Volunteer Profile - Suhani: Making a Difference by Meeting with Members of Congress

Suhani

(Editors' note: Suhani volunteers with Stand Up San Francisco, an Indivisible group.)

How did you get involved?

Like a lot of other people, I'd been very upset after the 2016 election, and after the inauguration I participated in the Women's March. But I felt like it wasn’t enough to just go to marches—I needed to do something else. I needed to take some responsibility for what had happened in the election. So that's what led me first to the Indivisible website and the Indivisible manifesto, and then to finding a local group.  

What did you think the meetings would be like?

I was a little reluctant to go at first because there was a part of me that thought: “Will it just be an echo chamber of my dismay and disappointment?” "Will people just be talking about how upset we all are?" But it hasn't been that at all. There has been concern, but then it's been about the steps we can take. It feels reassuring to know that whatever little I can do is still far better than just sitting at home and yelling at the TV or my phone

What kind of actions did you take?

One of the first things I did was just show up at a Member of Congress meeting—the first one was with Nancy Pelosi's office. What happens is the group has a leader who comes in with a set of a pre-written action points developed by the policy team. First we introduce ourselves and meet the staff members. Then we go through our main issues or concerns, and then we open it up to the rest of the group. And I really found it interesting and instructive to watch how the staff responded to the different questions.

What’s been surprising about meeting with Members of Congress?

I was surprised to learn, during a meeting with Dianne Feinstein's office, that she hadn't been getting a lot of calls on DACA.  A staff member said Senator Feinstein looks at the call logs regularly, and if you are concerned about this issue, they need to know—and they need to know regularly—because she will keep checking the logs, and that's how she will decide whether or not to press on the issue.

Do you think you’ve had any impact?

Working with Feinstein. I do believe we've had an impact. Feinstein believes so much in the power of government for good that I don't think, two years ago, she would ever have voted for a government shutdown.  But she did, and she was also, according to her staff, really upset when the Democrats caved in and voted to reopen it. For her it was like, what did we do that for? I don't think even maybe a year ago you could've gotten Feinstein to agree to a government shutdown, but I think she's seen what her constituents want and where they're going.

What difference has being involved made in your life?

Until I joined in and actually started going to meetings, I was the kind of person who just stewed over things I would see or read and didn’t do anything about them. I came to a point where I began to feel that it wasn't good for my state of mind to be upset without having any outlet for it, without having any groups to go to where I could talk to people, see what's going on, and see progress. Now I feel more connected to the process and to government, and that anger that I had, the dismay that I had, is a lot more channeled into a process that involves thinking about what I can do and what impact I can have.

What happens at Stand Up San Francisco meetings?

There’s always an agenda and different topics that they're going to cover. They sometimes have a speaker as well. Then towards the end, the meeting opens up for questions or comments. So the main pressing issues are always taken care of in the beginning. Also, we have had social gatherings, including a backyard get together near the meeting location and a lunch at a member’s home, which gave me a chance to get to know members better.

What do you get out of the meetings?

 They are a good way to see what else people are doing, to find out about issues that might be really pressing for that week, and, again, to be reminded that there are other likeminded people in San Francisco who are working toward very similar goals. I don't leave upset—I leave thinking that I'll do what I can do.

Why do you think more people aren’t involved?

I think some people may be concerned that getting involved would mean having to do something every single day. That it would mean giving your weekends to go register voters.  Some people may not want to call strangers or go up to strangers and talk to them. I can understand that; I know I'm reluctant to go into Republican districts and talk to people because I don't want to get into an argument. But the great thing about Stand Up San Francisco, and I think other groups as well, is that you can carve out areas where you can do something that dovetails with your regular work schedule and your life commitments.

What about people who don't want to go to the Members of Congress meetings because they don't feel like they're policy experts?

You don't have to be an expert on policy. The action items are prepared by the policy team, which is a couple of individuals. They spend a lot of time dissecting the news from various outlets and publications, examining substantive policy and legislative issues, and reviewing statements made by the members of Congress themselves.  

How was your experience different than you imagined?

I thought I would go to a couple of meetings, meet other people, and see what members of Congress have to say. And then I would go back to just, you know, working and stewing. But it surprises me that a year later I'm still involved and that a lot of other people are still involved. And it surprises me that I feel more hopeful just seeing that there's this collective energy and recognizing that a lot of the people who've gotten involved were never really involved before.

Learn about volunteer opportunities at Stand Up San Francisco.