Before “social distancing” and “flattening the curve” became commonplace terms…
Before closings and cancellations…
Before the hoarding of toilet tissue, hand sanitizer, and water bottles…
We had one last hurrah. You never know when the last time will be last, until you look back. It seems much longer than less than two weeks ago… To commemorate the completion of our “Power to Change” module, members of my spirituality group gathered on Capitol Hill. An essential part of the learning experience was for participants to hear the story of someone who has chosen to address the reality of problems and work on behalf of change. Identifying the issue that “breaks your heart or pisses you off” is insufficient. You have to resolve to do something about it.
Our first stop was the Library of Congress (now closed to the public). We explored exhibits dedicated to women who made a difference. One display honored Rosa Parks, who “want[ed] to be remembered as a person who stood up to injustice” by sitting — refusing to give up her seat on a bus. A second exhibit, “Shall Not Be Denied,” highlighted the work of suffragettes: those who fought to gain the vote for women. Group member Anne Murphy said: “We stand on their shoulders every day to enjoy the right to vote and support our democratic way of life. We all benefit tremendously from the dedication and determination that Rosa Parks and the suffragists exhibited throughout their lives and celebrated in their successes and even in their failures.”
From the Library, we headed to the Rayburn House Office Building for a meeting with Representative John Shimkus (R-IL). We were not lobbying for any particular issue; we were curious. We wanted to learn how legislation moves through the system and how to be effective advocates with Members of Congress. In these polarized, politicized times, how does faith inform decision-making? What happens when moral compass collides with party expectations or demands? What is the best way to be informed on issues and the status of legislation?
Congressman Shimkus welcomed us to his office and invited our questions. A wooden PRAY sign on his desk provided the entree for talking about faith life. He referred to his lifelong membership in the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church and his identity as a practicing Christian. Now in his 12th and final term (24 years) in Congress, Shimkus represents a 33-county district in Illinois that stretches more than 14,500 square miles. His values, shared by his constituents, have had a substantial influence on his work and how he votes.
Representative Shimkus sees service as a faith-based vocational calling — from serving in the Army, including West Point cadet, active duty Infantryman, and Reservist, and holding appointed and elected positions at the local, state, and national levels. He is proud of the work he has accomplished, especially in the environmental and energy sectors. Among his colleagues, he’s known as a recycling supporter. He anticipates that he will continue pursuing safe containment of nuclear waste in his post-Congress life.
He pointed to plaques on the wall and said that one of his proudest legislative achievements took over five years of work before finally getting signed into law. John is also co-sponsor of bills recommending Congressional Gold Medals for Army women — Hello Girls from World War I and the 6888 Postal Unit from World War 2. Because these two bills are noncontroversial, passing this legislation can move more quickly, especially if sponsors work to gather enough names and majority leadership places them on the floor for vote.
According to Shimkus, most issues are beyond the scope of one individual. Figure out your issue of concern and find a team — the organization that shares your concerns and is already working for change in a particular area. The team could be a political party or a non-profit advocacy organization. The Congressman cautioned about balancing idealism with issue viability and political reality.
Following our Capitol Hill adventure, we gathered for dinner at SINÉ Irish Pub (closed indefinitely on St. Patrick’s Day). We discussed the surprises and lessons learned — spiritual camaraderie and food for the journey — before quarantine. This too shall pass.
Thanks to John Shimkus and Anne Murphy for their service, insights, support, and friendship.
© Joan S Grey, 20 MAR 2020
IndexCardCure™: Work for change — remotely