Syria Lebanon Partnership Network offers training on how to advocate with U.S. representatives

 

Advocacy is non-partisan and focused on changing policy

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — Members of the Syria Lebanon Partnership Network met Tuesday for a one-hour virtual training session for individuals who want to join them in lobbying U.S. representatives for a reduction of economic sanctions in Syria.

“Sanctions have strangled the economy, created a humanitarian crisis, and prevented rebuilding of a nation,” said Mary Vane, a member of the network who opened the training.

Vane emphasized that the network’s advocacy is non-partisan and focused only on advocating for a change in U.S. policies.

On its fact sheet, the network summarizes some of messaging they are bringing to legislators.

“The surest path to move beyond the current suffering of the Syrian people involves a diplomatic process in which specific negotiated changes in Syrian governmental policies are met with simultaneously negotiated relief from sanctions and the provision of international financial assistance for humanitarian purposes and for rebuilding the country’s infrastructure.”

The conflict in Syria has entered its 10th year. More than 50 percent of the pre-war population has been displaced from their homes and the death toll exceeds 500,000. There is widespread destruction of infrastructure including schools, hospitals, factories, transportation systems and places of worship.

While the sanctions were created to impact the ruling class, they have instead caused the general population to struggle. Today 82% of Syria’s population is living beyond the poverty line, according to IndexMundi data. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that 1.27 million Syrians are food insecure and more than 500,000 children under five are chronically malnourished. Food prices have risen more than 200 percent in the last year.

Network messaging documents say sanctions are not the path for pursuing the goal of regime change. The Network believes removal of the current government would almost certainly be followed by a renewal of the conflict and chaos which has ravaged Syria for the last decade. Many international powers would contend for control of the country, and control could fall into the hands of groups seeking to impose even harsher rules than those in place today.

The Syria Lebanon Partnership Network is offering another advocacy training on Thursday, June 10.

“Recent media reports indicate that the Syrian government has recognized the urgent need for external financial assistance for both humanitarian relief for the people of Syria and for reconstruction. This suggests that the Assad regime could be open to negotiations. This is the surest possible path forward, to enable Syria to reclaim its rightful position among the nations of the world. We call on the United States government to engage its full energies to support this approach through diplomacy and reduce the economic sanctions as a matter of humanitarian urgency.”

After the introduction, the participants broke into discussion groups with some of the more experienced members role playing as U.S. representatives to give them an opportunity to practice what they learned. Many of the long-term members have trained with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C.

The Rev. Elmarie Parker, World Mission’s regional liaison for Syria Lebanon said while this session was focused on Syria, the creativity and wisdom shared Tuesday could benefit any group engaged in advocacy.

Some of the learnings included:
• Legislators are public servants. They want to hear what is on your mind.
• Meetings are held by Zoom in the current environment which allows the opportunity to show a broad cross-section of people.
• Keep in mind Congress generally works late Monday afternoon to Thursday in Washington, D.C. The rest of the time they are in their home districts.
• It is OK to talk with a staff person rather than the legislators themselves. Staff are often subject matter experts.
• Get the name and address of the scheduler from your local office. Be prepared to email the names of individuals who will attend and offer options for meeting times.
• If the meeting is with an elected official, be prepared for 10-minute pitch and 5-minute discussion. Staff presentations should be no more than 30 minutes.
• Send documents in advance.
• Choose a facilitator to introduce the group and the purpose of the meeting. Emphasize the breadth of geographical representation and why this issue should matter to the legislator. During the meeting, one person should take notes documenting areas of agreement and disagreement.
• Write a thank you note.

The Syria-Lebanon Partnership Network is a mission network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The Network partners with the Presbyterian Church in Syria and Lebanon and advocates for PC(USA) and U.S. policies that promote peace, justice, reconciliation and development in the region. Learn more at www.syrialebanonpn.org.

Another training is scheduled for Thursday, June 10 from 7–8 p.m. Register at http://www.syrialebanonpn.org/advocacytraining-registration.


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