Earlier this month came the first “Catholic Day at the State House” in Concord. Judging from the turnout, it won’t be the last.
Groups in other states, and even a few groups in New Hampshire, have “lobby days” and advocacy workshops. This is new ground for the Diocese of Manchester. I signed up as soon as I heard about the event, and I was wondering what I’d find when I showed up.
I found a crowd. The enthusiastic response from my fellow Catholics was great to see. It was enough to make me wonder just how many people of faith statewide are waiting for someone to organize a similar day for their own faith communities. I sense untapped potential. Is this something your church or local group could develop?
The ingredients for a good day of advocacy training:
- A varied group… Gathering at the Holiday Inn down the street from the State House, the Catholic Day crowd – including Bishop Peter Libasci – filled the ballroom. I shared a table with people from four different counties. I saw people of all ages, from high school to retirement age. Students from Sunapee’s Mount Royal Academy and Manchester’s Trinity High School filled several tables. Dr. Peter Sampo of Northeast Catholic College in Warner accompanied NCC students. I saw a few legislators and activists, but most of the people in the room were grassroots Catholic voters without titles or legislative experience.
- …with a common goal. The room was full of people who wanted to learn more about how to work toward public policy consistent with Catholic teaching. The focus was clear.
- Experts who know their stuff and can stick to a schedule. We had an embarrassment of riches the other day: Bishop Libasci, the diocesan public policy director, the lobbyist for the Diocese, the current Speaker of the House – and that was even before the breakout sessions started.
- Specific legislation to target. Public policy director Meredith Cook made sure everyone knew about Catholic Citizenship News, which offers weekly updates on the wide variety of bills being tracked by the Diocese. Diocesan lobbyist Bob Dunn cited three bills in particular: HB 151, a “study committee” on end-of-life issues (passed House, coming up soon for a Senate hearing; Rep. Rowe skewered the same issue when it came up two years ago); the buffer zone repeal, HB 403 (passed House, not yet scheduled for Senate action); and SB 204 (an attempt to repeal the education tax credit; the bill was just killed by the Senate). The state budget, soon to be the only legislative game in town, came up for discussion as well.
- How-to instruction from experienced people. De-mystifying the State House was one of the best things I saw happening at Catholic Day. Where to find bills, how to testify, how to sign in without testifying, how to communicate effectively with elected officials (hint: don’t forget the value of handwritten letters and thank-yous): all the things that I take for granted were brand new to many of the people with me the other day.
- Good breakout sessions. Choosing only one out of the four was a challenge: Effective Advocacy on the Life Issues, A Dignified Death: Assisted Suicide is Not the Answer, Seeking Peace in the Middle East, and a State House tour were all on the menu.
There was no House session to observe, thanks to a recent two-day session that wiped out a backlog of bills. I wondered if that would affect the agenda. If it did, I couldn’t tell. There were no gaps in the day’s full and varied program.
Introducing New Hampshire residents to their State House, breaking down advocacy into manageable steps, listening to speakers with experience in government and practical ministries: not bad for six hours’ work. Had the House been in session, and if a hot bill like buffer zone repeal had been on the agenda, everyone attending Catholic Day could have lined the State House halls and given the reps something to think about.
There’s power in numbers, to be sure, but with proper planning, even smaller groups could put on clinics like this. Pro-life civics is a growing field.
Which breakout session did I pick? After almost three decades of going to Concord to testify or write about pro-life legislation, I had never had a formal tour of the State House. Now, I’ve had one. Worth every minute, too.
The Diocese of Manchester publishes an email newsletter on public policy issues. Sign up to receive Catholic Citizenship News at catholicnh.org/ccn.