This Zoom call was extraordinary for several reasons. It was the first time Association members from Alaska could participate in advocacy for the Fulbright Program. Alaska is too far from Washington to have make the trip prior to COVID, but the wonders of digital connections made it possible and normal.
Second, one of those Alaskans, Elizabeth Dick, had done her Fulbright to Germany and was teaching the language at South High School in Anchorage. One of the three staff members to Senator Lisa Murkowski had attended South High, and she let out a gasp of joy when Elizabeth turned her laptop camera to the classroom where she was.
And third, once another Murkowski staffer learned of Elizabeth’s fluency, the two of them chatted in German for several minutes. That staffer had grown up in Vienna, Austria, the daughter of a diplomat.
After these amazing moments of connection, Canada’s commission director, Michael Hawes, who led this team, helped drive home our message—that Fulbright is a high-impact and cost-effective tool of American diplomacy—and our ask to increase funding to $300 million for Fiscal Year 2022.
This was just one of 64 meetings in April, “Advocacy Month,” connecting 144 Fulbright constituents to 26 Senate offices and 38 House offices. Unable to meet in person, we pivoted to a digital campaign focused on “appropriators” in both chambers—those members that sit on the respective Appropriations committees that determine spending levels for federal programs.
Overall, we reached 72% of all appropriators, 87% of senators and 64% of House members. We had good partisan balance, meeting 13/15 Democrats and 13/15 Republicans on Senate Appropriations, and 21/33 Democrats and 17/26 Republicans in the House. Three teams were excited to meet with the “principals,” the members themselves: Sen. John Boozman (R-AR), Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY-6).
Meeting Senator Tester was only possible because Fulbrighters from Montana joined to tell their stories of impact. Thanks to digital connections, we had strong representation from states far from DC: Hawaii, Washington state, California, Arizona, and Oregon—among others.
Most importantly, these meetings had impact, as offices from both chambers and both parties responded very positively to our stories, message and ask. The increase to $300 million was called “reasonable” by liberals and conservatives alike, and our rationale called “justified.” They agreed that Fulbright is a powerful tool of goodwill, and a strategic investment in post-pandemic American leadership.
We will monitor the appropriations and budget process as it unfolds in the coming months, hopeful that this extraordinary “Advocacy Month” will help commemorate the Program’s 75th Anniversary with strong bipartisan support.
I hope this blog both assures you that the Fulbright Association continues to help Fulbrighters raise their voices to Congress and inspires you to get involved. Become a member or donor to fund our efforts. Join your local chapter, which connects Fulbright to Congress on the local level. And answer the call next time to tell your stories, either in-person or digitally. Advocacy is easy, energizing, fun, and important.
Many thanks to all our advocates and team leaders for taking the time for training, planning, and meeting with Congress. And a special thanks to our Government Affairs Intern, Savannah Williams, who did so much work (much of it while based in Spain!) to schedule (and often reschedule) all our meetings and support our teams.
John Bader, Executive Director