A Week of Advocacy and Adventure in Washington, D.C.

During the first week of March, Texas YG sent two students, Sebastiane Caballes ’20 and Ariana Palomo ’21, went to Washington, D.C. as a part of the YMCA Youth Advocate Program. They learned about advocacy and how to speak about different issues with their representatives. The highlight of the week was that Caballes and Palomo attended meetings on Capitol Hill with the YMCA Texas State Alliance on National Advocacy Day and advocated on the behalf of policies that align with the YMCA’s core values.

Upon their return, both students took some time to answer a few questions about their experiences. Read on the learn more about their adventures in Washington, D.C., and be sure to ask your advisor about National Advocacy Day in the fall if you are interested in representing Texas in 2021!

What all did you do during National Advocacy Days?

SC: National Advocacy Days featured many different events and programming, the main part being advocacy on Capitol Hill of course. Ariana and I met with the offices of various senators and representatives from Texas, speaking with staffers and sometimes even the actual congressman/woman themselves. During these meetings, we would discuss the various legislative priorities Y-USA is pushing for in this session and we advocated heavily for an increase in budget for the Department of Justice’s Youth Mentorship Program(s) since this priority resonated with us the most. Outside of Capitol Hill meetings, we also took part in various civic engagement/awareness workshops as well as multiple networking events and receptions intended to connect us with Y-USA leadership. Lastly, we attended a Congressional Champions breakfast where numerous congressional members received awards for their work with youth.

AP: Everyday of National Advocacy Days was filled with a variety of events. Every night we had a workshop with Y-USA staff and the other advocates. For two of the days there we had meetings on Capitol Hill in which, with our state alliance, Sebastian and I met with congressmen/women and senators. We reached the peak of advocacy work when we advocated for our legislative priorities to our representatives. We were able to attend various networking events with members, CEOs, board members, and staff from YMCAs all across the country. In addition, we listened to a multitude of speakers such as the President of the YMCAs in the US. The last day we had a Congressional Champions breakfast where we honored various congressmen/women and senators.

What did you learn about advocacy?

SC: I learned that advocacy is all about building a connection. You can have the strongest case for a particular piece of legislation or program, but if you are unable to connect with the senator, representative, or staffer then you will get nowhere. Advocacy is all about generating investment in the issues you are passionate about and creating an environment where others feel equally as invested in those issues as well. Advocacy is more about the conversation rather than dropping millions of numbers and figures.

AP: I truly think the most important thing to know about advocacy is that people remember how you made them feel rather than what you said. When advocating, an impact story is so much more powerful than a set of statistics. This isn’t to say statistics are not important, because they are. However, someone will remember the emotional impact of your presentation more and connect on a more personal level with the policy you are advocating for. Stories make a difference because it puts things in perspective and makes it feel more real.

What was the most valuable or memorable experience you had?

SC: It would be impossible to pick a single moment from the conference. Everything from the workshops to the meetings fully immersed me in Washington, D. C. and gave me a firsthand experience at the inner workings of our democracy. My most valuable experience, however, has to be pitching our legislative priorities to Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee. Everyone talks about the “elevator pitch” and Ariana and I had to literally give our pitch in the elevator. Rep. Lee had a packed schedule from attending the Coronavirus briefing held by Vice President Pence to attending specific House Committee meetings. In the midst of all of the chaos, we walked with her through the Capitol halls, up stairs, and down elevators, presenting our priorities. Giving our “elevator pitch” to her was the most intense and empowering experience at National Advocacy Days.

AP: There was not a time while in Washington, D. C. that I did not enjoy. However, the Capitol Hill meetings were definitely one of the best experiences. Our first meeting was with Rep. Sylvia Garcia. I was extremely nervous not only because it was our first meeting, but because she is also someone I truly look up to as a former attorney and judge and now a congresswoman. The way in which she represents the Latinx community is amazing to me and meeting her was an incredible experience. When we shared our priority with her, she said that she would support it and that was an amazing feeling. After the meeting, I stayed to talk to her about a sign she had in her office that said, “Se Habla Ingles.” Everything she said in our conversation was inspiring and I greatly valued the opportunity to meet with her.

Another memory that stands out to me is that after meeting with Rep. Pete Olson, we walked with him to the Capitol because he had to go vote on the coronavirus bill. When we reached the entrance to the Capitol, instead of hurrying inside to vote (as he had only about five minutes to make it in at this point), Rep. Olson hugged both Sebastian and I, pointed to the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, and the Capitol and yelled, “Who owns that? You do!”