WILMINGTON — Nearly three-dozen Wilmington College students entered a highly charged Nation’s Capital over their spring break in mid-March as participants in the annual Washington, D.C. Spring Lobby Weekend.
The group was there for the program hosted by the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) in which college students from around the country gain insight into a topic and learn lobbying techniques — before actually lobbying their elected representatives.
This year’s subject was income inequality and its health care ramifications, which dovetailed perfectly with the intensive Capitol Hill debate on the fate of the Affordable Care Act, also known as “ObamaCare.” Their stance insisted that provisions for Medicaid be included in any healthcare legislation.
As the group lobbied their representatives, President Donald Trump and Rep. Paul Ryan, speaker of the House of Representatives, lobbied members of Congress to repeal and replace Obama Care.
Sophomore Shea Mercer recalled the political electricity that permeated the seat of the federal government. “There was a buzz in the air that everyone in D.C., including us, was there for the same thing.”
Mercer, sophomore from Columbus majoring in political science and psychology, was a student leader of WC’s contingent, along with Hannah Kockentiet, a junior from Alpha majoring in political science and criminal justice, and Emma Marks, a freshman from York, Pa., majoring in political science and agricultural communications.
Trip leader Dr. Michael Snarr, professor of political science, said Kockentiet was a co-leader of last year’s lobby trip while Marks is a veteran of the agriculture-related lobby trip last fall and Mercer helped teach those WC students that did not attend previous trips or take Snarr’s preparatory course.
“These three are all good students with an interest in political science and lobbying,” Snarr said.
He declared this one of the best years ever for the lobby trip, which featured what he described as “a critical mass of good students” and an especially hot topic. Indeed, the Spring Lobby Trip has become a signature Wilmington College hands-on learning experience.
“It’s one of the few opportunities where you can have a true hands-on experience and make a difference — and return with a good marketable skill,” Snarr said.
Marks, who secured a paid summer internship with her Congressman in Pennsylvania, believes the interaction between members of Congress and the president — concurrent with their visit — made the students feel their voice on the topic was especially important. “After hearing some of the presenters (on income inequality), I felt like I could go out and change the world,” she said.
Mercer said the issue was “really personal” as his family once relied upon Medicaid, which was an area of contention in the healthcare debate.
“So many of our students were connected to this issue,” Snarr added, noting that FCNL brought in Congressional staff members to share effective strategies for lobbying. They indicated it’s important to connect a personal story to the policy and the legislation for which they’re lobbying.
“You only have five minutes — you want to make your point,” Mercer said. “I looked for points of leverage between what my representative cares about and what I care about.”
WC students mentioned how they regularly volunteer at Sugartree Ministries’ food kitchen in Wilmington, and how an economic catastrophe like DHL pulling out of the Wilmington Airpark forced many residents to seek federal assistance.
Kockentiet said her lobbying in favor of Medicaid was on behalf of those who genuinely need these services.
“We know and care about the people who need this healthcare,” she said, noting how Snarr’s class and strategy sessions, along with FCNL’s lobbying program, “made us confident” in their lobbying abilities. “Wilmington College does an excellent job in preparing students for this experience It really comes down to talking with another person — our representative who’s there (in Congress) because we put them there.
“I think the stakes were higher this year than any other year for me,” said Kockentiet, who actively campaigned for U.S. Sen. Rob Portman’s (R-Ohio) re-election. “We had the mindset of going out and changing their minds.”
In addition to the students making individual visits to their respective Congressional representatives, Portman invited about 20 from the Ohio contingent to address the income inequality issue with his staff.
Snarr said they sent in the “A Team,” whose personal connections to the issue made for a compelling argument.
Also, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) spoke with the students and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) encouraged the WC group to stay involved while holding a photo-op with them on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
Once back at WC, the income inequality issue was still alive for the students as they checked news sources for updates on maneuvers between the president and Congress. Realizing they didn’t have the necessary Republican support required to repeal/replace, Trump and Ryan pulled the bill from a vote, thus rendering a continuation of ObamaCare as the law of the land.
The students see their fingerprints on this intriguing piece of American history.
“The experience showed me I can make a difference,” Kockentiet said. Mercer added, “To know we had a part in that …”