MLK Lobby Day: Making our voices heard

In late 2005, Marcy Bowers, now Director of Solid Ground’s Statewide Poverty Action Network, was hired as a Community Organizer to support their first-ever MLK Lobby Day event. Ten years later, this large gathering of people from all over Washington state is still going strong, mobilizing hundreds of people living on low incomes and their allies to come together in Olympia on MLK Day to advocate with their state senators and representatives, and to promote change during the legislative session.

Members of District 33 at Poverty Action’s Activist Space photobooth.

Members of District 33 at Poverty Action’s Activist Space photobooth.

In keeping with the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Lobby Day is scheduled on his day of honor in hopes of stimulating action for social, racial and economic justice. Since it is a legal holiday, a greater number of working adults can attend than might on a typical work day.

Lobby Day is comprised of about six hours of speeches, advocacy training, and an “Activist Space”/photobooth where people can share their stories through photos and postcard writing. In the afternoon, participants fan out on the Capitol Campus for meetings with their own district legislators. This year, roughly 200 attendees participated in 90 meetings, with about 30 of Washington’s 49 districts represented. Community Organizer Davíd Reyes scheduled these meetings in advance of the event so that participants had the chance to make their voices heard with decision makers in their home districts.

200 participants gathered at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Olympia to advocate for change during meetings with their legislators.

200 participants gathered at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Olympia to advocate for change during meetings with their legislators.

Before Lobby Day, the Poverty Action Board – comprised of a majority of people of color and people living on low incomes from all over the state – hosts listening sessions with members from across the state to establish the themes they will primarily advocate for throughout the legislative session. This year’s priorities included:

  • criminal justice reform through reduction or elimination of Legal Financial Obligations
  • a greater Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) grant
  • consumer protections against predatory lending and debt services

Lobby Day connects the public policies that shape the framework of our society and the individuals affected by it. Citizens who advocate for change on Lobby Day bring a personal face and story to the issues that most affect them – and by meeting with their lawmakers, they can see firsthand how their voice can make a significant impact, which can result in real changes. The event creates an indescribable sense of solidarity as individuals bond together as a community for the day.

Community Relations & Development Manager Roshni Sampath has been involved in Lobby Day activities for several years. Through the photographs staged in the Activist Space, she has watched families returning with their children growing older and more passionate as time passes on. Other moments captured this year are shown in the slideshow below.

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After Lobby Day, participants can continue to make their voices heard through the SPEAK project, as well as attending hearings in Olympia. It is important to not let the feeling of empowerment that Lobby Day imparts on attendees and supporters alike fade. Rather, we should build upon the energy from the legislative meetings, positive interactions and comradery between the districts to effect both immediate and long-term changes for Washington state’s low-income families and communities.

For more information about current issues, see Poverty Action’s 2015 Legislative Agenda online. And throughout the legislative session, you can stay in touch with legislative priority progress by signing up to receive their Network News, following their social media on Facebook and Twitter, or via their website.

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Days of Action, Advocacy and Accountability

Gordon McHenry, Jr. with his son Austin, MLK Day 2014

Gordon McHenry, Jr. with his son Austin, MLK Day 2014

January 15th is the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I spent the day at our Solid Ground Sand Point Housing Campus meeting with our Residential Staff as we worked to identify and problem solve barriers and challenges that constrain how we serve the 175 families who live in our housing at Sand Point. It was an intense day when we consider the lived experiences of our families and our commitment to strengthening their lives.

Yesterday, the national holiday in honor of Dr. King was a day of Action, Advocacy and Accountability. Dr. King reminds us:

So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote, I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind – it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact – I can only submit to the edict of others.”

President & CEO Gordon McHenry, Jr. (2nd from right) discusses ideas for making the strongest impact when talking to your legislators.

President & CEO Gordon McHenry, Jr. (2nd from right) discusses ideas for making the strongest impact when talking to your legislators.

We do have the right to vote, and electing responsible leaders is an important first step. Holding our leaders accountable for the laws they enact or fail to enact is action that is still needed, especially for our residents who are trapped by poverty and oppression.

This is why I was in Olympia with Solid Ground’s Statewide Poverty Action Network on MLK Lobby Day 2015. I hope during this Legislative Session, you will advocate for equity and justice, and support our advocacy efforts.

An effective way is to contact your legislators by calling the Legislative Hotline, 1.800.562.6000. Join in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Take action to advocate on behalf of our Solid Ground program participants and residents, and in doing so, help hold our electeds accountable.

Take action for meaningful change on MLK Lobby Day, 1/19/15!

Greta Carlson is a Communications Intern with Solid Ground.

People of all ages and backgrounds can have a voice in Olympia on MLK Lobby Day!

People of all ages and backgrounds can have a voice in Olympia on MLK Lobby Day!

Traveling to Olympia with the Statewide Poverty Action Network on Monday, 1/19/15 for their annual Martin Luther King Lobby Day is sure to be a powerful and enriching experience. We encourage as many people to attend as possible to help advocate for legislation that will make a positive impact on low-income families in Washington state.

MLK Lobby Day facilitates people in meeting with their lawmakers to share their stories, which promotes the protection of resources necessary for thousands of people to meet basic daily needs. 

How to register:

Visit Poverty Action’s website today to fill out our short registration form. We’ll send you a confirmation email, and you’ll be set to go!

Plan of the day:

On MLK Day, Solid Ground will provide free transportation both to and from Olympia. Shuttles will depart at 7:30am on 1/19/15 from the headquarters building (1501 N 45th St, Seattle, WA 98103) and return in the afternoon after the events have concluded. There will also be a bus available leaving from Kent and a van leaving from Yakima.

Additionally, complimentary breakfast and lunch will be served with Vegetarian & Non-Vegetarian options available. (If you have any additional dietary needs, please bring your own food along to the event.) Childcare and language interpretation services are also provided for attendees as needed. And you can engage even further with the Poverty Action team as a volunteer to help with extra support needs for the event.

How to talk to your legislators:

During the morning, Poverty Action staff will provide an engaging, in-depth 1½-hour training session for all attendees on how to talk with legislators. After practicing, attendees will be divided into small groups by your home legislative districts and head out together for meetings with your legislators. Most districts will have three, 15-minute sessions scheduled with their state representatives and support staff. These meetings have an influence on our lawmakers, and their support of policies deeply impacts our local communities.

Top talking points:

There are three main issues that Poverty Action members have identified as top legislative agenda priorities this year: 1) Legal Financial Obligation (LFO) reform, 2) a greater TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) grant, and 3) consumer protections. These major topics affect many people living on low incomes across Washington state. MLK Lobby Day is an opportunity to tell your own stories and/or advocate for others in need of change and improvements at the state legislative level.

After all of the speeches, discussions and conversations that fuel MLK Lobby Day, the Poverty Action team will follow up with attendees via email about any progress made on the issues and topics brought up during their meetings with legislators.

The Martin Luther King Day holiday is a day off for most employees and students, however we hope you’ll consider coming and joining people all across the state to ensure that people have access to the basic resources and fair policies needed to reduce poverty in Washington state. Instead of taking the day OFF, join us for a powerful day ON: In the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy, let’s take action for meaningful change!

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