Alumnae Bulletin November 2008

Re-Engage - Black alumnae/i conference

Why lobby?

A rain-soaked walk from Wyndham brought conferees to Carpenter Library, where Anita Estell, with deadpan humor and serious passion, encouraged the audience to become "community ninjas."

Estell, a former Clinton appointee and senior advisor in the Department of Education, explained to alumnae/i how and why lobbying is a critical component of any reach for justice and social change.

"The power is with the people," she said, "but how do you keep 300 million people engaged with 525 Congressmembers? Through lobbyists."

Considered one of the top lobbyists in Washington, Estell has lead efforts to secure billions of dollars for a host of programs and organizations in support of diverse communities across the nation, including Bennett College for Women, the City of Compton and Spelman College.

"When I was on staff in the Clinton administration, I saw all these people of color coming to ask the Feds for money," she said, "and they really didn't know how to ask, how to go about it. So I decided to enter the public sphere."

As a lobbyist, Estell represents her clients' interests by interfacing with high-ranking White House officials, members of Congress and their staff. She researches, drafts and submits legislative/appropriations recommendations, colloquis, white papers, testimony, and orchestrates contacts among key politicians.

"It behooves all of us to learn how to manipulate and massage public policy in ways that make us happier," she said.

Estell explained that, apart from the judiciary system, there are at least two avenues available to everyone to shape local law and policy: the Executive Branch and Congress.

"Focusing on Congress, policy is typically shaped through authorizations and appropriations," she said. Key bills up for authorization this cycle and next include economic stimulus, infrastructure and public works, energy and green jobs, HeadStart, workforce investment and No Child Left Behind. But, according to Estell, in recent years appropriations bills have served as the key vehicles to shape policy and steer resources back home.

Prior to working with the Clinton Administration, Estell served on the House Appropriations Committee, and her portfolio included responsibility for more than $1 trillion in federal programs.

"Appropriations is huge, and not an easy thing to learn," she said.

A lobbyist can serve as a vital bridge between constituent concerns and their legislators, according to Estell, enabling individuals and coalition groups to more effectively petition their government and affect the appropriations outcomes.

"There are 32,000 lobbyists in D.C. Every industry has a lobbyist in Washington. And we are a very diverse group."

Coalition-building and cooperation among diverse groups will be key in the coming Democratic presidency and subsequent funding for social programs, Estell believes. She stressed to the alumnae/i that "American voters have to be accountable for who they elect as leaders, and they have to hold those leaders accountable.We give up way too much control to government.

"You are all leaders in your communities," Estell said to the audience. "You can't tell me you're not.Meet with your elected officials. I would recommend that everyone in this room go say ‘hi' to their senior district person."

Robin Parks