It Turns Out, I Have a Voice

VFI Member David Gersten Reflects on His Visit to Our Nation’s CapitalGersten-D_2-Ext_05a.jpg

I admit, I was nervous—super nervous—on the afternoon of October 28, 2015.

I was standing, literally, in the halls of the power—just outside the office of U.S. Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA-47). I was about to meet my Congressman to advocate for much-needed legal reform that would protect the digital privacy of consumers and businesses. Digital privacy protection is important to my company’s customers—and it’s important to me as a U.S. citizen and a technology professional.

Even though I know that digital privacy is a huge issue—it’s in the news virtually every day—I’m not a lawyer or a policy expert. To be sure, I’ve worked in the tech sector for more than 20 years, and I know firsthand that technology users are concerned about privacy and security in the cloud. But still, I asked myself, should I really be in Washington to help shape U.S. law?

How Did I Get Here?

As someone who has worked in enterprise technology for a long time, I’ve seen technology transform businesses time and again. It’s incredibly gratifying to see customers accelerate their growth by investing in innovation. It’s also exciting to see wave after wave of new innovations come to the marketplace.

I’m a people person. I not only interface with customers, but I’ve become the representative of my employer—Bond Consulting Services (BCS)—to local business organizations and with Microsoft. I’ve also been active with the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP) and currently serve as the Southern California Chapter President and the West Regional Chairperson on the U.S. Board of Directors.

As part of my industry engagement and participation in IAMCP, I also became active in Voices for Innovation (VFI). I learned about tech policy issues, joined webinars, and responded to calls to action. Because I’m an active participant and engaged with my local tech community, VFI invited me to attend its inaugural Policy and Advocacy Trip to Washington, DC. BCS graciously supported and co-sponsored my trip.

And so, here I was in the halls of Congress. I’d set up the appointment with my U.S. Rep, and I’d just gone through some great training sessions at the Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center. But now, I was about to be in the hot seat. Could I do it? And would Representative Lowenthal really listen and consider my views?

David_Veronica-RepLowenthalOffice-cropped.jpgMeeting My Congressman

Though I was nervous, I wasn’t alone. I was joined by my fellow Southern California IAMCP member Veronica Place. Veronica was a calming presence. In we went. First we met Legislative Assistant Annie Nguyen, and then she ushered us into the inner sanctum of Congressman Lowenthal’s office.

Congressman Lowenthal was immediately welcoming and wanted to hear what we had to say. Veronica and I discussed the importance of digital privacy and asked him to co-sponsor the Law Enforcement Access to Data Stored Abroad Act (LEADS Act). We explained that consumers, businesses, and tech innovation would benefit from the LEADS Act, which would update our nation’s digital privacy laws to give email and other communications the same privacy protections as paper records.

I was surprised to hear the Congressman say that he hadn’t heard about the LEADS Act until I had requested a meeting a couple of weeks back. My initial email had already made a difference—it had raised awareness. It might seem odd that the Congressman didn’t know about the bill, but the LEADS Act is House bill number 1174. By the time of our meeting, more than 3,800 bills had been introduced in the House during the current session. Sometimes it falls to everyday citizens (like me!) to bring attention to proposed legislation.

Congressman Lowenthal’s initial reaction to our request was positive, though he did not commit to becoming a co-sponsor of the LEADS Act. He seemed to value my expertise as a technology professional and as a small business leader. He said that he would consider the issue further and get back to us in the next 24-48 hours to let us know his decision.

As we were wrapping up our meeting, Rep. Lowenthal took a moment to chat about my neighborhood and even discuss a new restaurant. He went out of his way to show that he is part of my community in Long Beach, California. He also pointed out that we were in Washington during an exciting week, which included the election of new Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

A Transformative Experience

The next day, about 24 hours after our meeting, Veronica and I received an email from Annie Nguyen stating that Rep. Lowenthal would co-sponsor the LEADS Act. She added, “Thank you guys for advocating for the issues you care about and for sharing with us.” Wow!

It took a moment for this email to sink in. I really had made a difference. My voice was heard, and I advanced an important—even a historical—piece of legislation. In a small way, I was making U.S. history. I’m a Dad, with two children ages 9 and 11, and I thought I’m helping make a better world for them. It felt great.

I have new confidence about my expertise and ability to effect change. I’m now planning to brief others in my professional network about the LEADS Act, and how we need to speak up about technology policies. It’s amazing to be able to make a difference.

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David Gersten is the Vice President of Customer Success & Strategic Relationships at Bond Consulting Services (BCS). BCS is a Microsoft Gold Competent ERP Partner and trusted business consulting practice focused on Microsoft Dynamics AX, Dynamics GP, and Dynamics CRM.

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commented 2015-11-24 07:58:27 -0800 · Flag
Great post, David. You expressed my thoughts much better than I.
Tom Major