The following post originally appeared on the Justice Fellowship blog.
There’s no way anyone is going to do this.
That depressing whisper of doubt and futility kept up its nagging as I set up the email that would go out to our national list of supporters.
We were at the end of the August recess for Congress, and our team was determined to get the Second Chance Reauthorization Act moving forward.
It was a worthy goal. Chuck Colson had worked to pass the original Second Chance Act in 2008 under President Bush. Since then, tens of thousands of men, women, and youth have received mentoring, substance abuse treatment, and other types of reentry support after they are released from prisons, jails, and detention centers. Some of these faith-based services will probably be discontinued or reduced in scope if Congress doesn’t reauthorize Second Chance.
The first step was to get the bill “scheduled for mark-up,” so it could hopefully pass out of committee. (Quick civics refresher: before any bill can be voted on in the Senate or House, it comes before a smaller committee of legislators who vote on whether or not the bill is good enough for the larger body to see and vote on it. When a bill is “scheduled for mark-up,” it is put on the schedule for a vote.)
This first step was going to be a tough one. Current problems facing Congress—ISIS, immigration, a national debt running toward $18 trillion, to name a mere few— make Second Chance Reauthorization seem less urgent, and consequently, less of a priority. We needed constituents to persuade their legislators that such larger issues should not keep us from making progress on straightforward, bipartisan policies like Second Chance.
So my email was going to ask our supporters to CALL CONGRESS. For this great feat to happen in our busy society, a number of things needed to happen: one, supporters had to agree with our position on the Second Chance Reauthorization Act; two, they had to decide that the bill was important enough to warrant their time; three, they had to go to our website for instructions; four, look up their legislative district by inputting their address into a different webpage; five, cross-reference their district number with our reference guide; six, call the senator and representative, noting if their name was highlighted in our guide or not. This indicated if the legislator had already cosponsored the legislation or not.
Hence my thought as I pressed the send button: There’s no way anyone is going to do this. It’s too complicated! We’re doing all this work for nothing.
I don’t believe God was pleased with my attitude. Not much later, response emails began gleefully mocking my doubts. The first one went like this:
I contacted both of my Senators and my Congressman…. Senator Barbara Boxer’s office only has a voicemail option, so I left a message, asking for her support and co-sponsorship. Senator Feinstein’s staff actually answers the phone, and the call was positive.… [Feinstein is a] supporter, and [the staffer and I] discussed the bill briefly. On the House side, well, not as good a call as I would have hoped. Congressman Brad Sherman’s staff was a little lackluster and when I asked if the Congressman supported the bill, the staffer said that he “couldn’t speak for the Congressman.” I asked to leave a message, but I got the impression that he wasn’t really listening. Which doesn’t mean I won’t try again and hope for a better response (and a different person).
I hope this helps.
She called both of them? And her congressman? And she might call again? No Joann, thank you.
Thank you to everyone who called their legislators; you have provided much encouragement to our work. But more importantly, we received word that two more senators and one more representative have agreed to cosponsor the Second Chance Reauthorization Act since the email went out! Not only that, the bill is scheduled for mark-up in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, September 18.
If you’re wondering if your representative and senators are on the Judiciary Committee and need a nudge to support second chances, check the list here, and then make your calls using the suggested script. Make sure you mention that you know they are going to vote on it tomorrow!
In light of the response, it seems I needed my own lesson in second chances, one I was happy to learn.