Students at Sen. Tina Smith's office.
Augie Stewart (second from right) and Maggie Sutton (far right) attended the first-ever Catholic Relief Services (CRS) National Gathering in Washington, D.C.

St. Thomas Students Advocate in Washington, D.C.

Two St. Thomas student leaders, rising senior Maggie Sutton and rising sophomore Augie Stewart, recently attended the first-ever Catholic Relief Services (CRS) National Gathering in Washington, D.C. The multiday event, held June 27-30, included meeting with members of Congress to discuss details of the farm bill that would affect crucial foreign aid in places greatly affected by climate change.

Augie Stewart and Maggie Sutton.
Augie Stewart (l) and Maggie Sutton.

Sutton and Stewart traveled for their work with the Global Justice Movement’s partnership with Catholic Relief Services in the Center for the Common Good. The Global Justice Movement aims to combat climate change on behalf of those who are most affected by it, including regions in Latin America, equatorial Africa, and Southeast Asia. CRS’ focus is to revive communities impacted by climate change through teaching new water-safe farming techniques to mitigate drought, ensuring that people will be able to stay in their homes and provide not just for their families, but the community at large. CRS’ efforts in bringing attention to climate change are supported by Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’.

The CRS National Gathering aimed to provide a meeting place for CRS members across the nation to discuss their calls to action, strategies for effective advocacy, and facilitating meetings with Congress to advocate around the foreign aid portion of the farm bill. The farm bill is a large package of legislation with several prongs that need to be reassessed and reformed before its passage, and through meeting with members of Congress CRS aims to not just have their interests heard, but that of the global community they help to stabilize and thrive.

Sutton and Stewart stayed on the Catholic University of America campus with not just other college students, but chapter members and staff from CRS. The first day was spent in workshops developing skills needed to become good advocates and organizers, with the help of Kortni Malone, a community organizer of over 15 years who has worked at the cross section of issue advocacy and electoral strategy with organizations including Color of Change, and NextGen America.

“Much of the morning's workshops were spent developing the ability to convey one’s story in a way that could deeply impact others, and when Kortni heard my story, she called on me to tell my story to the workshop group,” Sutton said. “Despite feeling afraid of giving an impromptu speech in front of 150 people, with Augie’s help I pulled it off to great success!”

June 28 was the day on Capitol Hill, meeting with representatives and senators to let them know how their constituents were feeling regarding the farm bill and advocate for the continuation of foreign aid spending.

    “We met with the teams of Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith to discuss the farm bill and where our senators stood on the issue of foreign aid spending, revealing that they were largely sympathetic to CRS’ cause,” Stewart said. “We then met with Rep. Betty McCollum’s team and discussed her dedication to global wellness and her interest in ensuring the future of continued foreign aid spending.”

    Despite only having a couple of minutes and no scheduled meeting, Sutton and Stewart also rounded the corner and visited with Rep. Angie Craig, who had a quick conversation regarding the farm bill with them and hear out CRS.

    “We feel that we not only have been able to advocate for our global brothers and sisters but feel that we are part of a community of people seeking change and justice for those who cannot,” Sutton said. “Coming back to Minnesota after this conference, we feel ready to enact change on the St. Thomas campus and fight against climate change not just for ourselves, but for everyone around the world.”

    Watch an Instagram reel of their journey.