Our Advocacy Journey to DC – A Personal Reflection

Sunday March 26, 2023

By Paul Thompson

Having lobbied in DC for over 10 years with Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), getting on Amtrak to Chicago and then DC was not an unfamiliar experience. What was different for me this time was that my focus would be supporting the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act.

I was accompanied by Ken Flies, fellow Minnesota (MN) RPCV and founder of the Peace Corps Legacy Plaza in Plainview, MN. Ken was 19 when he headed for Brazil back in 1962; I was 22 wanting to “see the world” while I could and entered a training program for science teachers in Malaysia in August of 1970, three months after graduating from college. Now 50+ years later we traveled together by train to support the 62-year legacy and health of the U.S. Peace Corps, still recovering from the dramatic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic that has altered everyone’s understanding of normality.

Given that Peace Corps has traditionally been a US Government program that has received bi- partisan support through the decades, Ken and I felt that we could make the biggest impact by meeting with both our Democratic Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith in the morning, and in the afternoon of March 9th  meet with all four MN House Republican offices.

Paul and other advocates with MN Senator Amy Klobuchar

We were joined by Michelle Kimso, (RPCV Liberia and Zambia) who has roots in MN and now lives in Maryland, and Brian Foster, a farmer from Iowa who owns property in St Peter MN and knows newly elected House Rep. Brad Finstad from the 1st Congressional District in MN. As in life, who you know, and the quality of your relationships, make all the difference.

Our meetings were filled with briefly sharing our Peace Corps experience, but more importantly finding out what stood in the way from showing full support for HR 1273, the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act. Now, two weeks later, the results are in; only two of our House Reps. signed the Dear Colleague letter supporting the President’s budget request of $495 million for Peace Corps  – Angie Craig and Dean Phillips, both Democrats. None of our meetings with Republican offices produced the intended results, but we did establish valuable relationships for future meetings. The process to build political will is often slow and laborious. Of the 136 Members of Congress who signed the funding letter, only four were Republicans.

 

The process to build political will is often slow and laborious. Of the 136 Members of Congress who signed the funding letter, only four were Republicans.

 

We have work to do!!

The day after our lobby day on the Hill, members of the Shriver Circle (large donors to the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA)) met in Washington, DC for a day of presentations, feedback circles and socializing around supporting the future of post pandemic Peace Corps. As members of RPCVs for Environmental Action (RPCV4EA), Mike Roman, Kate Schachter and I attended. Mike hosted a dynamic panel discussion of youth leaders. Kate and I made an announcement about joining RPCV4EA. From the discussions throughout the day, it was clear to me that climate action was becoming a priority for NPCA.

 

From the discussions throughout the day, it was clear to me that climate action was becoming a priority for NPCA.

Maureen Orth, a major donor to the NPCA has started a program called “Never Stop Serving Challenge” with 3 focus areas: 1)Refugee support; 2) Climate action; and 3)Inspiring PC service. I will be following up with Maureen to see how RPCV4EA can assist her project.

 

 

The other important impact, especially for Ken and me as Minnesotans, was talking with Dan Baker the new President and CEO of the NPCA about Ken’s Peace Corps Legacy Plaza Project with its focus on the domestic dividend of keeping RPCVs engaged in community service after Peace Corps. We invited Dan to visit Minnesota in August of 2023 to meet with volunteers in MN and to visit the PC Legacy Plaza in Plainview MN, a tiny town in southern MN with 14 RPCVs!

Thanks for following along on our journey and thanks for sharing yours as a RPCV4EA member. We need all hands on deck to repair and restore our climate.

Please join us on Sunday April 16 for our Earth Day special event, Rostros del Rio film screening and panel discussion.

 

We need all hands on deck to repair and restore our climate.

Climate advocates in Washington, DC

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Paul Thompson (RPCV Malaysia 1971-1973) is a Board Member for RPCV4EA and MNRPCV. He is an active climate advocate with RPCV4EA and Citizens Climate Lobby.

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