Laura Reese is new to political activism, but she is about to take a huge jump into the deep end.
Earlier this year she proposed one of the very first campaigns for the crowdfunding website Lobbyists 4 Good. The platform - the first of its kind - allows ordinary citizens to pool their money and hire lobbyists for underrepresented causes.
Reese wants to end federal subsidies of animal agriculture. Her motives could be described as broadly coming from the left (she thinks eating meat is unhealthy and that mass farming of livestock is bad for the environment) but her solution is right out of a conservative playbook: let the free market decide.
As an advocate of plant-based eating, Reese argues that she is part of a growing trend that should over time result in a shrinking animal agriculture industry. Except, as she notes in the campaign video, "Our tax dollars are propping up the very industries we are trying to vote against with our consumer dollars....It's not right for our government to use our tax dollars to undermine our choices in the free market."
The proposal is a perfect fit for the Lobbyists 4 Good platform, which requires all campaigns to meet its four Founding Principles: for the people (not just a special interest group), by the people (inspired by individuals, not corporations), bipartisan in nature, and promoting a cause that's underrepresented on Capitol Hill.
Her campaign was the first on the Lobbyists 4 Good website to meet the required $5,000 target. Fundraising continues (they hope to get to $10,000 in the next six weeks) but Lobbyists 4 Good have already started recruiting a lobbyist to get to work when Congress returns in January.
"People like Laura do not have much political clout in DC" said Billy DeLancey, Co-founder and CEO of Lobbyists 4 Good when the news that the target had been reached was announced.
"They don’t donate large amounts of money to candidates and they are unable to access congressional offices like professional lobbyists can. With our platform, Laura and her campaign’s supporters now have well-connected professionals working on their behalf for the cause they care about."
$5,000 is a good start - enough to pay for two to three months of work - but on its own will not eliminate one of the most entrenched subsidies in government.
"Passing a sweeping piece of legislation with the current amount of money raised would be difficult, but a lot of good can come from our professional outreach to the Hill," DeLancey told News Growl in an email. "The campaign will raise awareness about the impacts of animal agriculture on the environment and propose policy solutions that would achieve the goal of reducing animal agriculture while helping American farmers."
There is no set end date for this project - the campaign could continue indefinitely if supporters continue to fund it. If the $10,000 goal is reached by the end of January a new $5,000 target will be set, and another after that until the contributions stop.
Meanwhile, Laura Reese is preparing a trip to Washington in the new year to help DeLancey and the soon-to-be-announced lobbyist, currently being recruited. We caught up with her for a few questions about her new role as a political activist.
Here is the interview with Female Vegan Activist Laura Reese
Steve: Most people who want to make political changes tend to join an advocacy group, or maybe found one if there isn't one already in place for their issue. What attracted you to launching a lobbying campaign instead?
Laura: An outrage had been building in me for a while, and it was at a healthy simmer when I happened upon Billy and Lobbyists 4 Good. I'd kept mulling over the realization that no matter how much we voted against animal agriculture with our consumer dollars, our very own government was negating those votes with our tax dollars. Animal agriculture subsidies had to end - most definitely because animal agriculture is such an alarmingly huge greenhouse gas generator, both from emissions and deforestation.
"The injustice of distorting the free market - with our very own tax dollars - is causing excessive environmental damage, ill health, and animal cruelty." - Laura Reese
I realized that subsidies will only end if our political representatives end them. At that point I think I'd already emailed my representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and both California Senators on the topic, but it felt rather hopeless.
I found myself up one night at 2 am with allergies, geeking out on Reddit, when I came across Billy's Lobbyists 4 Good AMA "ask me anything" session. I recalled Ronald Reagan's famous line: "if not me, then who? If not now, then when?"
Soon after, I applied for a campaign on the Lobbyists 4 Good website. This particular problem is caused by political law and policy making, and it needs a political solution. In the US, lobbying is one of the more powerful political levers to pull. Lobbyists 4 Good has presented such a lever at just the right moment.
Steve: Have you been involved in Washington politics before?
Laura: I was born on the east coast and when I was a kid growing up in suburban Maryland we drove into DC to visit the dentist. That's the strongest association I have with Washington: cavities.
We later moved to Washington State, I went on to the University of Southern California, and have worked mostly in Silicon Valley for the last twenty years. Washington DC will be a new adventure for me.
Steve: What was your reaction when you learned that your Lobbyists 4 Good campaign had hit the $5,000 target?
Laura: I was in the kitchen, early one morning, waiting for the coffee to brew. I checked the campaign on my phone. I'm sure my eyes nearly popped out of my head. I think I said to my husband, "guess who's got two thumbs and is going to DC?... this kiddo!" (I'm a fan of Scrubs).
I may or may not have proceeded to jump up and down with glee and then stop immediately with the realization of the enormous and hugely worthwhile project that now lay before me.
Steve: And now you are going to Washington in a few weeks. What are you expecting that to be like?
Laura: Oh man, I don't know what to expect. I'm looking forward to meeting Billy as well as our lobbyist. I hope that I live up to what I need to do to make this campaign successful. I imagine we'll meet a lot of people who are trying to do the best they can in an environment where they're met with a lot of resistance, inertia, frustration and "WTF" moments. I imagine most people are trying to do the right thing within a system that often demands something ... different. I mean, that's how I'd characterize what I expect. But it's all just a guess.
I also know there's a chance I'll be attacked. If we're seen as being effective at all, I could be attacked by the more organized lobbying groups. We're just Billy, the lobbyist, and me, walking into short meetings to pitch our idea.
I've decided I'm willing to face attacks. Why? Because this is the fight of our lives. If we don't take drastic action now, my generation, gen X, will be generation extinction. And animal agriculture is one of the biggest perpetrators, killing our future. We've got to come together and solve this predicament we are in - together. We need to make sure no one - not farmers nor workers in support industries - are scapegoated, blamed, driven into poverty, or villainized in the process. We are all Americans and we can do this. Together.
So I don't know what to expect. All I can do is bring my A-game and play my cards as well as I can in each and every moment. And I hope to get enough representatives to take on board the specific goals we're pushing.
Naive? Maybe. Regardless, I'm going to roll up my sleeves and jump in with both feet.
Steve: One of the interesting things about your campaign is it cuts across the standard political divide. It's an environmentalist cause rooted in free market ideas. Do you hope to build a coalition that includes groups that do not normally champion animal welfare, like deficit hawks or libertarians? Or would you rather keep this campaign within the more traditional boundaries of the left?
Laura: This campaign is for anyone who recognizes injustice when they see it, whether they're on the right or the left. The injustice of distorting the free market - with our very own tax dollars - is causing excessive environmental damage, ill health, and animal cruelty. It's outrageous. These subsidies should appall anyone no matter where they identify on a political spectrum.
So yes, you are exactly right, this campaign is intended to appeal a broad coalition of Americans. From dairy farmers and cattle ranchers (Yes!), to environmentalists and budget hawks. From libertarians, vegans and vegetarians, to parents, voters, and non-voters.
Most of all, this campaign is intended to appeal to politicians who want to go back to their home states and districts as heroes with real solutions for constituent animal agriculture farmers and cattle ranchers, who are facing uncertain times in an uncertain market place (subsidies or no).
It's intended to appeal to politicians so they can be heroes with their environmentally conscious constituents who see the coming climate calamity and are demanding action. We can all be partners in solving the climate crisis and navigating the changing market for animal products. But it's hard to collaborate when these subsidies exacerbate the very problems that need solving.
Steve: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Good luck in Washington!
Laura: Thank you. I'm really looking forward to it.
Steve Goodale was the editor-at-large for News Growl, a news website that focused on the people and culture of politics instead of simply pushing an ideology. This interview first appeared in News Growl, but the website is no longer working and we were unable to contact the former editors.