Sidwell Friends on the Hill

Sidwell Friends on the Hill
Sidwell Friends on the Hill

Student advocates learn the ins and outs of lobbying Congress. Now they’re ready to make an impact.

For many people around the United States, “lobbying” connotes special interests and the disproportionate power of money in policymaking. But the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) is determined to change that and to distill “lobbying” to its purest form: advocacy. Each year, FCNL invites young adults—mainly college students—from across the country to come to DC for a weekend program on lobbying skills, advocacy, and the logistics of making an impact on Capitol Hill. For Sophie Cao ’26, it sounded like the perfect program for Sidwell Friends students and an opportunity to employ ethical leadership in the real world.

Cao single-handedly put together a critical mass of interested students, persuaded Upper School science teacher Laura Barrosse-Antle to chaperone, and convinced Center for Ethical Leadership Coordinator Alex McCoy ’04 to give the initiative the School’s imprimatur as well as credit for community service hours. (Arguably, Cao already demonstrates impressive lobbying skills.)

One of just a few high schools participating in the program, Sidwell Friends sent six sophomores and one junior to the FCNL Spring Lobby Weekend 2024 in March. Each year, the FCNL chooses a piece of current legislation for the participants to study, hosts workshops about effective strategies, and then sends groups to meetings on Capitol Hill to actually lobby for change. For two days, delegations of young people from just about every state learned to infuse their asks with storytelling, personal appeals, data, and sound arguments.

This year, delegates advocated for S.1723/H.R. 7227: Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act, which will soon be up for a full Senate vote. The bill would establish a federal commission to conduct a full inquiry into the abusive and assimilative policies of U.S. Indian boarding schools, which separated Native children from their parents, among countless other horrors, for more than a century.

“I found the story of the Native American boarding schools inspiring and shocking,” says Ethan Huang ’26. “It really is a hidden history.” Barrosse-Antle agrees. Though she expected to get some grading done in the lobby while the students made their cases, she found herself drawn into the various workshops and breakout sessions. “As an adult, I learned a lot about Indian boarding schools,” Barrosse-Antle says. “And it was just so cool to see our students sitting up front and tackling this topic and this project by themselves.”

Of course, the most exciting part of the process was heading to Capitol Hill to meet with Senate staffers. “We went to Congress prepared,” says Cao. “We had practiced and knew what we were doing.” 

“The FCNL brand of lobbying—a story-based approach—is so effective,” Eyob Sisay ’26 explains. “Personal testimony creates a human-to-human connection.” The Sidwell Friends delegates came to understand that not only can anyone lobby; it is everyone’s right to lobby. A week after the conference, Osewe Ogada ’26 was still at it. “I just placed a call to [Representative Jamie] Raskin’s office,” he says. “We can be in these places and in these rooms.”

So, what does a group of young lobbyists do when their bill passes, as the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act is expected to do? First, start a lobbying chapter at Sidwell Friends. Then: “Empower other clubs and guide them through the process,” says Cao. In other words, these first-time lobbying delegates want to work with issue-oriented clubs at Sidwell Friends—such as the Friends Environmental Action Team, Gender-Sexuality Alliance, Autism Awareness Club, and Refugee Support and Awareness Club—to take their messages to Congress.

“When enough people come together—making calls, writing—lobbying can have a large effect and affect policy,” says Ogada. “Cynicism can’t become the norm; the ability to create change is inscribed in the Constitution.” What’s more, “it’s politicians’ job to listen to us,” says Cao. “It’s the staffers job to listen.” And these kids are ready to be heard.

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