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CubaGO: A National Day of Action

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At LAWG, September 30th, 2009, will always be remembered as CubaGO! Day, the national day of action for ending the travel ban to Cuba. This national effort was monumental in uniting Cuban policy advocates, Cuban Americans, agricultural and business executives, human rights defenders, church activists and world travelers. All different interests, who may have differing opinions on other issues, came together for CubaGO! On Capitol Hill, this multi-faceted coalition working to the end the travel ban really turned some heads.

There were two components that comprised CubaGO!: the national call-in effort and the “Hill invasion” of delegates meeting with congressional offices in Washington, DC. Both of these efforts were launched on the morning of the 30th and worked simultaneously throughout the day, demanding that Congress act on “Travel for All.” Even though this two-pronged day of action may appear straightforward, there was an extraordinary, almost super-human, organizational effort from LAWG, WOLA, and our partner organizations that was necessary to make this day worthwhile.

First, the call-in effort. LAWG encouraged CubaGO! supporters to create  local events where constituents could generate calls to their congressional representatives in Washington, DC. One major issue facing the “Freedom to Travel” legislation is that Congress claims that they do not hear constituent support. This is exactly why the call-in effort was crucial to CubaGO! Now, Congress is finally getting the hint. By the 30th, we had 38 registered events from 24 different states. To show our support for our grassroots advocates, LAWG provided CubaGO! t-shirts, talking points, and “End the Travel Ban” stickers to each registered event. Although this effort required numerous trips to the post office to drop off and pick up boxes, as well as diverting suspicions from U.S Postal Service workers who believed we were taking boxes to build a massive fort, the CubaGO! team kept thinking about the light at the end of the tunnel, or maybe we were just blinded by our own fluorescent CubaGO! t-shirts.

Second, LAWG and partners organized a delegation of 65 community leaders to come to DC and meet with House and Senate offices in order to advocate for members to support the Freedom to Travel legislation. Arranging these meetings was quite detailed and demanding. To request a meeting it required submitting a request to the scheduler and faxing a copy of the request to the appropriate policy aide. Step two involved sending a follow-up email to the scheduler. Speaking from personal experience, if you’re lucky, they reply. If not, move to step three, which entailed calling the scheduler to confirm a meeting. Again, if you have some luck, the scheduler takes your call; if not, you leave messages for her/him in hopes of a response. Requesting meetings morphs in to a game of cat and mouse. It even becomes an aggressive task for the strong-willed. But like the popular Cuban phrase “Venceremos,” the CubaGO! team knew that they would “overcome” these difficult roadblocks.  In the end, the CubaGO! team submitted 63 meeting requests which generated at least 189 follow up calls/emails. Imagine the feeling of anxiety! By the eve of CubaGO! we confirmed 60 meeting requests. For the statistically oriented, that is close to a 95 percent success rate.

With the traditional 9AM to 5PM out the window, from August through September, the CubaGO! team committed long hours, restless nights, and caffeine- enhanced days to rallying the nation around the need for change in U.S. policy towards Cuba. But, CubaGO! is not the end of LAWG’s action for the End the Travel Ban campaign. As September 30th was approaching, the team began looking ahead, thinking about the next step. Although the date is not yet confirmed, the idea of a congressional hearing on Cuba policy and a national rally is in the air. Stay tuned.