end, they were to discuss the ideas they were impressed the most with.

    Ideas were spreading like a wild fire in the audience – “We need to combine peaceful protest with education,” “fear and ignorance don’t go together,” “educate instead of making people angry,” to name a few. The speakers wrote down the ideas and tied them to the material of their presentations. The speakers said, important thing to understand is that “Policies don’t work because you’re wishing on a star.” It is a hard work, but one should never give up as it is a key to success. Sometimes just one person walks into the office and drops the idea which changes the life of millions, Pennington believes. The trick is to make people see something as a problem. For example, after years of lobbying, people started to see domestic violence as a crime instead of something funny.

    The speakers also shared their knowledge on how to talk to legislators. “They are just like you and me, they are human beings,” said Pennington. Some of the recommendations she gave included coming with a well prepared team, being confident and having the research done. “Give them numbers,” she said. If the issue doesn’t concern the legislators, one should show the number of people who are concerned with it.

    Overall, everyone seemed pleased with the training. People stayed after the event to talk with the speakers and other people in the audience. Rob Ofsa, Member of Democratic Executive Committee in Mercer Country, who attended the training, thinks that “It is so wonderful to see so many people who are becoming more active getting their voices, trying to get their voices heard by legislators to try and maintain what we have gained and try not to lose it under this administration. And I believe this type of event where we are learning how to be more active is an instrument of having it actually take place.”

    Ciera Pennington, director with West Virginia Citizen Action Group and one of the speakers, says “I am very excited. It was our third training this week, and every single one of them has been unprecedented. We just see people come out in such a great energy. People are just exited to get involved, and it is just amazing to see the excitement.” She thinks that one of the most common responses to such trainings are peoples surprise to how many members of the local community want to get more involved. “Is that just the sense of knowing there are other people in the area who are progressive and care about these issues. A lot of people think West Virginians are all backwards, conservative, so on and so forth, don’t care about human rights,” Pennington says. “My biggest hope is that even if just half of the people showed up tonight would actually take the information we gave them today and take it home and go and do something about it, we can start affecting real change.”

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