Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Yukking it up on #RedNoseDay to Fight Poverty

I spend almost every day of my life thinking about serious things: children dying from lack of water or nutrition, parents dying of AIDS without options to secure their children's safety, teachers trying to educate children who are too hungry to focus on school work...this is heavy stuff. Too heavy to be weighed down with all the time. Too heavy to lay on my children as I find ways to involve them in helping. That's why I'm excited about Red Nose Day!

Red Nose Day is a day in the UK, every two years, when people get together and do something funny for charity money at home, school, and work. There's a night on the BBC TV network with comedy and entertainment to inspire the nation to give generously. And now the idea has finally made it across the ocean to the US for May 21, 2015.

I love this idea of a nation-wide day of fun and laughter to bring awareness to serious causes. It invites us to use our creativity and silliness to change the world for the better. What can you do with a red nose? Take a selfie and spread awareness with the #RedNose hashtag? Gather donations for the number of hours you'll wear your red nose at work and around in public? Invite friends over to pay a charity cover charge to hear the neighborhood kids tell knock-knock jokes? Watch the live Red Nose Day benefit on NBC and call in a donation? It's all up to you and it's all fun. 

The American version of Red Nose Day will benefit this long list of charities: Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and MalariaFeeding America, Save the Children, OXFAM America, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Children's Health Fund, United Way, and Charity: Water

When I saw how many charities I already lobby for or donate to were on that list...of COURSE, I had to pick up a couple at Walgreens as I stood around waiting in line! I'm happy to say that our area of St Louis is completely sold out of red noses. I'm sorry for friends I see frantically posting about trying to find them, but I'm proud of my community for being supportive of a visible and goofy sign of support for some humorless issues.

But, hey, look. Don't take my word for it. You can watch the "William Shatner Explains Red Nose Day" trailer because...Shatner. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Advocacy Made Easy: Twitter Actions

Tweeting with Jennifer Burden about poverty from the 

I have a confession to make. I don't really like Twitter all that much.

Have you seen your own Twitter account?! You're on it all the time," I imagine my friends saying.

Yes, well. Despite that, I came slowly to Twitter. It's not a super-easy format for me to use. However, it’s one more tool in the advocacy toolbox. To quote Kolleen Bouchane, Policy and Advocacy Director of A World at School, “I know great advocates who use Twitter and wonderful advocates who have no idea what Twitter is.” 
You don't need a Twitter account to create real change in the world. But if you use one already, by all means use it to advocate as well! Twitter has connected me to many wonderful activists who wouldn't be in my life otherwise. 

I hesitantly started tweeting when I attended the first-ever Shot@Life Summit. Many participants were social media pros and they encouraged me to get on the Twitter wagon. Mistakenly, I thought I should build up a big following so people would take the actions I suggested in my tweets. Wrong! Maybe I’m just not very convincing with a 140 character limit. Followers may take action with me if they’ve seen me in some other venue, but Twitter seems to act mainly as a reminder to take an action. It’s rare that my tweets move people to action even among my steadfast advocacy friends.

But enough about what Twitter won’t do for you! Over the years, I've actually become pretty proficient at using it to the point where I even get paid for my live-tweeting skills. Here are 5 ways Twitter has been quite effective in my advocacy work and can be in yours:

#1 Add leverage to an Action Day or a movement 

If you see a hashtag (a keyword preceded with a "#" to make it more searchable) about one of your issues showing up in your Twitter feed a lot – like #EndPolio – it might be alerting you to a day of action started by an organization connected to your issue. When your organization has a phone call-in day, your tweets about it with a link to the action and the appropriate hashtag will act as your endorsement that the action is a good thing to do. Note: The action must be SIMPLE, like asking someone to "re-tweet" a message to the White House or member of Congress. (Example: "Pls RT: @ClairMC Pls sign onto S. Res. 108 to help us #EndPolio & give kids a @ShotatLife ")

The #BringBackOurGirls hashtag went globally viral very quickly after the Chibok schoolgirls were abducted in Nigeria by terrorists in 2014. As of today none of the girls have been recovered yet, but the movement lives on and I've had the privilege of meeting and working with Aisha Yesufu, one of the activists who has dedicated every day since the kidnapping to forcing her government to be accountable for the return of the girls. I would not be in contact with her at all were it not for the Twitter movement.

#2 Tweet content to build relationships your allies
If you're a blogger, tweet links to your blog posts and tag other people who are interested in the same issue. Also re-tweet related content from people you admire and want to work with. If they like what they see, they may start following you and re-tweeting. When they do, you’ll have new allies helping you build a bigger audience. These are also people you should seek out at conferences or ask to meet, so you can work on joint projects and extend your mutual reach. Occasionally, I’ve also been asked by national organizations for permission to re-post my writing that I tweeted to them. 

Live-tweeting doesn't lead to pretty pictures of yourself,
but it gets the word out!

#3 Live-tweet an event
When a special event is going on with your organization, sending out tweets about it in real time is a great way to help your followers feel engaged with the action. It extends the impact of the event. Live-tweeting is a tricky skill to learn, but here are the basics.

  • Have Twitter open and at the ready. 
  • Listen for key short, quotable sound bites from a speaker 
  • Quickly type it in and include the hashtags of the event and any associated with the topic, so that interested people can find it even if they don’t directly follow you 
  • Tag speakers by including their Twitter handle in your tweet, so they and their followers can see it and re-tweet 
  • Try to tweet every 10 minutes or so during a speech 
  • Re-tweet other people also live-tweeting the same event. 
  • Warning: Don’t live-tweet too many events too close together or this will become annoying and people may start un-following you. At some point, we all get tired of one person dominating our Twitter feeds.

An example of a Twitter Party invite graphic 
from World Moms Blog
#4 Participate in Twitter Parties to raise awareness
A "twitter party" is a virtual event that brings people together to discuss an issue on social media while raising awareness with their followers. Generally about 1 hour long, they are especially effective if a celebrity participates to bring hundreds of fans to the conversation, but a smaller party can get help your connections, too, if you have fun and informed people involved. Before you organize one, it can be helpful to join one to see how it works in person or team up with someone who has hosted one before.

These are the general steps to putting together your own Twitter party:

  • Think up a short, original hashtag to identify tweets as part of your discussion. 
  • Advertise your event with organizations in line with your issue by distributing a graphic that can be shared across social media platforms. It should describe what topic you want to discuss. Line up a few participants who have sizeable social media followings to advertise it and ask their followers to join in.
  • Think of 10-12 questions to ask during the event. 
  • When the party begins, open a window to type your tweets and a separate one to monitor your hashtag. 
  • Post a tweet welcoming everyone and reminding them to use the hashtag every time they make a comment. 
  • Post numbered questions one at a time with the hashtag for your party. Example: “Q1: How do you involve your kids in fighting poverty? #KidAction” Experienced twitter partiers will leave their answers in a similar format like, “A1: We collect food for our local food bank and deliver it together #KidAction” 
  • Leave enough time for everyone to chime in with answers, which you will see in your hashtag window. 
  • When the hour is up, thank everyone for participating and give them a website to either continue the conversation or find more information about your issue.

My first viral tweet showed tween-aged fans of 

Percy Jackson books that kids can lobby with 
the ONE Campaign

#5 Get the attention of a Twitter celebrity to boost your message
Getting a celebrity re-tweet for your org could be as simple as wearing your logo T-shirt and taking an awesome picture in front of the poster of a movie they are starring in on opening night. You just never know!

While waiting for a ONE Campaign lobby meeting, I looked over to see my daughter reading a book by her favorite author Rick Riordan (a.k.a. "@CampHalfBlood" on Twitter), creator of the popular Percy Jackson books. Since she was wearing a ONE t-shirt, I tweeted her picture while tagging both ONE and the author. After the meeting, I was shocked to see so much activity on my normally quiet account. It turned out that Riordan himself had re-tweeted it to his 302,000 followers, ensuring his rabid pre-teen and adult fans put eyeballs on the ONE logo and spread the word that kids can lobby and save the world. Twitter reported that 52,393 people saw my tweet on Twitter and 4,755 people interacted with it in some way.

Words of Caution

Twitter can be an ugly world. If you step out in public to speak out for something, chances are likely that someone someday will speak back to you against that thing. Don't take it personally. Block especially viscous people if you have to. As with all advocacy, you'll get much farther and earn more quality allies by keeping your message positive and inspiring. 
  • Don't engage in a Twitter war with critics. Twitter moves too fast and is to impersonal for good judgement to reign. The only person who can keep up is comedian and animal lover Ricky Gervais tweeting with big game sport hunters, but he's a quick witted insult comic by trade. Leave that to the professionals!
  • Be careful with your personal information Don’t share anything that would be dangerous in the hands of a follower that intends harm to you. Remember that people who oppose your viewpoints could be following you as well.
  • Exercise caution with images and information about your children. For example, the picture of my daughter that I tweeted to Rick Riordan purposefully did not show her full face nor her name.

IN CONCLUSION...the only way to really learn to use this tool is to get in there and do it. Start by following some Twitter users you respect, re-tweet their posts, and learn from them. Experiment and see what works for you. It's not for everyone, but it can be a very fun way to connect with people you might never work with otherwise. Good luck!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Many Actions Save Many Lives

Senator Blunt with Missouri RESULTS volunteers
"Good luck finding anyone in Missouri who cares about global poverty!"
"Don't even bother with asking Senator Blunt for anything."
"You have no idea what you've moved into."

That's what friends and family told me when I moved to St. Louis two years ago. I'd been living in Chicago for over 10 years advocating on global poverty issues like polio vaccines, and girls' education. Because my former members of Congress (Senator Durbin, Senator Kirk, and Representative Jan Schakowksy) were leaders who understood the value of helping people lift themselves out of poverty for the benefit of everyone, Illinois was a great training ground for a nervous new activist. But when I moved to Missouri, a chorus of well-meaning negativity insisted I'd alone in my hopeless mission to sway legislators in my newly adopted state to save lives of children in extreme poverty.
So, why is it that last week Senator Blunt agreed to co-sign a global polio vaccine bill in just 24 hours with only one email request form me?
The short answer is: Because that request was one action on top of many different kinds of coordinated actions taken by many kinds of people.
After hearing quite enough about how I'd never get Senator Blunt to sign onto anything, I decided I would take all the best advice I'd learned from RESULTS, Shot@Life, Bread for the World, and the ONE Campaign to advocate using ALL our best practices, including:
  • Seeking out and building relationships with like-minded organizations before I ever started advocating
  • Enlisting community leaders to help me invite people to outreach events in order to find allies
  • Offering actions of varying advocacy levels (one-click computer activism, handwriting paper letters, writing letters to the editor, face-to-face lobby visits, etc) to people of different demographics so everyone can play
  • Building up personal relationships with congressional aides by visiting both in-district and DC office staff at least twice a year with plenty of phone calls and emails in between
  • Using my mommy super-powers to hold letter-writing events for children and parents & get a lot of cute, attention-grabbing kid-letters to Congress
  • Seeking out "grasstops" community leaders like clergy, doctors, and teachers to lend their voices
"GLAH!" I hear you say. "That sounds like a lot of work!" Yes, yes it is. But it's totally worth it. But don't take my word for it, listen to my daughters and their thoughts on why taking multiple actions is worth the effort. They would know. They've seen this work dozens of times on a number of issues...umm...maybe not the issue of songbirds in zoos, but just take a look and bear with her example:
Little Sister: "I think that it makes a bigger impact in the world. If you think that robins should be in zoos - I'm just making this up - but if you think that robins should be in zoos and you write a letter to Congress and just ship it out there. It's out there and senators might send you a letter back saying, 'I will watch this bill.'" 
Big Sister: "They do that every time, I get emails saying 'I will watch this bill...Dear Citizen, I will watch this bill' " 
Little Sister: "But if someone comes in and physically talks to them and then hands in a bunch of letters from kids and adults and everyone is posting it on media and everyone's agreeing with this. And you send letters, more letters and things from Girl Scout troops and meeting them in person. It's sort of going like...the senators and representatives might get in trouble if they DON'T." 
Big Sister: "Because people won't vote for them. And robins will be in zoos..."
Okay...robins and zoos aside...for the last six months, I've led efforts to contact the senator about vaccines. Adults and children wrote letters about global vaccines. We got several letters-to-the-editor and an op-ed printed in the local paper. We directed tweets and phone calls to them and sat down in multiple meetings with staff. We even invited Blunt to attend and make remarks at  foreign aid hearing with Bill Gates talking about vaccines! (He totally attended and here is a YouTube video of his remarks.) 

With all that time-consuming, unglamorous ground work done, I now have enough of a network and reputation to be effective and I've also found out that Senator Blunt was supportive of other kinds of global health funding all along (namely, HIV/AIDS programs). That means that when the Senate Resolution 108 to gather support for global polio vaccinations came around last week, Blunt's aides already knew:
1) I am a reputable person working with good organizations making a reasonable ask, and 
2) There is a good amount of constituent support for the issue. 
So, Senator Blunt could feel comfortable giving us an immediate yes on this bi-partisan bill. This is a big breakthrough for me to get 24 hour positive turnaround on a request!! 

I used all my tips and tricks to get Senator Blunt's attention, but what it comes down to is persistently using many actions to build relationships and trust. It's putting in early work to build relationships with congressional staff, so I have their ears when I have an important request.

Don't feel disheartened if you're also trying to get your senator to sign S. Res. 108 for support of polio programs and you don't yet have this relationship. View your current request as one more step in a chain of actions that will help you to get to know every congressional staffer as an individual person. You may get the breakthrough on this request or a future one, but every action builds on the last...especially if you are persistent and remember to build those personal relationships!

Now, if you didn't already know, this blog is one of several written by Shot@Life champions for Advocate 2 Vaccinate, a coast-to-coast challenge for global vaccination that coincides with World Immunization Week (April 24-30). I am pleased to be joining several of them in a blog relay. Here’s the lineup, so you can check out what my fellow mom-advocates have to say about global vaccines this week!

Friday, April 24: Nicole Morgan with Want to be a Super Hero?
April 28 – Anne Parris of Not a SuperMom
April 29 – Ilina Ewen of Dirt and Noise