Thursday, May 11, 2006


Meeting with Rep. Maloney's staff

Jay Ackroyd and I met with Minna Elias, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney's NY Chief of Staff, this afternoon. Maloney is a Democrat representing the New York 14th. Coming away from the meeting I cannot imagine a more heartening conversation for a constituent to have with a staffer. My hope is that our talk with Minna evolves into the normal expectation for constituents of the Roots Project to have going into meetings with aides and elected officials.

We began the meeting by introducing how The Roots Project was no more than a collection of concerned citizens who came together through the blogs Crooks & Liars, firedoglake, and Unclaimed Territory. Though we scheduled the meeting to talk about net neutrality, we first spoke about our support for Maloney's consistent defense of contraceptive and reproductive rights. Maloney was featured in last weekend's Sunday Times Magazine.

In July, a group of Democrats in Congress, led by Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York, sent the first of four letters to the president asking outright: "Mr. President, do you support the right to use contraception?" According to Representative Maloney's office, the White House has still not responded.
We thought it would be a positive way to start our conversation on a subject Maloney has shown real leadership on. It's critically important to not just show up in congressional offices when we're upset with an officials actions, but to give positive feedback on the good work pols are doing on our behalf.

Our discussion with Minna on net neutrality was incredibly productive. Jay gave a straightforward technical explanation of what the issues at hand are and I tried to provide perspective on who would be hurt most by the demise of the free internet: working families, small businesses, non-profits, charities, grassroots organizers, and bloggers. It was clear from the beginning that we were talking with someone who readily agreed with the importance of our concerns and had already spent a lot of time thinking about the issue of net neutrality.

Minna raised two additional concerns about the loss of net neutrality that we had not addressed.

First, our representatives in Congress wouldn't necessarily have the money to pay for the sort of websites they now maintain. Minna specifically said, "Carolyn likes to be a resource" for her constituents. Maloney, like many representatives, want to be able to preserve her website as that resource for her constituents and anyone interested in the work she's doing.

Second, congressional staffs do a preponderance of their research online. Any high fees to access sites will hinder the ability for legislators to do the sort of research they need to do to succeed at their job. A restricted internet could seriously hamper the underlying research efforts that support legislation.

The bottom line outcome from our meeting is that we learned that Rep. Maloney supports net neutrality. The biggest factor that will determine how Maloney acts on the Markey bill will be the feedback she receives from her constituency. Minna said that their office has gotten more calls about net neutrality than any issue since the start of the Iraq war.The awareness that Maloney's office now has is entirely derivative of the high volume of calls they've already received on this issue. If we keep calling, we'll probably get the results we want to see.

Here's Maloney's contact information.

Washington Office
Congresswoman Maloney
2331 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515-3214
202.225.7944 phone
202.225.4709 fax

Manhattan Office
Congresswoman Maloney
1651 3rd Avenue Suite 311
New York, NY 10128-3679
212-860-0606 phone
212-860-0704 fax

Queens Office
Congresswoman Maloney
28-11 Astoria Blvd.
Astoria, NY 11102-1933
718-932-1804 phone
718-932-1805 fax

The last point I'd make is to pass along some strategic advice Minna offered us. She thinks the Republican leadership is just as concerned about being vulnerable on this issue. She thinks we have the power to really push them and if the Republicans hear from the people, they'll pull back from legislation that would only benefit the telecom industry. I'm not sure if I have faith that the GOP will choose popularity with voters over the interests of their corporate base, but it'd be great to see.

As I said above, I hope that our meeting with Minna Elias becomes the norm for meetings between Roots Project participants and aides to our representatives in Congress. It was a reassuring meeting and the more meetings like this we have, the sooner Democrats in Congress will be representing the interests and concerns of the netroots.

I'd add a couple of things.

First, one thing we were able to do (weirdly enough) was pass a message from Clinton to Maloney. Clinton's staffer told us that she was looking for a House co-sponsor of a bill to affirmatively declare contraceptive rights. We thought that Maloney was an obvious co-sponsor, and passed on the information.

Second, I want to underscore Minna's point that net neutrality is an issue that resonates with Republicans as well. Our Red State Root Project folks can raise this issue productively (as well as, imo, illegal wiretapping) with their elected officials.
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