Friday, April 18, 2014

How to influence lawmakers to reform adoption law

Jane
I played hooky during the recent American Adoption Congress conference and spent time with my youngest daughter Julie who lives in San Francisco and my husband Jay. Julie works in politics, helping solid Democrat candidates get elected.  Here's her advice with some of my own thoughts about getting legislators to support adoption reform.

The average legislator likely knows nothing about adopt reform. Ask him what he thinks about adoption and he's likely to say "It's unfair to mothers who were promised confidentiality to open records. Adoption needs to be easier and quicker so that deserving couples can get babies."


We can argue with legislators all day but the truth is that if facts and logic carried the day, records would have been opened years ago and laws restricting the rights of natural parents never would have been passed. To achieve reform, we need to create legislators who understand the importance of opening records, giving mothers time and information to decide, granting rights to unmarried fathers.

FIND CANDIDATES WHO WILL LISTEN
Success in the political arena involves networking and building alliances. Ask folks who haves run for office or worked on a campaign for help in selecting, grooming, and electing candidates. Scour the list of candidates, probably on your state or county elections office website. Ask people you trust what they know about the candidates. Google candidates to find media reports and other information about them. Look at their websites. Keep in mind that party affiliation means nothing when it comes to adoption reform.

You may be able to find candidates who were adopted or who are first parents through media accounts. The adoptee/first parent status doesn't guarantee that a candidate will be supportive, though. Stay away from candidates who work in the adoption industry. If you know a candidate is aligned with the adoption industry, work for his opponent.

KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID!
Once you've selected possible candidates, contact their campaign offices. Make an appointment to speak to the candidate or their policy person or to talk to them on the phone. Remember the KISS principle--Keep It Simple Stupid. Imagine you're riding up an elevator with a candidate and have only the time between the first and tenth floors to make your pitch. Speak calmly and suggest that you're only advocating a few small changes, nothing radical, you just want adoption to be about benefiting children.

If a candidate looks promising, offer to volunteer on the campaign and recruit other volunteers. Candidates depend heavily on volunteers to make telephone calls conducting polls and promoting the candidate; pass out literature door-to-door, update mailing lists, and so on. Always connect your support with your cause. When you show up at a phone bank, tell the person in charge, your name and the organization you're affiliated with and that you appreciate the candidate's interest in adoption reform.

MONEY: THE MOTHER'S MILK OF POLITICS
Most important according to my daughter: Raise money for your candidate. You can't write million dollar checks like Las Vegas casino owner Sherman Adelson or television personality Oprah Winfrey but you can pull together enough money to make an impression. Collect ten dollar checks from ten friends and hand them to the candidate or her staff person and tell them these funds are from supporters of adoptee rights. Bundling money is more effective than individual contributions. Host a coffee/breakfast/wine and cheese soiree for the candidate. Invite your friends and relatives and make a pitch for funds or allow the candidate to make a pitch. I know from my own experience that it can be uncomfortable hitting up folks for money but if your nearest and dearest won't support your candidate, who will?
Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, Assb.David Weprin, Carol Schaefer, Lorraine
Keep in mind that causes which at one time seemed impossible, obtaining the vote for women, prohibiting racial discrimination in employment, legalizing gay marriage--have all come or are coming to pass. And these events occurred in no small measure because reformers committed their time and money to electing the right folks. --jane

Lorraine Here: We of Unsealed Initiative in New York are collecting money RIGHT NOW for the staunch sponsor of the bill in the Assembly to unseal original birth certificates, David Weprin (D, Queens). We do bundle the checks together and they are presented to him as from Unsealed Initiative, the group he knows is working for unsealing the birth certificates of adoptees. As Jane says here, even small checks from many people make an impression. Make checks payable to Friends of David Weprin and send to Carole Whitehead, 37 Sylvia Lane, Plainview, NY 11803. No check is too small (remember, numbers count)--or too much! We've been aiming for $500 a year from UI, and it's always a stretch so even a small check is a way of saying thank you, keep working for us. Again, checks should be made out to Friends of David Weprin.

Please include a note if you are not a member of UI already that you read about this at First Mother Forum. We need the checks by May 2nd in order to give them to him in a bundle at an annual birthday party/fund raiser. That's him above, with Sen. Velamnette Montgomery (D, Brooklyn) at a press conference about the bill this summer at City Hall.
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ALSO ON POLITICKING FROM FMF:
Gays have political clout; bastards don't. Lessons from New Jersey and New York
Lobbying for adoptee rights--how to write to a legislator
Why should adoptees' original birth certificates be unsealed? A first mother's perspective
A Conversation about Open Records for Adopted People
Memo to Gov. Cuomo: Repeal the 1935 law sealing original birth certificates

RECOMMENDED READING
Politics For Dummies 
Not just for political novices--even those with a firm understanding of how they system words can use this book to fill out their knowledge of how to work with politicians, how to let them know how you feel about the issues that matter to you. THANK YOU FOR ORDERING THROUGH FMF. JUST CLICK ON THE TITLE OR BOOK JACKET TO GO AMAZON. 

10 comments :

  1. Jane, this is an honest depiction of the hard work, commitment, and political savvy it takes to get legislation passed. It is not just writing letters, telling our stories, or signing petitions. There is no quick or easy way. Politics is difficult and not everyone has the aptitude or guts for it.

    Sad that there are no comments on this blog piece that contains hard truth for all of us.

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  2. I've read this several times over the past couple days and really mulled over it. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    I live in CA, and this post prompted me to do a little digging into any reform efforts going on now, which led me to the history of the last attempt to open records. The most recent effort was 2009, which stalled out due to cost. Nothing was done last year, which was the next opportunity (two year cycle) to take any steps. I'm going to do some more digging.

    Thank you for sharing this. All of us involved in adoption should care very much about changing these antiquated laws. One of my dearest hopes is that my daughter will have legal access to her OBC (not just a copy from us), but I need to do more than just hope for it to happen.

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  3. Tiffany,
    Thanks for writing.

    I wasn't directly involved in the California open records campaign but I did read about it. I was particularly interested because my surrendered daughter was born in San Francisco.

    The California bill was extremely complicated with many provisions which appeared unnecessary and drove up the cost. In Oregon, the measure granting adoptees access to their original birth certificates was less than half a page and the cost was nil.

    If you get involved in the California campaign--and I hope you do--insist upon a simple bill.

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  4. I tracked down a bill that was submitted February 20 by Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas. It's bill AB-2118. (see here for link: http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201320140AB2118) The wording seems very basic and is updating the current law, which allows a court to decide whether to grant an adoptee access to the OBC, and makes it a matter of law that they can obtain it on reaching 18. I thought it seemed ok? It's currently been referred to the committee for it's first review, but who knows when that will happen.

    I'm working on a letter both to Ridley-Thomas and my own representative, and then I would like to expand and send to all the reps. If you have any tips on phrasing the letter, I would appreciate it. I would also like to encourage others to write in as well.

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  5. Thanks, Tiffany,
    If I'm reading the bill correctly, it is a major change. It grants an "adopted child" of any age the right to see his court records and original birth certificate.

    You might call the bill's sponsor and see what you can do to help move the bill along. Also call or write the committee staff and ask them when the hearing will be scheduled and what you need to do to testify. If the hearing hasn't been scheduled, ask the staff to notify you of the hearing. They may slip up so keep checking the bill's status on the website.

    Also call you representative and tell the staffer who answers that you're a constituent and very interested in this bill.

    As far as your letter goes, tell them you live in City, California and you're a first mother who supports the bill and why. Then give them a short paragraph about your surrender, when, where, why. The letter should be less than a page.

    Let us know what happens.

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  6. Thanks, Jane! That is really helpful! I will get started on that and let you know how it goes.

    One correction, though, as I don't want to misrepresent myself. I'm an adoptive mother, not a first mother, but this is very close to my heart and important as I feel my daughter deserves equal rights with the rest of the population. I will never forget how hurt her first parents were when they found out about the sealing of the OBC, and it's infuriating to me that such ridiculous laws still exist to keep people from their own history.

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  7. I'm sorry for my confusion, Tiffany. Adoptive parents are important, if not more important, advocates for opening records.

    Law makers will listen to you!

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  8. Dear Jane and Tiffany,

    Jane thank you for your very valuable guidelines on how to go about seeking adoption reform.

    Tiffany, I really appreciate your research on the proposed bill. I have limited time outside of work these days, and the information you dug up sets the groundwork for me as well (since we also live in California). Thank you!

    On a related matter, Tiffany, do you know anything at all about the rights of an adoptee, under California law, to seek out his/her biological siblings? My son has two biological siblings, much older, who were adopted out to other families - they are closed adoptions so we have absolutely no information about them. I recall hearing something from a social worker about my son's rights to access the information about his biological siblings when he turns 18. Do you know anything about this?

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  9. Jay, I'm sorry, but I do not. My daughter doesn't have any siblings (yet) so it's not something I would have really thought about.

    I don't think anyone has any legal "rights" in this search process, but more knowledgeable people may correct me. In a state with closed records, no "non-contact" forms have been signed. So if someone chooses to search for a relative, that is not illegal. Anyone can search for anyone at any time. My high school boyfriend could theoretically search me out and show up on my doorstep (not that he would). Obviously, adoptees seeking reunions are more tactful than that, but one of the arguments for opening records is that there is no legal protection offered to citizens preventing another person from contacting them (obviously this doesn't include persons with restraining orders).

    If you are able to find any info to try to search, then it's worth considering. In your position, I'm not sure what I would do. I *think* I would wait until my child was older and could be a part of the decision to search. But that's just a general thought, and given more situation particulars, it might be best to search now... it really depends, and I'm not sure there is a single right answer.

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  10. Thanks for your response, Tiffany. I realize I probably wasn't clear about what I was asking. Of course anybody can look for whomever or whatever they want to find, you always have a right to search, but my question was about the right to access information.

    My son's two older siblings were also placed in adoptive homes. Each of those adoptive homes have chosen to keep their adoptions closed. Both those adoptive families were contacted for potential placement of our son with them (so siblings could stay together) but they both declined, saying they did not want to adopt another child. So Lenny ended up getting placed with us. We asked if either or both families would like to be in contact with us (since we are raising their children's biological sibling) and they declined. We (my husband and I) have no right to know the identities of the other two adoptive families as they wish to remain confidential, but I recall hearing somewhere that my son has the right to find out who adopted his siblings, when he comes of age.

    My son is only 5 right now, and we do not intend to initiate a search for his siblings - we will leave that for him to decide. But I'd like to know if he has the right to obtain the identities of the adoptive families who adopted his siblings, if he does decide to look for them some day. I have a fair amount of information regarding his biological parents, but zero information regarding the other two adoptive families.

    I think the sibling issue has been a lot on my mind of late because Lenny's half-brother should be turning 18 very soon, and his half-sister is not that far behind. I wonder if they will try to look for their little brother? I get excited/nervous just thinking about the possibility!

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