When I found out that my dear friend, Sarah Richey, was going to Olympia on Lobby Day as a member of the board of New Beginnings, I thought: Brilliant! I want to know EVERYTHING about her trip. Then, I thought: Perhaps my readers will want to hear about it as well! So without further ado…
Two weeks ago, I found myself sitting across from my local State Representative, advocating on behalf of victims of domestic violence. Prior to this moment, my greatest political involvement had been mailing a ballot. I’d never set foot in our State Capitol, let alone the personal office of a legislator. But here I was, making a pitch to an elected official. How did I get here?
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to join the Board of Directors for New Beginnings, a Seattle-based non-profit with a mission “to provide shelter, advocacy and support for battered women and their children; and to change attitudes and social institutions that foster and perpetuate violence.” Sounds pretty amazing, doesn’t it? As a backdrop, my husband has worked as a King County prosecutor in the Sexual Assault Unit for the past several years, inadvertently exposing me to some of the most soul crushing accounts of violence towards women and children. For a long time, I’ve felt an urge to get involved in my own way, and New Beginnings was the perfect opportunity.
After approximately five seconds of board experience, I was invited to attend the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence Lobby Day in Olympia, held on January 31st. WSCADV is a wonderful non-profit (despite possibly the worst acronym ever) dedicated to supporting a statewide network of domestic violence programs (like New Beginnings) through lobbying and research. Each year, they are granted a specific day to schedule dozens of meetings for constituents (i.e. you and me) to meet with their state Representatives and Senators to lobby on behalf of domestic violence issues.
I’d always had the impression that you needed a special password or secret handshake to access our legislators. As it turns out, you just need to schedule an appointment with their admin. In fact, professional lobbyists will often be bumped from the schedule in favor of the average citizen. This was a pretty major “aha moment” for me. Why vent to your friends on Facebook when you can vent to the people you’ve elected?
My Lobby Day started with an early morning carpool to Olympia in our Board President’s minivan. I’m pretty sure this is how Wayne LaPierre recently travelled to Congress. We gathered at a church with over 100 attendees from around the state, including non-profit members, advocates and victims. The friendly WSCADV staffers handed us a stack of colorful fliers and directed us to sit among the church pews according to our state districts (very Hunger Games). I joined four lovely women from district 34, two from the DoVE Project on Vashon Island and two from Consejo, a counseling service for Washington state Latino communities. Along with New Beginnings, these are just three among dozens of resources for abused women in King County alone.
The next few hours were essentially a crash-course in Lobbying 101 and the key House Bills (HB) and Senate Bills (SB) related to domestic violence. Each district would have three 15 minute appointments – one State Senator and two Representatives – during which to advocate on behalf of WSCADV and share related personal stories. In some cases, we were aiming to raise our concerns to the top of a long list of worthy causes. In others, it was lobbying for specific bills to be passed. Here are the current priorities for WSCADV:
The House and Senate are in the process of creating a new budget for 2013-2015 under a $900 million dollar deficit. To add insult to injury, the state Supreme Court recently found that we are failing to adequately fund basic education by $1.4 BILLION dollars. WSCADV is lobbying to prevent inevitable cuts from impacting programs critical to domestic violence victims.
The Capital Budget makes appropriations for construction and building, including affordable homes for low-income families and individuals. WSCADV is asking for the highest possible allocation to this fund, supporting survivors of domestic violence.
Fairness in Tenant Screening Reports (HB 1529)
This bill would remove legal protection orders from future tenant screening reports, preventing landlords of questionable scruples from discriminating against domestic violence victims.
Sick and Safe Employment Leave (HB 1313)
This bill would provide paid leave to address illness, domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.
Modifying the Definition of Third Degree Rape and Indecent Liberties (HB 1108)
In the biggest “how can this be legal??”example of the day, this bill was created to remove the archaic exemption in the law that prohibits a victim’s spouse from being convicted of third degree rape; in other words, a husband is currently free to force himself upon his wife without her consent.
Implementing the Recommendations of the Powell Fatality Review Team (SB 5315)
This bill adopts the critical findings following the horrific murder of Charlie and Braden Powell, including greater consultation between Child Protective Services and law enforcement, as well as domestic violence training and consultation for CPS caseworkers.
Throughout the morning, we heard from several enthusiastic speakers, including the two professional lobbyists for WSCADV, whom I found particularly fascinating. They made an astute point that domestic violence is a completely bipartisan issue, and every legislator should feel compelled to support our cause. By lunchtime, I felt about 2000% more confident than I had mere hours before and slightly convinced I had found a new calling. I was ready to take the Capital by storm!
Fortunately, I live in a very progressive area (as if I would have it any other way) and our legislators are all incredibly supportive, often times sponsoring the bills in question. I was pleasantly surprised however, to find the atmosphere quite casual and inviting. Each legislator was genuinely engaged and appreciative of our feedback, and the majority of our time was spent thanking them for their continued support.
I had a few minutes to spare after our final appointment, so I took the opportunity to visit the Legislative Building itself (fun fact: it is the tallest self-supporting masonry dome in the United States). I’ve often thought politics was an insane career choice, but it’s hard not to feel inspired in such a majestic building. The sense of history is palpable, and the potential to lead change exhilarating.
As I looked for the exit, I rounded a corner and found myself upon the Governor’s office. My nerves spiked as I walked into the reception area. Was I allowed to enter? Did I look suspicious to the State Troopers guarding the doorway? To my relief, the receptionist welcomed me with a smile and referred me to a stack of blank comment cards. My mind went back to several facts included in our orientation fliers…
- Every 9 seconds in the US a woman is assaulted or beaten.
- Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women—more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.
- Every day in the US, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends.
- Women are nearly 6 times more likely to be shot by husbands, boyfriends, and ex-partners than murdered by male strangers.
- A woman’s chances of being killed by her abuser increase more than 7 times if he has access to a gun.
- Women in states with higher gun ownership rates are almost 5 times more likely to be murdered by a gun than women in states with lower gun ownership rates.
I wrote to Governor Inslee, imploring him to do everything in his power to prevent domestic violence and bring an end to the gun violence associated with it. Too many women are murdered each year at the hands of an abusive partner with a loaded weapon. We MUST turn these statistics around.
Lobby Day was a life changing event. For this politically concerned, yet minimally involved voter, it was the light that illuminated the path of advocacy. I CAN make a difference, and so can YOU. WSCADV welcomes volunteers, and I highly encourage all PLP readers to attend Lobby Day next year. You can even join my carpool.
Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Support the reinstatement of the Violence Against Women Act!
- Domestic violence has dropped by more than half since the Violence Against Women Act became law in 1994. With more victims coming forward, reports of abuse have also increased by 50%.
- The new bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate resolves the “blue slip” excuse House Republicans used as cover to oppose the bill last year, by removing an immigration-related provision that Senate Democrats are planning to enact later as part of immigration reform.
- There is not a single House Republican who has signed onto the House version of the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization bill in the 113th Congress.
- Women bear the brunt of domestic and sexual violence:
- In the U.S., 1 in every 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime and 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner every year.
- 85% of domestic violence victims are women.
- Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBTQ) victims experience domestic violence in 25% to 35% of relationships — about the same rate as in the general population.
- American Indians are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault crimes compared to all other races, and one in three Indian women reports having been raped during her lifetime.
- Many Senate and House Republicans both tried to exclude immigrant, Native American, and gay and lesbian victims from the Act’s full protections last year.
Call your Senators and thank them for their unwavering support of S. 47 and all victims, and ask them to continue opposing harmful amendments that diminish protections for immigrant, LGBT, and Native survivors.