Ariana Martinez Lott organizes advocacy events about immigration in her home community of Fresno, California, with the encouragement of a year-old advocacy network organized by the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S. Washington Office.
In the past year, Martinez Lott has led several initiatives to educate nearby churches and her broader community on immigration, including a series of workshops on immigration history, policy and advocacy. Members of seven Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren churches participated, with many people writing letters to their members of Congress.
For one march Martinez Lott organized, more than 500 people turned out. They opposed new immigration policies, including ending Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, as well as increases in border wall funding that would heavily impact their community. Martinez Lott explained that “the deep relationships with the undocumented population in Fresno draw many families to support the immigration reforms that we are fighting for.”
Martinez Lott is a new member of the Volunteer Advocacy Coordinators Network formed in 2017 to increase advocacy throughout the U.S. The coordinators are from California, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Members connect regularly via phone with one another and Washington Office staff.
In early October, the Washington Office hosted the second annual meeting of its Volunteer Advocacy Coordinators Network. Martinez Lott and eight other participants met to share insights with one another, receive policy updates on immigration and gun violence and meet with their congressional representatives.
Immigration has been the primary advocacy topic so far, but the network’s focus could change year-to-year depending on members’ interest and what topics are urgent.
Martinez Lott says the conversations with other network members have been useful to her as she does her advocacy work.
“It is helpful to hear what is happening in other places in the U.S. and how leaders are responding to some of the challenges. The models that MCC helps to provide for advocacy are what is needed.”
Other members of the network shared similar experiences to those in Fresno. Melonie Buller, an advocacy coordinator from Columbus, Ohio, talked about her congregation’s experience providing sanctuary to an undocumented immigrant, Edith Espinal.
“We try to highlight her story,” Buller said. “Sometimes it seems we don’t have much impact on those in power, but more churches are providing sanctuary in our community and that’s a win.”
Hardaye Ramjit, of Lee Heights Community Church in Cleveland, reminded the group that small efforts are rewarding. “I’m always talking to the people in my church about advocacy. They know I won’t stop until they join me. Our group [is getting] bigger and bigger. The staff in the D.C. office know me (now) by name.”
Ramjit noted her congregation’s involvement in Ecumenical Advocacy Days, an annual conference co-sponsored by the Washington Office. The conference brings together 1,000 faith advocates each year to mobilize for action and to make a public witness on Capitol Hill.
Martinez Lott said that her congressional visits as part of the October meetings were positive. “I realized the importance of coming in and having the balance of encouraging them and holding them accountable.” In the upcoming year, she plans to focus on creating a consistent, sustained relationship with her congressional representatives.
The Washington Office will continue to strengthen the network. Visit washingtonmemo.org/vacn to learn more, including reflections by several network members.