Martin Luther King Day Message
A couple of weeks ago I was at a Chamber luncheon where Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) was the guest speaker. He talked about lobbyists and why they exist. His point was that lobbyists fill in when citizens are not active. Then he looked at me and said: “Take John Wells sitting over there. He’s been chasing me around Capitol Hill for six years now.” He recognized that I was a citizen and not a lobbyist and he indicated that is what is needed. He’s right, citizens for whatever reason are just not getting involved-or at lest not getting involved the right way.
Today we celebrate Martin Luther King Day. MLK is and should be a hero to all because he got involved and worked hard to correct injustice. The fact that we honor him shows that he took a stand for what he believed in and brought about change. He got involved!
It is easy to sit around and be bitter. The world has plenty of whiners, bitchers and moaners. Certainly MLK could have done that. Instead he stepped out to promote something that he believed in, racial justice, and helped to perfect the freedoms guaranteed by our Bill of Rights. He did not accomplish this through revolution or bomb throwing or even starting fist fights. Nor did he post poison messages on Facebook. He accomplished his goal by working hard, not giving up and being a great example for all of us. He also rejected divisiveness - instead loving his enemies and trying to bring everyone together.
Today our nation is very polarized. The 24 hour news cycle and such instantaneous communication such as e-mail, Facebook and web sites have contributed to that polarization. Everything has been reduced to a sound byte which is often usually inflammatory and often inaccurate. Too many people spend their time posting hate messages on their Facebook page. These sites take things out of context and spin the facts or sometimes even falsehoods in such a way as to place those who disagree with them in a bad light. “Occupy Democrats” is one of the worst sites although there are plenty of conservative sites that match them in both ferocity and fiction. These propaganda sites, as I call them, add nothing to the national conversation and instead increase the polarization and unfortunately fan the hate that one side of the spectrum feels for the other.
I think that MLK would shake his head in sadness if he was alive today, since we have ignored the lessons he taught us. We throw sound bytes at each other that are accusatory rather than helpful. Perhaps we should remember that MLK’s message was one of love and not hate. One of truth rather than fiction. One of togetherness rather than divisiveness. The biblical directive that “He who is without sin should throw the first stone,” is one that we have chosen to ignore if not forget.
Part of the problem is that we do talk past one another rather than talking with one another. After all, it’s easier to re-post something from the propaganda sites than to actually try to accomplish something beneficial to all. It is easier to demonize an opponent than to try to work with them. I am reminded of the conversation that often takes place among brand new military Chaplains when they report for Chaplain schools. These schools bring together Chaplains of all faiths. Normally the conversations start with “You believe!” Eventually it would become “But I believe.” Finally after some time, the conversation would become “I see, we both believe.” The search for common ground is something that MLK strived for and something that we have abandoned.
So if you wish to honor MLK, don’t just sit on your butt in front of a computer and re-post propaganda. Pick you issue. Educate yourself on both sides of the issue. Don’t reject those who disagree with you, but see if you can come to a mutual solution. Often time both parties have the same goal but they disagree on the methodology. We need to focus on the problem. Our country, and of course our government, have become too concerned with methodology at the expense of results. That stifles the innovativeness that has made our country great. The emphasis should be on solving the problem with an awareness that the problem and the solution may vary from one part of the country to another.
So get involved. You can’t change the world but you can change a little piece of it. That is what MLK did and that is why we should honor him. Put yourself at risk. Re-posting is easy. Get off your butt, spend some money and do some work. Once you have chosen your area of concern (I have chosen veterans issues) then do something about it Define your problem. Talk to people on all sides of the issue. Don’t demonize anyone but incorporate and address their concerns. Then take it to the appropriate governmental body. Be succinct. Your Senator, Member of Congress or staffer will have 15-20 minutes. Don’t keep them sitting there. Present them with a proposal in writing and give an oral overview.. Have a supplemental package with your supporting information. Address costs and offsets to pay for your bill. Use independent studies not propaganda studies. Reduce your argument to one page (that’s how Congress works, folks). Yes you are going to be hit with questions. Be prepared to answer them or better than that incorporate known questions and objections into your presentation. Don’t use power point - the offices are not set up for it. Lap briefs work best.
When I started going to Congress in 2010, I used to be greeted with a bit of wariness. As they found out that I was not a paid lobbyist, the interest level increased. Over the course of a few years we have built up a positive reputation on Capitol Hill. We shoot straight and we are not afraid to say, “I don’t know but I’ll get back with you when I find out.” When we first started we used to see an attitude of “OK what do you want.” Now it’s “Come in, sit down, we’ve heard about you guys, let’s hear what you have to say.” We visit both parties and all ideologies within that party. We do not see just Republicans or just Democrats. We do not address political ideologies. We merely state the facts and why we are pushing for a solution. Next month I will have visited every office of every Member of Congress who will see me (only one will not) and the office of every Senator. Today our organization and our goals are on the Congressional radar. I have testified before both the House and Senate Veterans Committee and know Members of Congress and Senators of both parties. I believe we are respected by both parties. We did not gain that respect by reposting from propaganda groups, but by working and respecting everyone.
That didn’t happen overnight. When I first went up there I looked around kind of dazed saying “Golleee, this is Congress.” It took a lot of work and yes a lot of my own money and the money of others who have contributed to Military-Veterans Advocacy over the last two years. So while I don’t have the hubris to compare myself with MLK, I can say I have tried to follow his principles.
So if you don’t like lobbyists, fill the gap. You cannot do that by sitting around re-posting propaganda. If you are physically able, get off your butt and go do something. If you are financially able spend a little money. Join a Committee, start a non-profit but for God’s sake work to bring us together as a nation and stop pushing us apart.
I once apologized to Senator David Vitter’s wife, Wendy, because I bugged him so much. She laughed and said not to worry he enjoys it when citizens come forward and raise their issues. I know that I was a pain in the posterior to some of these folks, but I think they liked it too. They tell me it just does not happen enough.
Do you think MLK would have been so successful if he had merely hired a lobbyist? No I Don’t think so. He had the sense to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. He didn’t sit back and dish out sound byte sized propaganda. He got involved in a productive way. Why don’t you?
John Wells is a proven leader and tirelessly works to defend the United States.