Whenever I get asked about what I do, I typically say that I’m a lobbyist. Partly because it’s easier than saying “federal relations liaison,” and partly because I love to watch people’s reactions.
To those inside the Beltway Bubble, saying that you’re a lobbyist is just like saying that you’re a lawyer or a contractor or a legislative aid—a lobbyist is just another cog that keeps Washington life moving forward.
But outside of DC, people cringe at that word, “lobbyist.” Reactions range from mild curiosity and shock to complete and utter dismay. I think people try to picture me as a well-groomed, duplicitous salesperson, a member of DC’s most distrusted class of workers, passing money under the desks of influential legislators . . . and the image just doesn’t work.
And then they get even more confused when I add that I’m a lobbyist for Home School Legal Defense Association Action. Why on earth would an upstanding, Christian organization that works selflessly on behalf of its members have, on its payroll, a lobbyist? And, if homeschoolers just want the government to leave them alone, what, exactly, does that lobbyist do?
The answers to both questions are the same: in order to keep the government out of places it doesn’t belong, you have to have someone on Capitol Hill to keep an eye on what legislators are doing. And anyone who works with legislators—either to convince them to vote on good policies or to prevent them from passing harmful bills—is, by definition, a lobbyist.
For HSLDA Action, that person is me. For a friendly, outgoing person incapable of sitting behind a desk from 9 to 5, lobbying is the perfect job. I get paid to talk to people, to be the friendly face of homeschooling on Capitol Hill, and to prove that, yes, homeschoolers do know how to socialize. If anyone—a legislator, a bureaucrat, another lobbyist—ever has questions about what HSLDA thinks about a policy, I’m their go-to resource.
The lobbyist life does have its share of glamourous moments, even for those of us who don’t have plenty of cash to throw away (I do work for a nonprofit, after all!). There’s rarely a day on Capitol Hill that I don’t run into or meet someone you’ve probably seen on TV. But glamour sometimes comes with perils—the first time I ever saw Senator Marco Rubio, I accidentally shut an elevator door on his face. (Here’s hoping I’m the only one who remembers that incident.)
But as cool as it is to run in the same circles as our country’s most influential officials, my job is to get them to act in HSLDA’s best interests. And that involves actual work.
Sometimes, life on Capitol Hill is a frenzied blur of meetings. Meetings with other lobbyists, meetings with Congressional staff, meetings with other HSLDA folks. Meetings in fancy rooms in the Capitol, meetings in the dingy coffee shop in the basement of the Senate, or meetings that take place while walking to yet another meeting. Most of the time, these meetings are just for purpose of getting to know other people and building useful relationships.
But my favorite days are those when homeschooling is actually at risk and those meetings mean something. Not because I want anyone to try to restrict educational freedom. But because every time harmful legislation is introduced, I get to channel my inner Eowyn (I know you homeschoolers understand), unsheathe my metaphorical sword (usually in the form of article, e-lert, or strongly worded email), and go after those bad bills and the congressmember who introduced them.
It’s a strange job where, if, at the end of the day, absolutely nothing happens—no one tried to restrict freedom, liberty, or the right to wear pajamas to class—it’s a successful day. And days like those aren’t possible because of me, but because of the advocacy strength of the homeschool community and HSLDA’s long history of having a presence on Capitol Hill. And so long as HSLDA Action has a lobbyist, Washington’s lawmakers will always know that the homeschoolers are not to be messed with.