Friday, May 09, 2008

Sharing the message in Washington, D.C.

Our colorful message in favor of human rights certainly attracted a lot of attention on Monday morning, near the Capital South metro station. Plenty of people who work in Congressional offices take the metro to that stop. They couldn't miss us with our signs and big banners.
OK, I know that the name of the school at Fort Benning, Georgia, is no longer "School of the Americas" or "SOA." It's the "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation" (a real mouthful). But the message is the same... close the school and get an independent commission to investigate the instructions.
A bunch of us spent much of the day on Monday on Capitol Hill. We visited the offices of House Members and Senators and we talked to foreign policy and military policy aides in those offices. It was a very interesting and educational experience. I learned about the difference between an "authorization" bill and an "appropriations" bill. All government programs have to be reauthorized each year. Hence the "authorization" bill. But that bill doesn't pay for the programs. That is done with an "appropriations" bill.
I also learned that, in each Congressional session (two years), many bills are proposed and then are sent to committee. A good number of these bills tend to languish in committee because they lack support. Support for a bill is measured in the number of co-sponsors who sign on to that particular bill. So it is necessary for people who want a bill to be passed to contact the offices of their members of Congress to ask them to co-sponsor the bill.
In the case of Rep. McGovern's bill, HR 1707, the Latin America Military Training Review Act of 2007, we are doing well with co-sponsors, but we could be doing better. If your House member is not yet a co-sponsor of HR 1707, please ask him or her to become a co-sponsor. The best ways to do that are by calling, sending a fax, or visiting the office. If your House member is a co-sponsor, please contact the office to express your thanks. Members of Congress feel much better about taking a position on an issue when they know that they have support from their constituents.

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