Matters of conscience are relatively foreign to the everyday workings of Congress. The maxim, "Politics is the art of compromise," forms the basis for many of the decisions elected and appointed officials must make every day.
For many members of Congress, it is difficult to differentiate between the taxpayer who objects to paying taxes because of certain government policies distasteful to that person and the taxpayer whose conscience forbids participation in military force of any kind. For this reason, it is important to educate Congress about the dictates of your conscience.
Planning a Visit
One of the best ways to make a lasting impression on your legislator is to visit him or her. Though a visit to Washington may be possible for some, visits in the home district are especially effective.
- Plan your visit in advance. Know the Congressperson's voting record and position on the Peace Tax Fund Bill.
- Meet with an aide if the Congressperson is not available. In many cases, the aide recommends policies to the legislator.
- Emphasize the role of conscience in your life. Remind your lawmaker that the Peace Tax Fund Bill is a solution to a deep moral dilemma.
- Employ examples of personal experience which illustrate why the Peace Tax Fund Bill is important to you. Describe the basis of your beliefs and why this issue won't go away.
- Inform the member of Congress of other individuals or organizations in the district which have taken a stand in support of the Peace Tax Fund Bill.
- Apply conflict resolution skills. Begin the conversation with points of agreement. Commend your legislator on positions and votes with which you agree.
- Avoid an argumentative or judgmental approach. Remember that positions change only after prolonged exposure to a new idea.
- Make a specific request for co-sponsorship of the Bill.
- Leave a written summary of your position or write a follow-up letter within the next week. Contact the NCPTF office for a lobby packet of materials that you can leave with your representative's office.
- Thank your legislator for having taken the time to meet with you.
Suggestions for Groups
A delegation of conscience is an especially effective way of gaining the serious attention of your elected officials. If you can gather others to join you in lobbying efforts on behalf of the Peace Tax Fund Bill, we suggest you form a group which meets with Senators and Representatives in the home district.
Plan to approach the project as a long-term commitment. Look forward to a visit with the member(s) of Congress sometime within the next year. Give yourselves time for careful preparation.
Decide together who should make up the final delegation. Try to find people who represent a broad spectrum of those in your community who are under the weight of conscience not to fund preparations for war through the tax system. Select some individuals who can speak from personal experience about the role of conscience in their own lives. It is important to choose people who can help focus the discussion on conscience rather than on political views about current US involvement in particular regions of the world.
Make an appointment with the member of Congress during one of his or her visits to the district. Even better, the visit might take place outside the legislator's own office -- perhaps in a church, public place, or private home.
Prepare a list of the names and addresses of the members of the delegation (and perhaps affiliations, if that seems appropriate), along with a summary of the main points. This list should be given to the Congressperson at the time of the visit.
Keep the visit focused on one topic: what it means to the members of the delegation to be led by conscience. Express deep inner convictions and feelings. Let the member of Congress know the agonizing dilemma facing you as a conscientious objector: an unacceptable compromise between disobeying the laws of the land or disregarding your moral principles.
Several delegations of conscience have expanded this program into a long-term strategy. One example is the 6x6 lobbying method, which calls for a group of six people to visit their legislator six times over a 12- to 24-month period. (The size of the group and the frequency of the visits would be determined by the group, of course.) Through the persistence of such a strategy, the legislator would learn that this issue is of utmost importance.