Annual Washington, D.C., Spring Lobby Trip Addresses Justice in Policing

March 30, 2021

Taylor Powell-Abbinante: Spring Lobby Weekend proved to be an “eye-opening” experience

Washington, D.C., continues as the center of the federal government even during a pandemic, so one of Wilmington College’s signature hands-on learning opportunities for students also persevered this year in spite of COVID-19.

PICTURED: Zoom provided a way for 30 WC students among 500 from across the country to participate in Spring Lobby Weekend.

The College’s annual Spring Lobby Weekend to the nation’s capital was held virtually this year, March 20 through 22, with students gaining access to elected legislators and their staffs virtually instead of face-to-face on Capitol Hill. The WC contingent of 30 again constituted the largest group among the 500 students from across the nation participating in the annual event sponsored by the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

Dr. Michael Snarr, professor of political science, said that, after the 2020 event was canceled in the early weeks of the pandemic, it was important to hold Spring Lobby Weekend this year regardless of the logistics. “If we skipped another year, I feared some students might lose their enthusiasm. We didn’t want to lose our momentum,” he said about the 23rd annual event attended by WC students. “Students have come to expect this opportunity every spring, so we were determined that, ‘We will lobby!'”

He emphasized that government continues during a pandemic, so influencing elected officials must as well.

“Students need to understand that whether they lobby in person or virtually, they are still getting their message across to their elected representatives,” he said. “Your voice matters and you don’t have to be intimidated by politics or your elected officials — they are there to serve you.”

Snarr added that the 2021 theme is especially important to many students.

This year’s topic centered upon the timely issue of justice in policing and participants expressed to legislators the urgent need to end the crisis of systemic racism and militarization in policing. More than 140 congressional offices heard that message loud and clear from hundreds of college students.

Highlights included U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) breaking down the importance of the Justice in Policing Act legislation for which he is a lead sponsor and co-author, and U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, a Democrat from California’s 37th District, a co-author and lead sponsor of the House version of the proposed legislation.

While the pandemic and virtual format prevented this year’s participants from visiting favorite Washington, D.C. landmarks and meeting legislators face to face, Snarr noted the basic structure of Lobby Weekend was very similar to the traditional proceedings. There were multiple panels (via Zoom) that taught the students how to lobby and educated them on the lobby topic. Also, more was added this year for those interested in careers focused upon social justice and service.

“The students really enjoyed it — they were energized — even though it was virtual,” he added. “Also, they did a great job! We had more first-time lobbyists than veterans this year, so many didn’t know what they had missed by not actually being in Washington.

“I think we all agreed the format was effective and as good an experience as could be expected.”

Freshman participant Taylor Powell-Abbinante took the course instructed by Snarr on lobbying called Political Advocacy Practicum. He said the combination of the class and the actual Spring Lobby Weekend proved to be an “eye-opening” experience.

“It gave me new insight on how Capitol Hill runs and the process behind it, while also igniting a passion for lobbying I never knew I had,” Powell-Abbinante said, noting that this initial exposure into lobbying got him thinking about his career opportunities.

“I feel like this experience broadened my own horizon in ways I didn’t even know was possible,” added the first-year student who’s double majoring in environmental science and political science with an interest in pursuing environmental law and policy. “Through participating in Spring Lobby Weekend, I was able to see avenues of which I can take my future.”

Powell-Abbinante noted that his lobbying experience showed him how “bringing light” to major issues can be a key component of effecting change. He plans to continue participating in the Spring Lobby Weekend program during his next three years at WC.

“This is something that has allowed me to change my thought process entirely while also allowing me to become a better advocate for tackling problems that need solving,” he said.