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Visiting Members of Congress (How to) / Salute to Cindy & Shannon

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From: Webmaster (webmaster@kids-right.org)
Date: Tue May 14 2002 - 11:25:57 EDT


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Good People & People of Faith:

This message contains info on:
1. Trip to Washington - How to visit Members of Congress.
2. Salute to Cindy & Shannon - Parents who tried hard!


1. Trip to Washington - How to visit Members of Congress.
--------------------------------------------------------
We will be sharing several messages on last weeks trip to Washington
by mothers & fathers prior to Mother's Day..  For this first
installment we just want to talk about the "mechanics" of the
visit. We will discuss "why" it was important later.  We all learned a
lot from the visit and our experiences will hopefully make it easy for
more of you to do the same next month -- in the week prior to Father's
day.  We will include several example letters which were used that
will hopefully give you or your group something to start with.

PLEASE consider making the trip to DC on the Thursday/Friday prior to
Father's day -- we will have more details soon.

Canadians!  We have quite a few folks from "up north" on this list.
The titles may be a bit different, but hopefully some of this will
apply to you also.  If someone can send us a "how to contact" for
Members of Parliament -- we would be happy to send it out on a later
message.


A. Finding your Member of Congress
----------------------------------
http://www.house.gov/ - follow the "Member Offices" link and it gives
you an easy way to find the web site for your member in the House of
Representatives.

http://www.senate.gov/ - follow the "Connect with your Senator" link
to get to the sites of your states two US Senators.

All their website normally have a "constituent service" or "contact"
page.  It will include the address and phone/fax numbers for their
offices located in your state and also in Washington.

Washington Office locations - If you look at a map of the area, find
the US Capitol Building (That is where the Congress meets consisting
of the House of Representatives and Senate. You DO NOT visit them
there, but in their offices.)  The Senate office buildings are on the
North (Senate) side of the Capitol, and the House offices are on the
South Side.  As we found out, if possible, try to schedule all your
Senate/House meetings at the same time.  It is about a 15-20 minute
walk from one side of the Capitol to the other.  First Street is a
North/South Street which goes between both sets of offices buildings
and passes in front of the US Supreme Court. On the north side it
connects to the Union Station Metro stop.  It is only a couple of
blocks away.  There is also a "Capitol South" Metro stop near the
House offices (more on the "metro" below).

http://www.senate.gov/visiting/visit_map.html

You just need to know the building and office number.  Once you are in
the buildings there are maps in most halls and it is "fairly" easy to
get around.


B. Visiting the Washington DC area
----------------------------------
Washington is blessed with one of the cleanest and safest subway
systems in the country.  A bit more expensive than others, it is truly
a pleasure to use.  For a route map go to
http://www.wmata.com/ and click on the "System Map".

You DO NOT want to drive into the city.  Your best bet is to find a
hotel outside of the 495 beltway, that is near a metro stop.  Almost
all the Metro Stations have park & rides. NOTE - leave yourself some
extra time.  It took us about 20 minutes once we were on the train to
go from "College Park" (North of DC in Maryland on the Green Line, to
Union Station -- fare was $2.00 one way), but it took us about 30
minutes to park first!  The Park & Ride was full by 9AM, and we had to
park on a street a few blocks away.


C. Scheduling a visit
---------------------
About two weeks prior to the date we planned on being there the trip
coordinator, John Murtari, started making calls to the offices of
Members we planned on visiting (we had people coming from their
state).  The pattern was almost the same with ever office:

a. Initial Phone call - "Hi, I'm John Murtari, a coordinator for a
parent's group concerned with Family Law Reform.  We have some mothers
and fathers from (your state) who will be making a trip to Washington
prior to Mother's day and we'd like to schedule a meeting with (the member
of Congress). (NOTE - don't feel embarrassed or to "small" to ask for
a meeting with "the boss."  The rights of parents and children to have
an "undisturbed" relationship is one of the most important things we
have.  What else is more important?)

They will tell you to submit a "scheduling letter" via fax, make sure
you get the name of the specific person who handles scheduling. You
may need to follow up on the phone with them later.

The office building are open from about 9AM to 6PM (Mon-Fri), it is
easier to schedule meetings later in the day.  If Congress is in
session, Tuesday thru Thursday is your best chance of actually seeing
your member of Congress. Aids are available any day of the week.


b. Send the letter - below is an example of what we used with one
member. Each letter (ONE page) was tailored to that Member of Congress.

------ Letter
Congressman Walsh,

I am the coordinator for a Family Law reform group called
AKidsRight.Org As part of observing Mother's day we will be visiting
Washington on Thursday, May 9th, with moms and dads who have had their
relationship with their children effected by government action.  We
will be a small group of 5-10 people and will have some parents from
Central New York with us.  We hope to visit a few Senate & House
offices between 9am and 3 pm on that date and hope you might have the
time to meet briefly with us.

These are "regular folks" who have taken off time from work to make
the long drive to DC for the sake of their kids.  It would certainly
mean a lot to them to meet a Member of Congress.  We had the chance to
talk to your staff locally last year and want to thank you for your
letters regarding this matter. We hope to continue the dialog and want
to bring to your attention the opinion of Constitutional Lawyer,
Chester Darling, who has both argued and won cases in the US Supreme
Court.  I had the chance to speak with him at a recent parent's
conference and he feels that the civil rights of parent's and children
are being violated in many states.  That this is a federal issue.  He
would be happy to testify before Congress to that effect.

We are asking for Congressional hearings into national reform and also
the passage of a Family Rights Act.  Our web site has a lot of
details, http://www.AKidsRight.Org/

We understand the legal "traditions" that have resulted in States
having jurisdiction over family law, but hope that hearings will show
the necessity of giving the parent/child bond the Constitutional
protections it truly deserves.  Very similar to criminal law, each
state is allowed to define its own rules & procedures - but, they must
remain with the protections provided to all citizens of this country
by the US Constitution, e.g. proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the
protection of a jury, and the right to legal counsel.

We hope that after discussion and review, you will also join us in
feeling that the family bond needs those same "due process"
protections which should be respected everywhere in these United
States.

We look forward to your response.  You can reach me at any of the
numbers below.

      Best regards!

      John Murtari
      jmurtari@AKidsRight.Org
      voice: 315-635-1968, x-211
      cell: 315-372-4830
      fax: 315-635-3243
--------
End of Letter


c. Get a meeting time - These letters were sent out on a Thursday, by
the following Monday we had received phone calls from about 75% of the
offices (it was better than expected).  All said we would have to meet
with a legislative aid (a few of the Representative's offices said the
Member would try to attend a short part of the meeting). At that point
you just call back, play "phone tag", and try to arrange a good time
(a 30 minute meeting is a good goal). Again, make sure you get a name.

We were able to schedule & have meetings with the staffs of:
Senator Arlen Specter - Pennsylvania (We got to say hello in person.)
Senator Charles Schumer - New York
Senator John Edwards - North Carolina
Representative Tom Reynolds - Upstate New York
Representative James Walsh - Syracuse, New York
Representative Maurice Hinchey - Binghamton, New Work



D. Have the Meeting
-------------------
The meeting is chance for you to speak face-to-face with your Member
of Congress (and their staff). Make sure you get the business card and
contact info for the person you met.  We will have more details on how
our specific meetings went in a later message. Make sure you also
bring a "packet" of material to leave with the aid for later review.
We prepared a "cover letter" which summarized our goals and attempted
to overcome "expected" objections.  Our example is below:

---- Letter
Members of Congress:

We hope you will take the time to carefully review this letter and
especially the personal petitions which have been included as
attachments.  We are mothers and fathers asking you to please call for
Congressional hearings into the need for a Family Rights Act.  In the
past year we have had the chance to meet with the members of some of
your staffs, but have seen little progress since then.

It seems we have a problem of "priority" and of "size".  Right now we
appear to be such a small group and I'm sure you all have very busy
staffs.  Some would say that we need to do a better job of organizing
and presenting the issues (and there is some truth there).  This
letter may cause you to reconsider the amount of initiative and
leadership you may be able to show.  As a group we are committed to
the principle of NonViolent Action; that Faith, Love, and Personal
Sacrifice can make a difference. But we sure can use your help!

The issue is Civil Rights

We believe recognizing parents have a basic Human Right to participate
in the lives of their children is obvious - but is the time right?  I
have had some small personal experience in the political process and
Family Law was not even an issue for me, until I was visited by an
awful divorce proceeding.  I am asking each of you to take the time to
listen and see what is really happening - and to also draw analogy to
the past, as you consider the many Members of Congress who have
proceeded you in this Nation's history.

Have you ever wondered what those members were thinking of TWENTY years before:
o Slavery was ended.
o Women were granted the right to vote.
o Segregation was ended.

What would the response have been by you and your staff to:
o A slave coming to your office and asking you to protect their right to be free?
o A women coming to your office and asking for the simple right to vote?
o A black coming to your office and asking to sit in the front of the bus?

Would you have told them to go back, get better organized (and maybe -
you have to wait, we are in the middle of a war or other crisis?). We
all like to be "proactive." You are very talented and I'm sure
ambitious people. Would you have taken the risk and lead on the issue
before the rest of the Nation was ready to follow? The "Freedom
Riders" sat in the front of the bus and were hauled off to jail.  Do
we have to make that same Sacrifice for the Love of our children also?
We are parents asking you to recognize the God given right we have to
be with our children, for protection from well intentioned government
interference.  Will you help us?

Our Petitions

We have attached some letters and photographs of parents and children
who have had their most basic Civil Right violated:

 Ms. Billy Sue Atkinson (Morris Run, PA) - has struggled to gain an
equal relationship with her children and found no help from our
system.

 Ms. Lisa DiMarzo Duffus (Concord, NC) - has sacrificed to be near
her children as a non-custodial parent. Visitation rules were
violated, but she found that in North Carolina she has NO access to
the Court System since she cannot afford an attorney, there is no
legal aid, and she cannot file papers without one.

 Ms. Mary Jo Marceau-Hawthorne (Macedon, NY) - was having problems
controlling the behavior of her teenage daughter.  Went to social
services for help and found herself the victim of an investigation -
social workers thought the mother/child bond was expendable.

 Mr. John Murtari (Lyons, NY) - wanted an equal relationship and was
willing to communicate.  His spouse wanted sole custody and refused to
cooperate in any way.  Finding of failure to communicate. Now a
visitor in his son's life.

 Mrs. Cindy Thomas (Augusta, WV) - a grandmother who saw an unfair
proceeding result in children taken from her daughter and placed with
strangers in preference to other family members.

These are just a sampling, our web site contains tragic stories from
almost every state, it is our Hall of Shame
(http://www.AKidsRight.Org/shame.htm).

Protection of Family Rights

We have a DRAFT Family Rights Act at our web site,
http://www.AKidsRight.Org/act.htm.  It is an attempt to restore
balance in Family Law nationwide.  Each state had the ability to
establish its own criminal code and procedures, but was still required
to remain within the U.S. Constitutions guarantees of: a presumption
of innocence, real proof, and the protection of a Jury.  There has
been an explosion in well intentioned Family Law produced in each
state, but without the firm guidance of our Constitution.  The words
"best interest of the child" have been used to justify any state
action.  WE ARE NOT calling for MORE FEDERAL INTERFERENCE, but less.
The recognition of established constitutional protections to protect
families

We only ask the same principles used to protect liberty, also protect
the bond between parents and children (probably an even more valued
freedom) - the presumption of equal parenting, real proof, and the
protection of a Jury. Government abuse to children is rampant and
performed with the perverse notion that it is 'in the best interests
of the child'.  We need reform now to save our families.  Judges who
rely solely on the testimony of one parent versus another, or a social
worker from Social Services, and who never hear others even when they
are allowed to speak are committing the worse atrocities in our
society and denying the very freedom and justice that they are sworn
to uphold.

Being an NCP

Almost all of these people are NCPs (Non Custodial Parents).  An
official term which we hope will soon join the other "N" word from
segregation.  What an oxymoron?  As an NCP our child can be involved
in a serious accident, linger in the hospital, die, and be buried -
and there is no legal requirement we even be notified.  Why even use
the word "Parent?"

Why do some of us risk jail and why are we asking for your help?
Which is worse, not knowing your child is seriously ill or just being
asked to ride in the "back of the bus."  In similar words used by
Abraham Lincoln to describe the institution of Slavery, "Many people
like the concept of the NCP, but I have yet to find a parent who
wanted to be one."

Your Response

We ask each of you to please take the time to give us a response to
this letter that we can share with our membership.  We would like you
to take a public stand and call for Congressional hearings into the
need for National Family Law Reform to begin this September. Besides
moms & dads, we have attached some potential expert witnesses,
including a Constitutional Lawyer who has won cases in the US Supreme
Court.

AKidsRight.Org, c/o Software Workshop Inc., 55 E. Genesee Street,
Baldwinsville, NY 13027 Signatures attached
----- End of Letter



E. Follow UP
------------

The day after we returned we FAXd a "Thank You" to each of the people
we had met with. Because of the Anthrax scare and screening there are
delays in getting regular mail through -- FAX seems to be the best way
for now.

In the next week or so we will be calling back, checking for any
response.  We will also be starting the process again to establish
meetings with more people as part of Father's day.


2. Salute to Cindy & Shannon - Parents who tried hard!
-----------------------------------------------------
We had some people cancel at the last minute from making the trip.
Cindy Thomas (deseray@citlink.net), Augusta, West Virginia --
contacted me at the last minute regarding a situation with her
daughter Shannon. She had walked into a hospital emergency room in the
morning with an injured child, by that afternoon she had been stripped
of all three of her children because the doctor "suspected" abuse.

They were both ready to make the trip to DC, about 3 hours away.

Well -- they really earned it!  Plan A was that they were going to
meet us at the Hotel and the take the metro with us.  At about 7 AM I
got a call that they were stuck in traffic and needed better
directions.  We went to Plan B, which was to just stop at the nearest
metro station, and we would meet them near Union Station.  By the time
we got to the Capitol, my phone rang again and they said they were
driving into the city (they could not find a park & ride with space).
They didn't even have a city map and were asking me for directions
(and I didn't know).  So Plan C, was to get the car parked and then we
would try to meet between appointments.  They then called that the car
was parked (quite a few blocks away) and we scheduled a meeting time.
I ended up giving them the WRONG time, we had a meeting, and I could
not call them back.  After that meeting, they called back and FINALLY,
we met in front of the US Supreme Court!


While we did not have meetings scheduled, we stopped by the offices of
Senator Byrd & Rockefeller from West Virginia and dropped packets off.
We also got the names of legislative aids to follow up with.  They got
to participate in other meetings we had with the staffs of Senator
Edwards and Senator Schumer.

I certainly admired them for taking an entire day to TRY!  Send them
an email if you can (deseray@citlink.net).  They are trying to setup
something with more people from West Virginia.


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