March 21, 2007

HSLDA Restarts Congressional Action Program

By Rebekah Pizana

Congressional Action Program (CAP) lobbyists are back in full force. After the program’s three-year hiatus, Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) President Mike Smith and HSLDA Director of Federal Relations Will Estrada, reinstituted CAP earlier this year with the focus on training families to become citizen-lobbyists on Capitol Hill.

William Estrada, Director of HSLDA’s Federal Relations Department, addresses volunteers who have come for training in how to lobby legislators on behalf of homeschooling issues.

“It was exciting to see families from Virginia, Washington D.C., and the surrounding states come to participate in the restarting of CAP,” Smith said. “As a part of HSLDA, CAP gives volunteers a platform by representing HSLDA’s 80,000 members.”

On March 9, 2007, 67 participants, including children from ages 6 to 18, gathered in Patrick Henry College’s Nash Auditorium for a day of lectures and practical advice. The families traveled from Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and the District of Columbia.

“We’re laying the groundwork with you; you’re the inaugural class,” Estrada said. “We’re preparing you for 2008.”

The day began with a welcome from Smith. This was followed by several guest speakers, a message from HSLDA Chairman Mike Farris on parental rights, an update from Estrada on current federal issues, and an interactive lobbying workshop.

Ned Ryun, Generation Joshua Director, talked to CAP attendees about developing relationships on Capitol Hill. He explained that because legislators are constantly inundated with negative reports on the American home, one purpose of CAP is to present legislators with a refreshing perspective of the Christian home-educated family.

“It’s good for public relations to bring kids when lobbying,” Ryun pointed out.

Ned Ryun, Generation Joshua Director, chats with volunteer lobbyist Nada Rothgaber of Pennsylvania between sessions at the recent CAP training day.

Alison Slatter, a former congressional Legislative Assistant and Senior Policy Analyst, and Elizabeth Smith, wife of Mike Smith and an active lobbyist since 1981, discussed effective lobbying techniques. Slatter and Smith gave advice on making appointments with congressmen and practicing congressional office protocol, but emphasized that perseverance is key.

“One person can make a difference,” Smith encouraged the CAP class.

The goal of the family-oriented program is to build relationships with Congressmen and their staff. When a piece of legislation requires a response, CAP will take action through personal visits to the entire Congress or targeted committee members.

“Lobbying is eighty-percent friendship,” Slatter said. “Verbal rapport with an individual to know where they’re at is important.”

This year’s inaugural program is open to families who live within commuting distance of Washington, D.C., in order for CAP lobbyists to have direct involvement with the political process on Capitol Hill.

When HSLDA created the program in 1992, CAP families and District Coordinators from each state worked with the National Center for Home Education (NCHE)—now HSLDA’s Federal Relations Department—by lobbying through phone calls and letters. Generation Joshua, HSLDA’s lobbyist training program for young adults, was launched in 2004, phasing out the initial CAP lobbyist training program.

Due to the recent political shift in Congress and the campaign for a parental rights amendment, Farris said CAP is once again a necessity. Politically active homeschoolers and grassroots efforts will play a key role in securing the future of homeschooling, Farris explained in his 45-minute lecture.

“A well-organized minority can be effective,” Farris said. “We have prevailed when people said it was absolutely impossible to prevail.”

Caroline Jimenez, from Charlottesville, Virginia, attended the training day with her family. After Charlottesville voted overwhelmingly against the marriage amendment, Jimenez said her family saw a great need to learn to effectively communicate with their elected officials.

“We wanted to learn how to talk to our legislators and present the truth,” Jimenez said.

In previous years, CAP has advanced homeschool freedom by contributing to the defeat of mandatory teacher certification in H.R. 6 in 1994, and suspension of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1995 and national standardized testing in 1997.

“We believe that CAP will be instrumental in the next decade to help preserve and protect the fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children at the federal level,” Mike Smith said.

 Other Resources

For more information about HSLDA’s CAP program