By Maryfran Troha
I felt courageous as I showed up at the parking lot of Most Blessed Trinity Church and stepped onto a Springfield-bound bus to participate in the Illinois Environmental Council’s annual Lobby Day. I, of course, had written letters, signed petitions and made telephone calls—as active citizens in a democracy are supposed to do. I had even had one-on-one meetings in local officials’ constituent offices. However, I had never gone to our state capital to meet with lawmakers.
Boarding that bus, I had not a clue what I was supposed to do to advocate for the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill. Needless to say, I did not want to make a fool of myself or come home without making contact with any elected officials.
Fortunately, wonderful lobbying pros on the bus gave us a really good rundown during the four-hour trip. They gave us a map of the Capitol building showing the locations of our reps’ offices. They also suggested we write letters to our senators because senators do not come out of session to meet with constituents.
As our bus pulled up alongside a long string of buses near the Capitol, I stepped into the bright sunshine to find myself among hundreds of neophyte activists.
Divided into groups according to which senators represented us, we marched up the Capitol steps, passed through security and gazed around a massively crowded rotunda. My sense of confidence grew as my group, led by the Sierra Club’s Alex Morgan, wove through droves in colorful T-shirts representing our cause and many other causes and dodged awestruck hordes of eighth graders on school trips.
We climbed many flights of stairs to Senator Terry Link’s office. One by one, we presented our letters to the aide at the reception desk. The aide smiled politely and offered regrets that the senator could not meet with us. This was a crowded affair since senators in adjacent offices were receiving delegations from various environmental groups.
I started feeling a little panicky. How would we pull Representative Rita Mayfield out of the House session? Fortunately, Alex knew the ropes. He explained that we’d go to “the rail” to meet a page, who’d take our lobbyist cards to the member. Then we’d wait in a long corridor, hoping Representative Mayfield would be able to meet with us. Imagine all the advocacy groups smashed into one 8′ by 20′ space. Really? Yes, really!
We lounged along the walls watching representatives dash out to meet with individuals in smart suits as well as people like us in T-shirts representing different issues. After a wait, Representative Mayfield bustled into the corridor, smiling and appearing pleased to see us. She took our literature, listened to our message and kindly posed with us for a photograph to show the folks back home. This crazy meeting in a packed corridor was actually democracy in action!
It was awesome to be part of an impressive show of strength for an important cause and to connect with my elected officials in a powerful way. It truly was grassroots activism. I urge others to “board the bus” at the very next opportunity.
Maryfran Troha, a lifelong resident of Waukegan, Illinois, represents Christ Church of Waukegan in the Clean Power Lake County coalition. She has been involved in the Clean Power campaign for almost two years.