By: Sachin Ganpule, UWBA Emerging Leader and Staff Engineer at Dolby Labs
It’s not exactly “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (attending Capitol Day on behalf of United Way as I have for the past four years) but I’ve always found it to be an eye-opening experience.
Each year around this time, local United Way organizations from across California convene in Sacramento to meet with the elected representatives from our region to stand up for our struggling neighbors. As we gather, we often take time out to share experiences from our respective organizations and hear from speakers who highlight some of the ways they are engaging in the fight against poverty.
With United Way Bay Area, the journey often starts weeks before, at a meeting with one or more members of our Policy Team who spend most of the year analyzing and tracking bills of interest as they make their way through the legislative process. These bills focus on helping people either stay out of or emerge from below the poverty line.
During these meetings, they share the ins and outs of various pieces of legislation, including who sponsored the bill, and the various coalitions who support and oppose the bill. We’ll then touch on the bill’s current status in the various committees it must navigate and its likelihood of passing.
A few weeks later we arrive in Sacramento. Just the act of entering the Capitol building and heading to the offices of our representatives is quite the experience. The halls are often filled with members of other delegations, each with their own sets of requests, from service unions, teachers, animal rights groups, and beyond. It’s an insight into the process of influence and a reminder that programs that benefit low-income workers are not the only ones that are competing for our representatives’ attention.
The Capitol Day agenda is typically filled with meetings with Assembly and Senate members and their staff. It’s in these meetings that we do what came all the way there to do, make the case for key bills that will keep people moving forward. We also highlight the progress we’ve made in the past year, and remind them of the long road that still lays ahead.
We also connect with our elected officials in these meetings. We let them know that as private citizens we are concerned enough that we have come to Sacramento to advocate for bills that will improve the lives of people in our cities and towns. We tell them our concerns about how we see things going, and the things we are doing to help meet the pressing needs of many. Two examples include: UWBA’s Earn It! Keep It! Save It! (EKS) program which helps people take advantage of tax savings by providing access to free tax filing services and Bay Area SparkPoint centers which are financial assistance and education centers where low-income residents can access a full range of free services.
In the Bay Area we are fortunate to have many representatives that are already aligned with our goals, which can make these conversations easier and enable some earnest dialogue. It’s also interesting to hear the challenges our legislators are facing when working to get these bills to pass in their respective chambers.
On occasion, we face tough questions. Though it’s not as fun as talking to sympathetic audiences, it is a challenge to convey our message with clarity and sincerity, as well as a reminder to ourselves that this cause is an ongoing struggle.
After the day is done, on the way home, I often have a few memorable experiences to look back on, whether it is hearing about new tools people are employing to move our communities towards success, connecting with like-minded people from around California, or an interesting or challenging interaction with a Member.
While it’s not quite a filibuster on the Senate floor, Mr. Smith would still be proud.
Learn more about UWBA’s Advocacy Work.
On April 24, Sachin will join 14 other UWBA representatives for Capitol Day. He grew up in the South Bay and attended UCSD. After working in San Diego for nearly 10 years, he relocated to the Bay Area where he joined UWBA’s Emerging Leaders Affinity Group and works as an engineer at Dolby Labs.
During tax season Sachin volunteers with Earn It! Keep it! Save It! helping to prepare taxes at a VITA site in San Francisco. Sachin also serves on the Board of Directors for Community Boards, a non-profit that specializes in mediation and conflict resolution.