It was the middle of the night on the morning of September 26th. 2:30am, to be exact—that's when my alarm went off.
It was time to get ready to leave. In a few hours, I'd be on a plane to Washington D.C., for a 45-hour whirlwind trip visiting the offices of House Representatives and Senators on Capitol Hill.
(And if you haven't read about how this trip came about, I wrote a little bit about it here.)
I was going to D.C. alone, but Robert offered to join me on the hour-long drive to our sleepy local airport. "I still can't believe I'm doing this," I said to him as we pulled up to the terminal. "Oh, you're doing it," he smiled. "It's going to be quite an adventure."
The Journey Begins
About 10 hours, 2 planes, an 11-minute connection that left me more than breathless, and a lost taxi later, I was checking into my hotel in Washington, D.C.. I had made it to the capital…but the adventure had only just begun.
Within the hour, I was back out again, being welcomed (along with 15 other micro-business owners) by the Etsy Advocacy Team. We had all only just arrived in D.C., but we needed to hit the ground running that evening. By the end of the night, we would all have a deeper, more urgent understanding of the reason we were there: our stories.
Our stories as micro business owners connected us together, and our stories would be the ways we would connect with those who represented us.
That night, we met to tell our stories. We talked about how issues like online sales taxes and portable benefits affected each and every one of us.
We talked about how we would share those stories over the next few days.
We would share them with members of Congress and their staff—with Republicans and Democrats, with House Representatives and with Senators. We would share them in offices big and small, at an evening reception, and at a public Hill briefing.
We would share them in the hopes that showing the living, breathing faces behind the issues would help our representatives to recognize that their choices would deeply affect us.
The Etsy Advocacy Team was there to guide us and facilitate, but we would represent countless micro-business owners across the country. The future of our businesses and families relies heavily upon the discernment of those representing us, and the gravity of that realization hit me as I made my way back up to my hotel room that night.
I went to sleep exhausted and excited, with the assurance that the next day would be very busy.
The next morning, we woke early, had breakfast, separated into 3 different groups, and received our schedules for the day. My group would be meeting with the offices of 7 different House Representatives that day.
I felt ready.
Talking Taxes in the House
Before lunch, our group met with the staff from the offices of Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Rep. Mimi Walters (R-CA). After lunch, we met with Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), and staff from the offices of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH).
Our discussions mostly centered around the issues of online sales tax—an issue that could deeply affect Handcrafted HoneyBee.
You see, currently sellers are only required to remit sales taxes where they have a nexus (that is, where they are physically selling their goods). So, for example, Handcrafted HoneyBee has its physical headquarters in California, so we charge sales tax only from people in California. Likewise, we only remit sales tax to California each quarter.
On its own, that's not too big of a deal. After all, I'm able to use an app called TaxJar to help me figure out the individual tax rates in each of California's 231 tax jurisdictions, count how many customers I have from each one and calculate the percentage owed to each. Even though I have to make some manual corrections, it's still only takes about 2 hours every quarter.
But with legislation under consideration right now, I will be required to figure it out for the nearly 10,000 jurisdictions in the entire country.
With 50 different state websites and remittance methods. And different tax codes within each state for what is and isn't taxable.
It gets complicated pretty quickly. We were there to talk to Congress about why it is important to make things as simple as possible for sellers. Otherwise, micro-sellers won't be able to handle the administrative burden of selling online.
So we talked about creative ways that the government could help make the process of remitting sales tax as simple as possible for the micro-business owner. While its a complicated issue, currently Etsy believes the best system is being proposed by Rep. Goodlatte—and we let our representatives know that.
Our team meeting with Rep. Goodlatte
That night, Etsy hosted a meet-and-greet, where I met staff from several more offices and talked with two more House Representatives. By the time I made it to bed, I think I was asleep within 20 seconds of my head hitting the pillow.
Portable Benefits with the Senate
The following morning, I attended a public Senate briefing at Capitol Hill presented by Etsy. This particular briefing centered around the second issue we were discussing with our policymakers: portable benefits.
In today's changing economy, many people don't have the type of jobs that provide traditional benefits like Health Savings Accounts, withholding for things like Social Security and Disability, or paid family leave.
Portable benefit legislation would recognize the needs of people who work outside of a job with traditional benefits, and offer options that could help provide those types of benefits for all workers.
Earlier this week, Etsy released a public policy paper on the issue. The entire first half of the briefing was an outline of their proposals for systems that could make these portable benefits easily accessible.
The second half of the briefing was a panel that discussed these issues from several vantage points. I found it fascinating and eye opening. I was particularly pleased to see the panel comprised of strong & passionate women.
Finally, after lunch, my group met with two high-ranking staff from the office of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to continue the conversation about online sales tax and portable benefits.
The Journey Ends…But the Work Continues
Then it was off to the airport, where I ended my 45 whirlwind hours in Washington, D.C. on a plane flying out through thunderstorms. I was feeling that alternate-reality whiplash when something really powerful has just happened. I kept wondering: "Did that really just happen?"
It was incredibly eye opening! And I'm so, so grateful I had the experience and was able to tell my story.
At the end of my last day in D.C., I wrote this on the Handcrafted HoneyBee Facebook page:
"We met with Republicans and Democrats, Senators and House Representatives. In all cases there were some who listened, and some who cared more about what they would say next. There were some who deeply cared about us as people who had real, breathing experiences, and some who clearly saw us as another meeting they had to get through.
One this is certain though: I have learned now that we all have the ability within us to be brave and use our voices to work for positive change, even if it feels scary (or impossible). We have the ability to create relationships, humanize issues, and have meaningful discussions.
We don't have to agree for those things to happen. Nor do we have to have special status.
We just have to be open to one another. To consider our neighbor's experience as we tackle tough conversations. To be courageous.
And you don't have to be in Washington to have those experiences. I learned that many leaders are willing and even anxious to talk to us. They want to see our faces, to talk in respectful ways that consider possibilities together.
If you feel so inclined, look up your local representative today and consider talking to him or her about something that matters to you--or even just to tell your story.
Relationships matter. Your voice matters. You matter."
I'm so grateful to Etsy and the Etsy Advocacy Team for trusting me to represent their 1.7 million sellers with my story. I am honored that I was able to have this opportunity, and was glad I was able to share my story along with the other 15 sellers from around the country.
Because our stories are important. They are the foundations of our futures. Our stories need to be shared—with each other, with those who can influence them, with those who want to be part of them.
Let's never stop telling them.
Have you ever considered contacting your local representative to tell your story?
I truly believe that storytelling—rather than simply pushing our opinions—is one of the most powerful ways we can let our policymakers know that their choices affect our daily lives.
If you are looking to make a difference by sharing your story—as a parent, businessperson, teacher, or general taxpayer—you can find your local representative here.
And while you're at it, don't forget to register to vote! The Big Dreams of our future generation will be influenced by the choices that are made today. You are a vital, valuable part of those choices. You matter.