Wednesday, March 7, 2012


A good day in the state capital.

Lovely weather in Albany, which is a remarkable thing to say, considering what you would expect at this time of year -- temperatures well below freezing, ice and snow everywhere, cutting winds. Instead, we arrived under a flood of sunshine, and enough warmth to thaw the ground and coax the crocuses to life.

By ten this morning, the various community groups who coalesced under the banner of the Empire State Economic Security Campaign, including the members of the Hunger Action Network, of which Neighbors Together is a part, filled Westminster Presbyterian Church, within walking distance of the Capitol complex. We rehearsed our policy positions on the budget, education, employment, wages, and welfare, and we received directions for our media action and legislative appointments.

After an early bag lunch we marched to the Capitol. There, after clearing security, we formed a human chain from the Senate chamber doors down a couple flights of stairs to the governor's office, and in the manner of the Occupy movement, became a human megaphone sounding off on all the ordinary outrages against the poor of New York State. The Senate, being in session, and the governor on the premises, could not fail to hear what we had to say. And we said our peace quickly and departed before anyone could challenge our constitutional rights, for we had lawmakers to visit.

Between members of Neighbors Together and another Brooklyn soup kitchen, St. John's Bread & Life, we formed six delegations, each team with its own roster of legislator appointments. My team visited the offices of Senate minority leader John Sampson, Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, and Assemb. Vito Lopez, who chairs the Assembly housing committee. We spoke for 35 minutes to Sampson's budget analyst, about 45 minutes with one of Montgomery's policy liaisons, and for 40 minutes with Lopez himself. Each legislator received information about the policy recommendations of the Empire State Economic Security Campaign, as well as additional material from Neighbors Together regarding our members' big concerns: regulation of three-quarter housing and equal opportunity employment for ex-offenders.

Lobbying concluded by 4 p.m. Back on the bus we shared sandwiches, snacks, and water, and we were home in Brooklyn by seven in the evening.

In Albany, most interest groups ply public officials on Tuesdays because the legislature is usually in session all day on Wednesday, and it's more likely that you'll get to see a representative in person. However, the whole world swarms the Capitol on Tuesdays, meaning that those legislators, while available, are also likely to be less patient with supplicants. Whereas today, we had plenty of time to state our positions before the legislators and their staff, and they were attentive, courteous, curious about our issues, inquisitive, and even forthcoming with information about their own priorities and the realities of the political situation. I've done lobbying at the Massachusetts State House, and I never had the kind of reception from legislators and staff that we got today. This is in large part because we had appointments -- mostly I've done walk-in delegations -- but it is also because we had plenty of time. These meetings were relaxed. And because of this, the Spirit spoke through and with the good spirits in our delegation.

Our people know that only so much will be accomplished because of our once-a-year visit. We don't expect the corporate tax loopholes that deprive the state of the means to provide for the common good to close tomorrow. We don't expect a sudden surge of concern for fair wages codified into a modernized minimum wage law. The rich will share with the poor only when compelled to do so, when they concede after a struggle. But we are prepared to carry the struggle forward, step by step, day by day, from now until the coming of the kingdom, the power, and the glory. A paraphrase of Jeremiah in a hymn from my breviary jumped off the page and into my soul this morning:

Deep within their being I will implant my law; I will write it in their hearts.

And from the intercessions for evening prayer, taken from the proper of Lent, came this petition, which gleamed like gold:

Lord, guide the minds and hearts of peoples and all in public office;
--may they always seek the common good.


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