The blog was authored by David Tallents, a Student Upstander for the Enough Project at the University at Buffalo.
When I attended my first Lemkin Summit in February 2019, I knew that even one or two people could make an impact if they were passionate, diligent, and committed to a cause. As an on-campus advocate and Student Upstander for the Enough Project, I had seen firsthand the progress that could be made in one’s own community. Yet even with almost a year’s experience of advocating for a “conflict-free campus” at my university, it was not until I attended the Lemkin Summit that I understood my power to affect change on a much larger scale—a national scale. After just one day lobbying for legislation on Capital Hill, I began to realize that I am not just a “student” advocate, and my influence does not end at my university’s welcome sign: I am a human rights advocate, and so long as I am present, prepared, and persistent, my influence knows no boundaries.
My lobbying experience began in the office of New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. It was my first time in a congressional office, and though I was in the company of several experienced lobbyists, I was undeniably nervous. Waiting in the office’s reception area, I read my lines over and over again, determined to present myself with passion and confidence. Yet when our meeting began, I was shocked at how comfortable I felt. Though I was lobbying the office of a United States Senator to support national legislation, the process was remarkably similar to lobbying a University administrator to support a campus-wide initiative—and I had done plenty of those. By the end of my meeting with Senator Gillibrand’s office, I felt confident that with the right amount of persistence, I could create real change no matter the stakes. I took this confidence to our group’s next meeting with Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and after that to Representative Andy Kim (NJ-D), and each meeting went better than the last. By the end of the day, I felt confident that I had secured potential relationships between the Enough Project and the offices of these congressmen and congresswomen.
With just one day of lobbying, I had directly reached the offices of two United States Senators and one Representative, and gained invaluable confidence. I was so excited from the experience that even after my group’s meetings were finished, I took the initiative to “drop by” the office of New York Representative John Katko by myself—something I would not have dreamed of doing just the day before. I soon realized that not only could I advance these issues on my own University; I could lobby for them in the capital of the world’s most powerful nation, and make a lasting difference.