Lobby Day at the Nation’s Capitol

IMG_2327Following an evening attending the International Justice Mission’s Annual Benefit in Washington, D.C., Sara Pomeroy and I awoke the next morning to meetings with legislative assistants to state Senators Mark Warner and Jim Webb in our nation’s capital. Our mission: to encourage our state senators to co-sponsor the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) – the largest piece of anti-human trafficking legislation in U.S. history. Sadly, the TVPRA has expired placing U.S. foreign assistance funding levels at risk. That is why it is more important than ever to encourage our state senators to co-sponsor the TVPRA. Time is running out.

We met with other fellow advocates at a Starbucks close to the Russell Senate Office Building to discuss our plan of action. We would begin each of our lobby meetings with the senators’ offices with “connection” – each of us introducing ourselves and then explaining why we cared so much about this issue of human trafficking. Because our group was made up of people of such varying backgrounds (from professionals, to students, to housewives), each of us truly had a different story to tell as to how we came to be so concerned about human trafficking.

Then the “context” aspect would be provided, where each of us took turns giving a brief overview of the issue – of the sheer magnitude of the issue worldwide and here in Virginia. We would end with the “commitment” aspect of our meeting, where we would actually ask the Senator to cosponsor the act. Here we would discuss why the TVPRA is so important – what would actually be accomplished in its passing.

Once our plan of action was determined, we first headed to Senator Webb’s office where we met with Maribel Ramos, Webb’s legislative assistant. She proved to be a woman deeply concerned with the needs of women and very attentive to everything we had to say on the issue. Ramos was honest and up front on the point that because Webb was on his way out of office, and soon to be replaced by Tim Kaine, that she really didn’t know if the senator would be willing to sign on at this point. Our question to her: what better way was there to end his time in office then to cosponsor an act that would benefit millions of human trafficking victims?

We then moved on to meet with legislative assistant to Mark Warner, Nicholas Devereux. Here we also followed through with our plan of action. Devereux, too, was very attentive. No one can deny the magnitude of the issue of human trafficking and how serious action must take place to eradicate it. He also was up front. The concerns here were who else had signed on to co-sponsor the act, what was Webb’s position on the issue and what were the concerns of the senators who had yet to sign on. Warner has always been vocal about his concerns regarding the nation’s budget (as we all should be). But the need to provide funding to stop human trafficking, which would be accomplished by the passing of the TVPRA, is a no-brainer. Look no further than the words expressed by President Obama in his speech to the nation on September 25 of this year on the issue of human trafficking (https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/09/25/remarks-president-clinton-global-initiative). I was becoming very frustrated at this point with the positions of my state senators. But we had done all we could. We ended the meeting on a positive note by thanking them for their time.

Where we stand at this point as I write this blog: we have 56 Senators who have agreed to cosponsor the TVPRA. Sadly, our Virginia state senators are not on board. We need a total of 60 senators to cosponsor the act for it to pass. What happens if it doesn’t pass? We start all over. The act will have to be reintroduced in the next Congress. How grievous it will be to see the inaction on the part of our government and our people on behalf of the men, women and children who are enslaved around the world. What we need from you, more than ever at this point, is first your prayers and second to contact your Senators and to keep contacting them to encourage them to cosponsor this act. Persistence is needed by each and every one of you at this time! Thank you. ~ Christina Nyczepir