When most people think about the government, they imagine the President or Congress. They imagine wealthy men and women in expensive suits walking elaborate marble halls in Washington, D.C. They imagine people and situations that are above the ordinary person. What they often don’t remember, though, is that even the representatives of our government are ordinary people too. After all, it is their job to listen to their constituents between important committee meetings and campaign fundraising.
The act of attempting to inform and influence a legislator on a particular policy issue is known as “lobbying.” Stereotypically, lobbyists are seen as shady individuals who represent major corporations in the offices of legislators. In reality, any citizen can lobby their legislator on any issue they feel passionately about. Say, for instance, that you really want clowns to have free balloons provided by the government. You can schedule a meeting with your local legislator in order to persuade them to support your cause.
As part of a lobbying course I took this Spring with Dr. Charlotte Ridge, 13 of my peers and I lobbied the Pennsylvania State Legislature on behalf of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities – an organization that promotes the interests of private colleges in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. What was our focus, you ask? Additional funding for the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA).
You see, PHEAA issues monetary grants to low-to-middle class students who perform well academically and choose to attend a private college or university. Earlier this year, Governor Wolf proposed changes to PHEAA which would make grants available to all students enrolled in online education without appropriating additional funds to support current students. As a result of a greater number of students receiving grants without extra money being put into the pool, the 496 Juniata students who get PHEAA grants would lose $1,104 in badly needed financial aid.
In order to protect our current students while also making college more readily available to online students, my peers and I asked 16 different legislators for their support in a 15 million dollar increase for PHEAA. My group, personally, spoke with Representative Rich Irvin, Senator Wayne Langerholc, Takesha Latham (a legislative assistant for Representative Kristine Howard), and Sara McCullough (a legislative assistant for Senator Timothy Kearney). All of our meetings went surprisingly well, and the general vibe of the group was that legislators supported our proposed increase.
Sitting face to face with the people who run your government is both a scary and exhilarating feeling. You’re worried that you might mess up, that you might fumble over words, or that you might not convey your position in a strong enough light. But, at the same time, you’re excited to speak about something that you’re passionate about; you’re excited to have an impact on a government that is by the people, for the people. Out of everything I have discussed in this post, I want you to take away (at least) one thing: any person can challenge the status quo – no matter how wild or how mild, how big or how small. Any person can change the world.
-Charlie Cadden ’21, Political Philosophy POE