Celebrating the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.’s commitment to advocacy, the Seattle University Center for Community Engagement took students, faculty and staff to Poverty Action Network’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Action in Olympia on Monday.
Participants rode to the Washington State Capitol in Olympia and met with community organizers and state legislative representatives to discuss issues like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), predatory payday lending, and criminal justice reform.
“The event provides an opportunity for students to see what direct advocacy looks like,” said, Graduate Assistant for Student Leadership, Leezel Ramos.
The Day of Action was not limited to the Seattle University community; participants came from all over the state. The event allowed citizens to urge their lawmakers to fight for the protection of basic needs programs and critical services, progressive revenue options and racial equality and economic justice in public policy.
Freshman Kasha Bradford Adams felt that the event was a great opportunity for students and other Seattle U community members to engage in Washington politics.
“The event was a good way to show activeness in the political sphere and taught me how to correctly speak to legislators when advocating,” Adams said.
One of the organizations discussed at the event was TAN, a federal assistance program that provides temporary cash benefits to the parents of struggling families as they are seeking employment.
Participants met with Representative Eric Pettigrew and staff from Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos and discussed issues that are currently on the legislative floor, giving them direct dialogue with the legislators to see how policy is enacted.
Attendants also had the opportunity to meet with Senator Pramila Jayapal after seeing her speak in a legislative session.
Adams thought seeing legislators in action first hand was informative.
“It was an important event to participate in because a lot of people do not know how the legislature works especially during election years,” Adams said.
The annual lobby day was held by the Statewide Poverty Action Network, an organization that hosts events year-round for volunteers to take part in.
“We are working with a partner, Poverty Action Network, whose work is very aligned with the Catholic social justice mission,” Ramos said.
Poverty Action Network is an anti-poverty coalition started in 1996 that works to reduce poverty in the state of Washington through promotion of policy and community action. The organization is committed to creating solutions that mitigate the causes of poverty in the state.
Poverty Action Network also invites its participants to share their stories about how poverty has affected their communities and individual lives. One story shared on the organization’s website is from Sandra Miller of Clarkston, WA, who went into debt after having to take out sizable loans in order to pay for back surgery.
“There were no payment plans available to me; my only choices were to pay back the loan in full or pay the interest and roll over the debt,” Miller said. “As someone who lives paycheck-to paycheck, I understand that people with low-incomes cannot afford unexpected expenses and as a result may need to use a payday lender. But, people using payday loans deserve the same protections as those using bank loans.”
Predatory payday lending, the issue Miller faced, was just one of the many topics discussed at the Day of Action event.
On the issue of criminal justice reform, the Day of Action participants also discussed legislation with a group called I Did My Time, which is a temporary job service program for ex-felons. The organization also fights and advocates for certain bills in legislature.
Ramos believes the event taught participants about what it takes to change policy, as it showed how to take concerns directly to policy makers.
“When talking about social change, the event shows how we can do that in our communities, and what that looks like from an advocacy perspective,” Ramos said.
Coinciding with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the event gave spirit to King’s mission of advocacy and also gave life to the strong sense of social justice at Seattle U.
“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an advocate for social justice,” Ramos said. “He worked with people from local government all the way to the president to enact change.”
Attendants left the event with a better understanding of how to advocate legislators to create change in policy.
“One of the things I really took out of the event was learning more about legislature,” Adams said. “It was a really rewarding experience.”
Callie may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org