Posted by Guest on August 01, 2017 in Blog

by Oday Yousif

Jennifer_Bellamy_BB.jpegWhen you call your member of Congress’s office and ask them to help a population of people who are living in a difficult situation, you would never think of yourself as a lobbyist. Throughout this summer, as an external intern at No One Left Behind (NOLB), I went to congressional offices weekly to advocate on behalf of Iraqi and Afghan translators who were being threatened in their home countries for helping the U.S. military. Never would I have considered the work I was doing on behalf of these individuals, that I have never met, as lobbying. However, that all changed recently thanks to a brown bag lunch.

On Friday, July 14, AAI interns had the opportunity to hear from Jennifer Bellamy, a Legislative Counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) where she focuses on criminal justice reform.

Ms. Bellamy started off her post-law school career as a judicial clerk and later served as a staffer on Capitol Hill. In this capacity, she was able to cultivate a trove of personal relationships and professional contacts that would be key to her future work. She then became a policy advisor for the international humanitarian organization World Vision where she was an advocate for strong child protection laws and a reduction in child exploitation, including the use of children as soldiers. After several years working in the international sector on child protection, she shifted her focus to domestic criminal justice reform including juvenile justice and began her career at the ACLU. Her previous experiences in domestic politics and justice reform initiatives created the background necessary to take on the critical work the ACLU does.

During her talk, Ms. Bellamy answered a series of questions from the AAI interns on topics that ranged from the current political climate to the benefits of her education path. She explained to us the range of opportunity that came with her decision to get her law degree despite not using it in the traditional sense by working as a practicing attorney.

Throughout the conversation, Ms. Bellamy consistently referred to herself as a lobbyist and her work at the ACLU as lobbying. It caught me a bit off guard because I have typically though of the ACLU as an advocacy group. I don’t think I would have ever seen it as a lobbying organization considering the negative connotations many people associate with lobbying.

Ms. Bellamy, however, explained that while there certainly exists a negative perception of the word, lobbying can encompass a wider range of tools that can be used to achieve your goal. She says that going to congressional offices, talking to staffers, making phone calls, and crafting legislation is all part of lobbying.

This idea resonated with me because one of the main things I have done this summer as an intern for No One left Behind is spend time on Capitol Hill in House and Senate offices discussing legislative priorities for the organization. I would have never considered the work I was doing as lobbying because of the types of issues we were discussing. I suspect I would have been offended if someone called me a lobbyist for the work I was putting in for NOLB and our clients. Yet Ms. Bellamy’s explanation made it clear that while there are the league of lobbyists who offer campaign contributions or other financial support during their lobbying, the ACLU and many organizations are not like that and the lobbying they do is an effective part of advocacy.

The entire conversation was certainly an eye opener for all of us. The range of speakers we’ve heard from over the summer have allowed us to see inside the many of the nooks and crannies that make up DC, from nonprofits and thinks tanks to Congressmen on Capitol Hill and the lawyers at the ACLU who lobby them.

Oday Yousif is an external intern with No One Left Behind.

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