Turning Up the Heat at the Capitol

By Sarah Ashkar, Med Area Rep
This was the fourth year that I have participated in AFSCME’s lobby day, Day on the Hill (DOTH), and every time I have found it worthwhile and fun. Each year I meet new people in our own local;
spend quality time with old friends; gather with diverse workers from across the state, who do all sorts of jobs; connect with people in my immediate neighborhood; and have powerful conversations with the folks who represent me. AFSCME impressively turns out more than 1200 people for this event from across the state.
For those who have never participated in a lobby day, I’ll give you a basic breakdown of DOTH. First, everyone gathers, grabs a cup of coffee, and checks in—there is also time for visiting tables of affinity groups, including: retirees, AFSCME People (our union’s political action fund), AFSCME swag - both for sale and free. There’s the option of a quick training on talking to legislators, followed by a rousing session of speeches. These highlight and provide you with detailed background on the issues AFSCME Council 5 is focusing on for the day. This year’s issues included, among others: protecting retirement security, reinvesting in public services to support Minnesota’s quality of life (including public education), and supporting local control and opposing corporate interference.
Next is breakout meetings with other people from your legislative district. You end up spending a large chunk of the day with these people (who, at least in the metro area, are your neighbors!), as the 1200+ AFSCME members split up around the capitol and go to meetings with legislators. If you have time and interest you can also catch a tour of the capital. Finally, everyone comes back together in the capitol rotunda for a very loud and energizing rally. Council 5 Executive Director, Eliot Seide, leads the rally and introduces AFSCME members who share their stories related to the day’s topics and priorities. Honestly, I like it because we get to make lots of noise. 
My previous experiences at DOTH were as a worker at the University of Minnesota, Morris. Living in outstate Minnesota, I faced the reality that even the DFL politicians are conservative on many of the issues workers face. This year was a nice change from that, as I moved to district 65, and now have the pleasure of meeting with folks like Rena Moran, Sandy Pappas, and Carlos Mariani. In this new context, it was exciting to see the conversations focus more on strategy, cooperation, and engagement in the process than discussing the justness of the issues we raise. 
Every AFSCME 3800 member has extra incentive to attend DOTH: the University pays us to go! That’s right - you can participate in DOTH without taking vacation or an unpaid day. We, as U of M staff, always make a point of using the opportunity to specifically speak up about issues important at the U, such as our personal experiences as workers here, and asking legislators to fund Governor Dayton’s higher education budget proposal. The U has recognized the value in having its front-line workers show up at the capitol and raise these issues. So, next spring, I’ll see you at the capitol!
IB Image Sarah Ashkar has worked at the U of M since 2011. Previously at the Morris campus, she now works on the East Bank, in the Center for Global Health & Social Responsibility in Mayo. She is a member of the U of M AFSCME Assembly, and recently became a member of the Local 3800 Executive Board.