Thank You Delegation - Rep. Grijalva, AZ Print
An idea to raise awareness when you have a supportive Member of Congress.

Tucson is represented by two US Congressmen. Jim Kolbe is a staunch supporter of WHINSEC. Raul Grijalva is an early cosponsor of HR 1258.

On Good Friday, April 9, a small group visited Raul at his Tucson headquarters, not — as is common with citizen delegations to legislators — to ask for something. We went instead to thank him for his co-sponsorship.

Our spokesperson, Ken Kennon, told Raul that we represented many American citizens who are grateful to him and other members of Congress for studying the issue and cosponsoring HR 1258 after determining that training offered at WHINSEC and similar facilities is inappropriate to our most cherished American values and counter-productive to any serious effort to spread democracy.

And certainly we were grateful—and representative. We were 13 adults and two children, five females and ten males, six Latinos and nine others interested in Latino issues and most, but not all, voters living in Raul’s district. Our common bond, of course, was the strong desire to “Close the SOA.” Some work directly with SOA Watch; two of three POCs from Tucson were there. Others work through, and represented that day, other non-profit agencies and/or churches and/or labor unions to stop SOA-type training and change the foreign policies it supports.

Two who had fled Guatemala in the 1980s to avoid the violence spoke of the impact on their country and themselves of this training and these policies (one had been victim of torture and later met Ken in the Sanctuary Movement). A Honduran who arrived here in the ‘90s described similar impacts in his country.

Raul listened carefully, visibly moved by the both the testimony and the fact that a delegation had come specifically to say thanks. He briefly stated his reasons for cosponsoring HR 1258. He said that for him, after researching the issue, to cosponsor HR1258 was “a no-brainer,” since it was “clearly the right thing to do.”

* * *

The event went smoothly, but getting there was not as smooth, nor was the intended outcome of getting local publicity ever realized.

Recruitment for the delegation was more difficult than I imagined (Good Friday isn’t the best of days to find people without other commitments). Frustrated by getting only 10 “for-sures” from the many people Ken and I e-mailed/called, I got lazy and turned over efforts to have press coverage to Raul’s staff. I told myself that they would be better at getting a positive response than either Ken or I. Better, probably; but not as persistent. After all, we had one event/issue to promote; a Congressional office has many.

Initially Ken had called a strategy meeting to discuss the local agenda for supporting Lobbying Days in Washington, DC. Unfortunately, the turnout was small and, it seemed to me, not heavily involved. Three of us agreed to reproduce, circulate and have signed postcards to Kolbe (a report about this effort has already been sent to SOAW). I pointed out that cards needn’t go to Grijalva, and suggested a thank you delegation of District 7 constituents and witnesses from Latin America go to his local office. This idea was adopted, but its execution was later to cause conflict.

My decision was to secure approval and an appointment with Raul before recruiting for the delegation, which I did. But another favored finding a witness to lead the delegation and “prepare” him or her before seeking a time spot. When this difference came to light, I was asked to hold off on the project until Ken, who was then out of town, returned—to referee, I guess. With time running short, the delegation already approved by Raul and an appointment made, I forged onward. Guess I got a little snotty about continuing in this direction, and the objector withdrew from the activity and ceased contact with me and, later, with Ken when he had no objection to how the delegation was being organized.

Though not a Grijalva constituent, I asked Ken to be spokesperson because of the thread between his Sanctuary involvement and his later involvement with SOA Watch. (Besides, many of Kolbe’s constituents are also grateful for Raul’s stand on this issue.) Ken agreed. I contacted a number of agencies/churches seeking contacts with possible witnesses for the group. After many days of hunt and seek, I was able to contact Sebastian Quinac, a refugee from Guatemala who is very active in several non-profits—including SOAW—seeking to change US policy toward Latin America. He agreed to be primary spokesperson for the witness group. Ken recruited two more from Guatemala. Sebastian and I attempted to recruit a woman from Salvador, but she was unable to get out of work. The student from Honduras was free because it was Good Friday.

The recommendations I’ve come away with for this type of delegation are:

  • Do get the appointment with your Congressperson first
  • Try to set a date/time that does not conflict with work/family/religious obligations

  • Do accept Congressional staff help with publicity, but keep the reins
  • Do less recruiting by e-mail (lazy again) and more by telephone/personal visit
  • Don’t get snotty with people who disagree with your methods

    Prepared by Lois Putzier, member of the SOAW Legislative Working Group from Tuscon, AZ