Guest blogger Dr. Jillian Weiss has a J.D. and a Ph.D. in Law, Policy & Society. Currently Associate Professor of Law and Society at Ramapo College of New Jersey, she has conducted research involving hundreds of companies and public agencies that have adopted “gender identity” policies. She publishes a popular blog on the subject of Transgender Workplace Diversity, and has numerous research publications on the subject of gender identity. She is the coordinator of the Inclusive ENDA group on Facebook. These are her words. . .

ENDA has an excellent chance of becoming US law this year, if the grassroots gets smart and gets targeted. The House is almost there, with 200 Representatives having taken a public position in favor, and 60 more likely yeses out there, bringing us well over the 218 needed for passage. The Senate is going to be more of a firefight because of the larger and more split constituencies that they represent, but there are probably (I emphasize probably) more than the 60 needed to preclude a filibuster. ENDA is also the greatest good for the most people, for it will have a direct impact on a larger segment of the LGBT community than any of the issues on our plate. Most of us work, and far fewer are hate crime victims, serve in the military, or want to get married.

The right to discriminate against us is the right to keep us unemployed and underemployed and marginalize both our economic and personal lives. Furthermore, the House is very, very close to a clear and public majority on ENDA, and the Senate now has the power to shut down any filibuster after the seating of Senator Franken, with probably enough votes to do it.

The House has a majority of votes in favor of ENDA, even though not all the cards are yet on the table. The question on the House side is whether the more weak-kneed of the Representatives will cave at crunch time, when the whip count occurs in preparation for the vote in the Fall. But House districts are generally more unified politically than states. Senators must satisfy an entire state full of people, usually one-third liberal, one-third conservative and one-third totally undecided at any given time. The question on the Senate side is a little different. The question there is whether there is sufficient political will in the first place. This is what we are seeing with the Hate Crimes bill, which most recently has been attached by the Senate Democratic leadership to a defense authorization bill that President Obama vowed to veto because it requires spending on very expensive and very useless fighter jets. If the Senate really wanted the Hate Crimes bill, they would face it head on. They can’t because it will expose too many Senators to a no-win position: support the gays and face withering fire from the conservative and many undecideds, or oppose the gays and face withering fire from the liberals and many undecideds. So they attach it to a defense authorization bill, and that provides cover for Senators no matter what they do.

The key is going to be meeting with Representatives and Senators during the August recess, when they have time to meet with constituents in their local districts. Legislators control their own calendars, instead of the insane marching drumbeat that happens when Congress is in session.

A meeting is so much more powerful than an email or a phone call. Emails and phone calls get marked down as numbers on a list, if they get marked down at all. They help, but much less than meetings.

Face to face meetings are what really make the difference for an undecided legislator. Think about yourself, and take some issue that you don’t know a whole lot about, but are being asked to vote on.

Let’s take as an example the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Act of 2009. Pretty exciting, eh? It establishes a cleanup fund for reclamation of old mines by subjecting production of minerals from any mining claim to royalties and fees. Is it a good idea? Do we need this? Is this addressing a major problem or is it some legislator paying back a debt to a constituent on an issue no one else cares about? Is it going to drive marginal businesses under?

I don’t know, I don’t really care, and you probably don’t either.

Which of these scenarios are most likely to get you to support the bill?

1) Your aide tells you some emails came in supporting the bill.
2) Your receptionist says you got some phone calls supporting the bill.
3) You meet with three constituents who vote in your district, nice people all of them, and they tell you how mine-damaged land is a major problem for them, and why this Act is needed to improve the quality of their lives. Each of them tells a story about what it’s like living with these abandoned mines and why it’s bad.

I don’t know about you, but I’d go with number 3.

Now, number 3 doesn’t happen all that often. Why? Because, in fact, most people are too busy with their lives to stop and take the effort to set up a meeting and go and pitch their legislators. It’s also a bit frightening. What will I say? How will they react? Will I be rejected? So a meeting of legislators with ordinary constituents happens once in a blue moon. Oh, the corporate constituents and the lobbying groups and the nonprofits are in there every day. But an ordinary person who experiences discrimination? Rarely.

That’s got to change.

The Inclusive ENDA Facebook campaign is sponsoring a sign up page that will arrange for meetings with your legislators in August. You can click here to sign up for those August meetings with your Senators and Representatives.

Cross-posted at: Feminists For Choice