Walking the Hill for Justice

By Amandeep Singh and Priya Kaur

Amandeep Singh is the Sikh Coalition’s Operations Intern for Summer 2009. Priya Kaur is the Sikh Coalition’s Community Organizing Intern for Summer 2009. Both are based in the New York City office.

Last week the Sikh Coalition hit the Hill in Washington, DC to meet with lawmakers in support of the Army Campaign. We met with a total of eight offices, and each one was a unique experience. In each meeting we gave the Congressional staffers some background on the case and Sikhs’ longstanding history of armed service. We asked them for their support by signing a Congressional sign on letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

We started our first day, June 3rd, by meeting with legislative aides of Representative Ed Towns (NY). Being our first meeting, we were a bit nervous, but that didn’t hinder us from having a successful meeting. Both aides were very receptive and seemed to understand how important the issue was to the Sikh community. This meeting set the momentum for the rest of our lobbying efforts.

After this meeting, we met with a staffer from New York Senator Charles Schumer’s office. Aman Sidhu, our co-counsel from McDermott, Will & Emery, attended this meeting with us and helped to explain the legal aspects of the case to Senator Schumer’s legislative aide.

Later that day we met with Emile Milne from Rep. Charles Rangel’s (NY) office. Rangel’s office was by far the most supportive and understanding of this situation and its significance as a civil rights issue (See a previous entry on Rangel’s support of immigrant rights). Being a champion of civil rights, Congressman Rangel’s staff understood the broader implications the Army’s decision is having on the Sikh community. Mr. Milne’s enthusiasm gave us full confidence that Congress members from New York and New Jersey would support our efforts.

Day two was also extremely productive. We met with four more offices: Rep. Pallone (NJ), Rep. Albio Spires (NJ), Rep. Yvette Clark (NY) and Rep. Jarrold Nadler (NY). Each office was supportive of our mission and assured us they would review the sign-on letter with the Congress member. In addition to the in-person meetings, we also dropped off packets to a number of other Congress members’ offices. Overall, it was a great day, and we felt we got the wheels turning on the Hill.

It was a great experience to get the opportunity to be a part of these legislative meetings for this historic campaign. The Coalition is in the process of planning a Federal Advocacy Day this summer where YOU can get involved too. Stay tuned for more information.

On a lighter note, here are some tips if you’re ever on the Hill:

  • Dirksen had great cafeteria food – sushi, sandwiches, burgers, dessert bar, etc. Also, not only do they recycle, they also have a separate bin for compost and use biodegradable plates, cups, and “plastic” ware!
  • The Senators have nicer offices, but the Representatives have nicer buildings.
  • Look out for familiar faces! We had an impromptu lunch with Valarie Kaur and Sharat Raju, directors of Divded We Fall, after bumping into them on Thursday and ran into tons of other community activists lobbying for immigrant rights.

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