Article 25

‘The Voice of More People’

In Uncategorized on 08/06/2012 at 12:49 pm

ImageA lobbyist for the rest of us

Interview by Janice Sevre-Duszynska

Photo by Sequoia Powers

 

NETWORK, founded in 1971 by 47 Catholic nuns, describes itself as “a progressive voice within the Catholic community that has been influencing Congress in favor of peace and justice for more than 30 years.” Sister Marge Clark, one of the Nuns On the Bus, is a member of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and a NETWORK lobbyist.

 

A25: How did you get to be a lobbyist?

Clark: I used to be in higher education, teaching teachers for about 30 years. During that time I used to bring students during Holy Week to Washington, D.C., and we would work in food pantries and homeless shelters for several days. We would visit the offices of the Friends Committee on National Legislation and Network and enter into a “faith and resistance” retreat because the whole trip was to deepen our understanding of the suffering of the poor and marginalized and how legislation affected their lives. After 15 years I got the D.C. bug. I had been “doing on the ground” with homeless shelters and meal programs in Dubuque, Portland, Oregon and Chicago and realized the need to change the systems that make food pantries and homeless shelters necessary. Some of it has to do with low wages and some of it with legislation. It became clear to me that changing the system is a necessity.

A25: What is your approach to being a lobbyist?

Clark: I see it as an extension of my work in teaching, trying to educate the staff members of Congress or senators to look differently at an issue or piece of legislation than they might otherwise not do. In order to be effective as a lobbyist, it’s important to build relationships with their office, so you go back to the office again and build a relationship of trust and respect in both directions. We work in coalitions. We work in groups with other organizations, so when I do my work on the Hill, sometimes I do it with other faith-based organizations, because we’re taking the voice of more people when we do that.

A25: The atmosphere on the Hill has been described as gridlock and polarization. Would you agree?

Clark: I think there’s a lot of gridlock right now, but I also think there are a number of members of Congress and staff members who are trying to break the gridlock and make some good decisions together.

Others are trying to talk to members of the opposite party even if they try to talk on a casual basis – not getting to the legislation. I think there are some groups trying to help, too. For example, a group of Catholics have met with one office that is interested in trying to gather Catholic staff members from both parties to talk about Catholic social-justice teaching and what it means in their life working with legislation. We’re hoping to meet with about 10 offices to begin talking with people about Catholic social-justice teaching.

A25: What has happened to us as a people that NETWORK must lobby for the poor and marginalized and now a dwindling middle class?

Clark: Some of it is that a lot of people in this country have gotten into wanting wealth. Getting wealth is a game; they don’t really need the wealth. Another is that we’ve increasingly become a consumer society. People want more and more things, and they want them cheaply. That drives down wages, drives corporations to move overseas and other things. It is basically for many situations a matter of greed; they want more and they don’t want to pay for it.

Another is that many legislators – but not all of them – bow to the people who give them the greatest contributions for their next re-election, so they foster relationships with people who are wealthy and contribute heavily to them. I think many legislators do that.

A25: Could you address the impact of military spending as part of our country’s overall budget?

Clark: The military budget eats roughly 50 percent of the discretionary budget. In the Republican budget that we’ve been fighting, it gives the Pentagon $8 billion more than they want, and we continue to support and build outdated systems; we keep producing things we don’t use. We spend more on our military than a sum of most other nations put together, and we can’t possibly need to have that much military force.

 

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