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On the road- lobbying in Washington

By Joe Kilian

Representatives from MIT and other Boston-area schools travelled to Washington, D.C. last Thursday to participate in the University Lobby to End the Arms Race, sponsored by United Campuses to Prevent Nuclear War (UCAM). The MIT Disarmament Study Group (DSG) organized the lobbyists from Boston, was organized locally by the MIT Disarmament Study Group (DSG)., by Chris Linn, '87, and Julia White, '87.

Boston: Wednesday, 11:00 pm

Few, if any, in the group could be considered throwbacks to the "hippy" protesters of a generation ago. Their clothing was typical of what one wears to class. If anything, they seemed slightly more clean cut than the usual university crowd.

The only evident talismans of the political group were the slogans a few wore on their shirts and buttons: "Save the Seals - Greenpeace"; "Jews for Nuclear Disarmament"; "We are not amused"; and a "No Hunger" logo were among the messages.

We left MIT shortly after 11:00pm Wednesday. Two buses were originally scheduled to transport the delegates from MIT, Northeastern and Boston College. But less than fifty people showed up.

One man had second thoughts a few minutes after the bus took off, to the point of asking the bus driver to pull over and let him off. He reconsidered again, and decided to go after all.

Anyone trying to sleep during the first few hours of the trip had to contend with the rock music coming from the back of the bus, and several conversations going on at once. Topics ranged from refugee sanctuary legislation to the religious far right to the history of witchcraft purges. A man seated behind me politely asked if the smoke I had just begun to notice was bothering me. I considered asking him the legal status of the smoke, but lost my nerve.

When the music and conversation finally died down, I had the opportunity to find out firsthand just how worthless sleeping in a cramped, rolling, shaking environment really is.

On the road: Thursday, 6:30 am

We had one last rest stop before entering Washington, D.C. Music started blaring from the back of the bus as if part of a planned alarm system. Surprisingly conscious people began preparing for the day's lobby.

Students circulated copies of a voting record pamplet published by the Coalition for a New Foreign and Military Policy and SANEwhat is this in the bus. The pamphlet listed the record of 13 House and 15 Senate votes pertinent to either the arms race or US dealings with Central America.

Legislators received boxes or circles for each vote, depending on whether or not they agreed or disagreed with the Coalition/Sane group, respectively. This allowed one to spot at a glance just how much agreement one had with the people one was lobbying.

The record indicated a problem with the group's lobbying effort. The legislators whose opinions the group was trying to influence were already substantially in agreement with the students' positions. The lobbyists from Massachusetts were sure to have much friendlier meetings than those students from Utah, for example, would face. Legislators from Utah showed upappeared on the chart as a sea of "militaristic" marks. COME BACK HERE

7:50

A more substantial problem emerges with the group's appointment with Rep. Barneysp? Frank. While the meetings were typically scheduled for the afternoon, it was announced that the only time Rep. Frank was available was 9:15 in the morning. Even if the bus was able to make it, the group would have to do without any briefing sessions beforehand.

Washington, D.C.: Thursday, 9:00 am

We pulled into the heart of Washington, D.C. The students who were scheduled to speak with Rep. Barney Frank at 9:15 am appointment rushed off, only to miss himquestionable. The rest of the group went to the Calvary Baptist Church.

A small black and yellow fallout shelter sign adorned the outside wall, causing some comic relief for those of us who noticed it. No matter what happened, we were safe!

We were later told the church was over a century old. Not the best place, it would seem, to weather an armada of thermonuclear missiles exploding down the street.

UCAM distributed information packets and directed us to the section of pews set aside for the Massachussetts delegation.

The restroom, then full of people going through painfully abbreviated morning rituals, was also turned into a de facto dressing room as some people changed into suits and ties.

10:00

UCAM representatives presented opening comments. Esther Caplan, a member of Yale Students for Nuclear Disarmament, also spoke. Yale students were among the principle organizers of the event.

"I imagine you all have final exams and problem sets," she told us as she noted the large attendence. Over 1000 people from 150 colleges and universities were expected that day.

Caplan referred to a Newsweek article on growing conservatism among students. She read a section of the article which said that students felt "Issues such as possible nuclear war are obscure." Some students hissed in the background.

"I think Newsweek is wrong," she said. "I would say that student activism for arms control is alive and well here today.... I hope we can influence some votes.

10:30

Professional lobbyists Pat Harmen and Mike Furber gave the Massachussetts delegation advice on arguments and tactics for effective lobbying.

"What you are trying to do is make a congressman see that it is in his best interest to support the position you hold," Harmen said. Lobbyists must convince legislators they have votes behind them. "That is the bottom line," she said, "they want to get reelected."

Lobbying on four fronts

The lobbying effort was planned to focus on four legislative proposals:

O+ The Comprehensive Nuclear Weapons Freeze and Arms Reduction Act of 1985 was expected to be introduced in the House within a few days. This proposal would, according to the briefing sheet, allow Congress to "cut off funds for the testing, production and deployment of all nuclear weapons, contingent upon Soviet reciprocation."

O+ The delegation was to urge senators and congressmen to vote against "first strike" weapons, such as the MX missile, the Trident D-5 missile and the Pershing II missile. The key, according to Furber, was to fight such weapons on the budget level.

Harmen discussed problems with seeming to go against "national security" in expressing opposition to these weapons. She suggested trying to argue that elimination of such weapos would actually make us more secure. "We have to coopt the argument." Harmen said.

"We're a little worried about Kennedy and Trident II," Furber said.

O+ The students were to support legislation against nuclear testing, particularly House Joint Resolution 3, which called for the resumption of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTB) negotiations. We were to also support the Threshold Test Ban Treaty and the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty. Furber suggested to "try the CTB [with difficult legislators], which is this side of motherhood and apple pie."

O+ The lobbyists were to oppose space weapons, mainly the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). The goal was to at least get spending levels frozen to the 1984 level of $1.4 billion. Representatives Brown, Moakley, and Dicks are expected to introduce a resolution to stop all testing and deployment of space weapons, and we were to urge representatives to sponsor it.

Members of the delegation were also told to urge senators to co-sponsor a resolution introduced by Senators Kerry, Mathias, and Chafee, which would impose a moratorium on testing anti-satellite weapons in space as long as the Soviet Union reciprocated.

Harmen noted the high level of agreement we would have with the legislators and aids from Massachussetts, but maintained that it was still important that they be contacted, if only as a show of support. "It's real important for us to help our [supporters] keep their position," she said.

Furber described how lobbyists assign a legislator a number from one to five which indicates how supportive his position is. Someone who is certain to vote the desired way is given a one. Someone who's vote will always be in opposition is assigned a five. Someone whose vote can swing either way is give a three and is a professional lobbyist's principle target.

Furber said that all the Massachussetts people were "ones or twos" on the issues being lobbied that day.

Both Herman and Furber emphasized the importance of not seeming too confrontational. "You don't want to cut off the possibility of future talks," Furber said.

Furber also noted that because "the debate is swung so far to the right," it would be unrealistic to expect major gains. He gave the example of arguing that a program should receive only 1.4 billion dollars, when ones real desire is that it receive nothing at all.

One student asked Furber about the problem of becoming overly angry at the person one is talking to. "It's o.k. to be angry," he replied, "as long as you are still coherent."

12:20

Security was fairly tight as the delegation went to its first appointment. We had to walk through metal detectors and have our bags x-rayed in order to get into the plush, marble walled office building.

The meeting with Jonathan Weiner and Jim Steinberg, aides to Senators Kerry and Kennedy, was scheduled for 12:30. People spent the last few minutes determining exactly who was going to ask which question. "I wish it was an election year," one person lamented. "It seems you can do so much more in an election year."

Just outside the meeting room was a familiar sign which indicated that there was a fallout shelter on that corrider. One of the inside walls had a map of the world, broken up into vertical rectangular pieces. A quirk in the projection, and the way the pieces copied portions of each other, somehow spread the Soviet Union over a vast expanse of the wall. I found myself wondering if the interior decorators were trying to make a point.

"We're not going to disagree a lot here." Steinberg said, setting the tone for most of the discussion.

Weiner charged that the Senate was largely controlled by the president. "On a systematic basis the Senate does what the president wants, whatever the president wants," he said.

Weiner also urged that the group continue to put pressure on legislators, saying, "There is no substitute for direct political action."

Steinburg agreed with the opposition to SDI. If one is going to waste money, he argued, "at least don't waste it in a way that destabilizes the situation."

"Star Wars is Reagan's answer to the freeze," Weiner said, noting its emotional appeal to many people. "MAD is not a theory but a technological fact," he said.

When asked about Trident D-5's, both became less supportive. "D-5 is a problem," Weiner said, "but you have to set your priorities."

"Every nuclear weapon has problems," Steinberg argued. He cited weapons whose presence could not be verified by the Soviet Union for counting purposes. "D-5's are verifiable," he said. Of the weapons he thought should be actively opposed, "D-5 is not on the top of that list."

There were five such visits with Massachussetts legislators, or more commonly, their aides. Some MIT students also met with legislators and aides from their home state. Bryan R. Moser, '87, who is stepping down as chairman of the MIT Disarmament Study Group, went to speak with Senator McConnell of Kentucky. He characterized McConnell as a "very conservative young republican first term senator."

The meeting as "very disappointing," Moser said, "not because of his opinions and policies, but in the way he treated the students who came to speak with him."

The group had been originally allotted half an hour to discuss their views, he said. A few minutes into the session, however, the senator handed out copies of speeches he had made, and told the group that, "We had been preempted by a photo session," Moser said.

Representative Aspin of Wisconsin did not participate in the UCAM lobby day. MIT students, however, were able to speak to Dick Clark, one of his aides.

Rich Cowan G, presented Clark with a report put out by an MIT review panel on special laboratories in the late 1960s. The report examined MIT's relationship with Draper and Lincoln laboratories. "[Defense spending] biases the fields of study that are available at MIT," Cowan said.

He argued that defense spending also diverted the flow from non-military projects, causing a lack of good people in certain high-technology industries. "We can see the effects of this very rapidly," Cowan said.

Clark said that while there are shortages of engineers in some fields, "sooner or later the supply will catch up. I don't think you are `wasting' [manpower on defense] because people want it."

Chris Linn '87, a member of MIT's Disarmament Study Group (DSG), questioned whether any money should be spent on SDI "if [it] ... doesn't work."

"In order to make a case that you should cut off SDI funding you have to establish a case that it can't possibly work," Clark argued.

Another student commented, "Deficit spending is bringing down the entire economy."

"I don't think you can say that defense spending is the cause for the deficit," Clark said.

Moser, another member of DSG, said he opposed a system where "you need to rely on technology as a panacaea for a political problem."

A fourth student asked if Aspin would continue his support for the MX. Clark said he did not know for sure. "In Washington, we people who work for Aspin are wondering what he will do," he said.

Boston bound: Thursday, 8:00 pm

After the group spent its last few hours going out for dinner and otherwise playing tourist in Washington D.C., the bus left on the almost ten hour return trip.

Some would stay for the weekend events, most notably a rally on Saturday. One person was tempted, but balked at the thought of not having any showers for an extended period of time.

"It was very important and overall it was a very good experience," Moser said later. "By going down there, I hope we showed some of the congressmen that we exist.... We knew our stuff, and from a responsible position let them know what our positions are."

The Boston chapter of UCAM is setting up a local lobbying effort, and a National Freeze conference will be held in Kresge on May 5, according to Moser.

Photographs by Sidhu Banerjee->

"I would say that student activism for arms control is alive and well here today." - Esther Caplan

"It's o.k. to be angry, as long as you are still coherent." - Mike Furber

"We had been preempted by a photo session," - Brian Moser

"On a systematic basis the Senate does what the president wants, whatever the president wants." -Jonathan Weiner

"What you are trying to do is make a congressman see that it is in his best interest to support the position you hold." -Pat Harmen