April 2017 – My Day on the Hill
I had the pleasure of traveling to DC recently for Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP) Advocacy Day thanks to the support of CRT. Not only was this my first trip to DC, but also my first experience in lobbying.
Tuesday was our big day! We started out early with the ALLMEP staff meeting, reviewing our schedule for the day. They helped us to understand what to expect and how to prepare for our day of lobbying. We were split into groups of 5 – each organization had one representative per group. This way we covered more ground and each organization could have multiple contacts depending on where each group was scheduled to meet representatives. I was very fortunate as my group, led by Avi, had all our meetings in the Senate! This meant we didn’t have to walk all over DC but stayed in one location to meet with our contacts. My group met with:
- David Kinzler, Professional Staff Member – Senate Foreign Relations Committee
- Afreen Akhter, National Security and Foreign Policy Advisor – Office of Senator Chris Van Hollen
- Christopher Barr, Legislative and Research Assistant -Senate Foreign Relations Committee
- Jake Gutman – Office of Senator Cory Booker
- Louis Reckford, Legislative Correspondent – Office of Senator Jeff Merkley
In each of the meetings, we were given the opportunity to provide a brief overview of our organizations; I shared how CRT was a direct recipient of theUSAID funding and described the support given to the Young Women’s Parliament. It was a pleasure to spend the day with my group and hear all the great things that are taking place in our sister organizations in the US and the Middle East. Each person we met with seemed genuinely supportive of our efforts and extended their gratitude for our time there. I felt energized by the day as I learned how important it is to share our story. We all have something to communicate and it’s so important to be heard.
Our day ended with a meeting of all the groups at the Department of State with Deputy Assistant Secretary, Michael Ratney. He gave encouraging words of support and said that he felt our involvement was important and he appreciated our time and efforts.
Overall, I am hopeful that in Fiscal Year 2017 Congress will continue critical USAID grant funding for People-to-People Reconciliation Programs in the Middle East. I’m so happy to have been a part of this movement. I encourage anyone who has never been part of the lobbying process to reach out and spread your wings! Great things happen when we least expect it. – Betsy Howard
January 2017 – Re-framing
In many ways, we as individuals and as a nation have been accosted by those who would tear away the ideals of social justice and citizen protections granted by our government. Understandably, our first response is to react with outrage, anger, and hatred. However, this response, though understandable, is not ideal. Meeting hatred with hatred only leads to a painful downward spiral for all involved. I don’t mean to say that we should not stand up against injustice, in fact, we MUST oppose it at every turn. I’m suggesting that this opposition must come from a place of compassion within ourselves. A place that does not demonize the “other”, but sees them as individuals who are acting to protect their family, a way of life, or their own self-interests; as individuals who are so fearful that they do not fully realize (or perhaps care) about the ramifications of their actions. Very few people have enough self-awareness to recognize their own immorality, every Hitler, Stalin, mass-murder sees themselves as decent people who are trying to simply protect and preserve their own status quo. I think every one of us can think of a time where we have done something hurtful to another and justified it by claiming some sort of family or self-preservation. Today, I’m inviting you to reframe these acts of violence and injustice we are witnessing each day, as acts of fear, self-preservation, and confusion so that we may respond with a perspective that allows us to remain whole. That allows us to listen and find meaningful solutions that alleviate the suffering – for all of us. – Anna Lewis
Just yesterday I was in the supermarket trying to decide which rotisserie chicken I would take home for dinner. An elderly couple was there too. The older woman said to her partner, “I can’t decide, you choose”. The fellow picked one and put in the cart, and the woman said, “oh don’t get that one!” Obligingly he took his selection out of the cart and choose another, and the woman said “Really? You’re picking that one?”
At this point, being the nosey busybody that I am, I said to the woman “time-out that’s just not fair, if you don’t want to pick it out yourself at least tell the poor guy what the parameters are; should he pick the biggest, cheapest, or brownest one?” Surprisingly, they didn’t tell me to take a flying leap, but rather smiled at me and then at each other and the woman said, “OK, let’s try this again…”
As I walked away, I realized in many ways I was exactly like that woman. I say I want to be happy, I want world peace but then if events don’t happen ‘just so’ I might say – no that’s not it! I forget to give myself the parameters regarding what those ideals mean. It’s almost impossible to create happiness for ourselves or others without some guiding principles about what happiness or peace is; what do those words really mean to us? Does happiness mean everyone is always joyful, is peace an eternal state of non-conflict? It takes thoughtful work to come up with clear ideas about what our values mean and how we can go about attaining them. To move from wishful thinking to reality we need to create frameworks for peace. So let’s make a pledge today. Let’s identify 3 characteristics of peace that makes sense to us, so when we experience them we can all say “Yes that’s it – that’s what I wanted!” – Anna Lewis
In the Arab town of Furedis in Israel-Palestine, I had the pleasure of re-connecting with a long time friend and amazing woman, Iptisam Mahameed. She is an Arab Israeli who is actively involved in women’s right’s issues, peace building, and local village politics. She also works with Jewish and Muslim women to build understanding and connection. It’s a common sight to see Iptisam closely woven into the fabric of her community as a local mover and shaker. One thing that is not so common to see in Furedis are Israeli Jews – the towns in the area are pretty strongly segregated.
On this particular day, however, Jewish Israelis were wandering through the markets of Furedis, and Iptisam’s role was expanded a bit out of the norm. On this Iptisam was meeting with a group of Israeli Jews lovely autumn day in Furedis from Tel Aviv to give a cooking lesson. Somehow, “Ipti” had met a chef from Tel Aviv and invited him and a group of his “foodie” restaurant clients to Furedis for a food extravaganza! This was the first time most if not all of these Israelis had been in an Arab village, let alone shopped in an Arab market. Later, at Iptisam’s home, they watched closely, with concentration and growing interest as Iptisam put together an incredible feast. Tasks like chopping and stirring were doled out freely. Gradually, everyone got involved and in anticipation of the meal to come stomachs began to growl, and mouths watered.
Here were Muslims and Jews meeting and mingling, getting to know each other and most of all, absolutely bonding over the shared meal to come. Iptisam cooked an incredible fish stew in an outdoor propane fueled wok-like pot – fish heads bobbing in the fragrant broth. The table was absolutely loaded with authentic home-style Arab food of every sort. It was a sight to see Ipti and the chef, heads together and speaking passionately in the shared language of cooking and food. This was a fascinating and delicious experience on so many levels. We can connect over art, music, language, children, but in my opinion, food is right up there at the top of the list of ways we can be together and one that should happen more often! – Robin Saenger
Just the other day I was watching the movie “Home”, which describes the impact we humans have made on our home; planet Earth. It made me cry, to see how we have in so many ways unthinkingly disrupted the balance of the natural world. When I am faced with overwhelming destruction, wrong-doing, or just ignorance my first reaction is to freeze, hide, or simply curl up and go to sleep. It’s too much, the damage is too extensive, and the problem is too big. As I allow myself to consider what impact I, one person out of 7 billion could possibly make to change or alter the course of what appears to be inevitable, whether it’s regarding nature, gun violence, the poor, or peace in our world, I remember one thing. We are all interconnected. Though we may believe we are isolated, there is no act or non-action that does not in some way impact another. In science, we know that the motion of one atom, transfers energy to another and is passed along in an ever widening radius; open a perfume bottle in an auditorium and eventually that perfume will permeate the entire hall. Even though our noses may not be instruments precise enough to discern the perfume in the back of the hall, we know, due to the nature of air that the fragrance has made the journey to the back row. In the same way we all impact the world around us, when we choose acts of peace, kindness, and love over those of hate and despair we make a difference. These differences may not be discernible at great distances, and the repercussions may be subtle but the impact is real. So let’s unwind from the fetal position and try to save the world one loving act at a time. – Anna Lewis