Lobby Corps Close-Ups: Norma Kacen

August 03, 2010

This is the next in our summer series introducing you to some of the passionate and committed members of the AAUW Action Fund Capitol Hill Lobby Corps. Do you have a lobbying story of your own? Share it in the comments box below. We want to hear from you, too.

As a child growing up on Federal Hill in Providence, Rhode Island, a neighborhood of Italian immigrant families, Norma Kacen experienced life through social justice. Families struggled to win respect in a world where those who could see only their difference were blind to their talents. From these childhood experiences, Norma’s passion for equal rights flourished.

When Norma attended Trinity University, she was delighted that Trinity taught its students social responsibility and encouraged volunteering their time and talents in the local neighborhood, for this was rare at the time. After college, Norma pursued a graduate degree at Yale in diplomatic history and then went on to serve on the staff at Brown University.

Norma was an employee for the National Education Association during the civil rights movement, working toward desegregating schools in the Houston Independent School District. Trying to end racial inequalities in the South during the 1960s fueled Norma’s commitment to promoting equity in education.

This passion is what attracted Norma to AAUW. About 30 years ago, one of Norma’s friends encouraged her to attend a meeting. Norma was instantly impressed by the fact that the women were focused on real issues instead of on conducting the branch as a social sorority. This focus on issues was what initially attracted Norma to AAUW, and it’s what has encouraged her to stay active and involved.

Norma was not aware of the AAUW Action Fund Capitol Hill Lobby Corps until she moved to the AAUW Arlington (VA) Branch. Five years ago, Norma began attending Lobby Corps when her schedule allowed, and she has continued to dedicate her Thursday mornings to Lobby Corps because it is a unique and continuing presence on Capitol Hill. She appreciates how much organization and support AAUW provides to Lobby Corps, particularly staff member Anne Hedgepeth’s explanations of the political implications and status of the issues that they lobby on each week.

U.S. Capitol photo by Jorge Gallo

As an example of Lobby Corps’ impact, Norma relates an experience she had while lobbying for a specific bill. At first, the legislative assistant with whom Norma met had not heard of this bill, but she became excited about it and eagerly followed up with Anne and Lisa Maatz in AAUW’s Public Policy and Government Relations Department about how her boss could become involved. For Norma, this demonstrated the importance of Lobby Corps.

Lobby Corps is not an easy task, especially in today’s political climate. While Norma recognizes that there were politically ugly times in the past, she feels we have lost those leaders in Congress who understood, after all the arguments and disagreements, how to come together and seek agreement. This is why Norma believes that young women desperately need to continue the fight. For, as she learned many years ago, you don’t win your rights once and for all. You have to win them over and over again.

This post was written by AAUW Public Policy Fellow Eliza Horn. Eliza is a senior at Vanderbilt University, majoring in Law & Social Justice as well as Creative Writing. Eliza works at the Women and Gender Studies Program at Vanderbilt and has organized and presented her research at their annual conference.

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