Thursday, January 15, 2015

I'm only one mom, but I am a ONE Mom

I am only ONE mom.

Eleven years ago, I sat in a rocking chair with my first newborn baby listening to lullabies from around the world with tears streaming down my face. I had just realized how delicate life is and how desperate I would feel should anything happen to my child. And I’d also realized that while every single mother in the world feels this way, many are powerless to provide food and basic needs for their children who are just as precious as mine.

This wasn’t new information, but it took dramatic change in my life to make me see it. Quitting my job and having my first baby during a winter in Chicago was both physically and emotionally isolating. I spent my days feeling tired and fragile, listening to the world's problems on NPR, and then feeling more disconnected and utterly powerless to do anything about those problems. I felt like I didn’t have a purpose and couldn’t make a difference. Since I was unwilling to take a baby to my former volunteer activities, I was frustrated and felt like I needed to find a new way to help.  But what could ONE person do?

Advocacy gave me a way to get involved. I could write to senators or submit letters to the editor in the middle of the night, when I couldn't sleep anyway after a baby woke me up for a feeding or a diaper change. I found I could write on my own time and on my own terms and actually be a part of the national conversation about poverty.

Visiting Rep. Jan Schakowksy with ONE
Chicago leader J.D. Bergeron
I got my first taste of success when I submitted my first letter to the editor in a local paper, and it was printed right away. I kept at it and one of my letters was even printed in the New York Times beneath a letter from then Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

I was excited and wanted to do more. I started writing op-eds and learned how to lobby in Washington D.C. It was a turning point for me when I walked into a Congressional office expecting to talk to an aide, and instead saw my U.S. representative sitting and waiting to talk to me!

My daughters with Senators Durbin and Kirk of IL
Since becoming an anti-poverty activist, one of the most startling things I've learned is that 25 years ago, over 40,000 children died every day from preventable diseases. Because of the efforts of dedicated grassroots volunteers, today that number has been reduced by more than half! And because of my personal experience fighting for the Lantos-Hyde Act — the largest piece of global health legislation ever passed in the U.S. — I know that I personally have a role in driving that number down even further.

Visiting Senator Claire McCaskill's aide
 with ONE St Louis leader, Jeff Seale
Eleven years after the rocking chair moment, I have two beautiful daughters – ages 9 and 11 – who are interested in my passion and want to “work” with me. They regularly write to Congress and know how to handle themselves in a DC lobby meeting. They have had a face-to-face lobbying session where they told both Senators Durbin and Kirk from Illinois together about why vaccines are important. On her own initiative, my eldest will sometimes tell people in conversation about how vaccines work and how Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has helped save over 6 million lives. 

I am only one mom. But with my daughters and the ONE Campaign, we are going to take actions in 2015 to create a future for millions of mothers and their children…and a better future for us, too.