Monday, February 24, 2020

Call Your Representative Today to Support Global Immunizations

Greetings from the Shot@Life Summit in Washington D.C.! Today, I'll be on Capitol Hill with dedicated global vaccine advocates from all over the country. We spent all yesterday preparing with presentations on the current state of immunizations and child health from experts like Seth Berkely of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. We practiced our meeting strategies and some of us even held some post-dinner lobby preparation talk in a weird plastic igloo outside our restaurant. (That was a first for me!)

Seriously, this was the igloo we found with a view of the Kennedy Center. We sat in a circle in it and discussed
our legislative asks for our lobby meetings. Warning: Not every conference has an igloo nearby.
If you want to be a part of this movement to stop childhood diseases with smart, cost-effective immunization solutions, here's what you can do:
Pick up your phone tomorrow and call your U.S. representative. Urge them to "sign onto the brand new Gavi Replenishment Resolution, which has a resolution number H. Res. 861." You can use an easy patch-through service at 1-844-0368-0294.

H. Res. 861 celebrates and commemorates the work of Gavi and affirms U.S. continued support for the purchase and distribution of vaccines through the Gavi Alliance. MOST IMPORTANTLY, it recognizes the need for multi-year pledges from the U.S. and encourages continued funding commitment for "at least" the current levels.

All you need to do is read the quote in bold, but if you want to say more, you're welcome to use these talking points from Shot@Life to help guide your message. 

Why should we keep funding Gavi? Well, in the last 20 years since it was formed...

  • over 760 million children have been immunized
  • over 13 million deaths have been averted
  • 86% of the world's children are reached each year by routine immunization
  • 15 countries have now moved OFF of Gavi support...meaning they now have sustainable programs to provide vaccines to their kids by themselves!
Out of all the Sustainable Development Goals, the immunization portion of Goal 3 (Good Health and Well-Being) is the most likely to be attained by the target date of 2030. Let's work together to get there!!!

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Advocacy Made Easy: Writing a Letter to the Editor

A letter to the editor is a very short letter written by readers and printed in the opinion section of a newspaper. I love this form of advocacy because these letters can inform others in your community about an issue and even attract the attention of your member of Congress! Maybe you don't read the newspaper regularly, but congressional offices have staff checking the media every day to see what constituents are saying about their bosses. It’s an easy way to gauge public opinion and see what potential voters are talking about.

Writing a letter to the editor doesn’t have to be very different than writing a personal letter to Congress. But you must follow rules determined by the newspaper, which can generally be found in the opinion pages of a print edition or in the opinion section of a newspaper’s website.
Some papers publish every letter that meets its standards; other papers publish only a small fraction of the letters they receive. Today, I'm going to offer you my strategies I learned from RESULTS to boost your chances of getting published and to make your letters more effective...

Grab Attention with a Current Event

People have pretty short attention spans these days, so your first line should be pretty engaging. Can you think of an interesting angle that hooks the reader in to read more? Connecting to recent national or local event always helps. In a recent letter to the editor in the Joplin Globe, I connected fears about the COVID-19 coronavirus to the fears of parents in poverty with no access to vaccines for measles and other deadly childhood diseases.

One of the easiest hooks is to reference a piece the newspaper recently printed. If your letter is written in response to an article written within the last seven days, you will absolutely increase your odds of being published. If you can, use the name of the article and the date it was published in the first line of your letter. If you are submitting it via email, make it obvious in your subject line that your letter is in reaction to a major event or something in the newspaper. For example, in the subject line, write “Response to ‘Infections Climb in South Korea as World Fights Virus’ printed February 22, 2020.”

Use EPIC Format

Create your letter using the easy-to-remember "EPIC" format. "EPIC" is a handy mnemonic for remembering an order of statements to build your case for an action and engage your reader. Here it is:

Engage: Grab the reader's attention with a question or a startling statement. You could use a surprising statistic or a question. 
Problem: State the problem that you want the reader to address. 
Inform (or Illustrate): Inform the reader of the solution or illustrate how the solution can help. 
Call to Action: CLEARLY state what you want the reader to do. It's best if you can do it in the form of a question that should be answered with a "yes" or a "no."
All you really need is one line for each section!

Be Clear and Concise

Newspapers have clear limits on the length of letters they will accept. Most papers will not print letters longer than 200 words while others cut off at 150 words. The shorter the letter, the more likely it will be published. Editor Tod Robberson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch shared with our local group that sometimes shorter letters are chosen because of a limit of physical space on opinion page. Short, focused letters are often favored. Stick to one subject and stay on topic.

Back to school for your daughter? That's a chance to
talk about 130 million girls missing out on primary
school education globally.

Connect to Your Community

Help your readers see the connection between your community and your issue. What experiences do readers have in common with your issue? For example, you can use the angle of back to school season to talk about global education or mention the local food bank to talk about the need for nutrition assistance programs.

Challenge without Attack

It's healthy and engaging to question what others have said or done. Challenging the status quo is what an activist does! However, I recommend avoiding emotional personal attacks. They are not respectful and rarely persuasive. Also, if you are representing a nonpartisan organization, be careful not to damage its reputation by making remarks that overly criticize a particular political party, candidate, or civic leader.

Call Others to Action

End your letter by asking for action from your members of Congress or from your readers. Mentioning names of specific senators and representatives will increase the likelihood that they will see your letter because many congressional offices do daily internet searches by name. Make a clear request that leaves no room to doubt what action you want them to take. If you have a number for a bill or resolution, like "H. Res. 189," be sure and include it.

Pay Attention to the Details

Include your name, address, email, and a phone number with your submission to the paper. The newspaper won’t publish this information, but they may use it to contact you and confirm that you are the author. And be sure to check the Letters to the Editor page of your newspaper or its website for guidelines on submitting a letter. Some prefer emails; others require you to upload your words through an online form; others accept physical, mailed copies.

Write with Others

If you have an advocacy group, send in batches of letters to the editor from different volunteers to maximize your odds of getting published and to emphasize the importance of the issue. Whether the paper prints your letters or not, you are demonstrating that more than one person in the community cares about a particular issue. This might influence them to run more articles and opinion pieces about it!

Write Letters, Send Them In

Hands down, this is my favorite piece of advice. Willie Dickerson of Snohomish, WA gets more media published than any volunteer I've ever heard about...and he should! He writes at least one letter every single day. He estimates he's been published over 1000 times. When he says, "Write letters, send them in" he is rightfully pointing out that a letter sitting on your desk will never get printed. Don't agonize over it so long that your hook goes stale or you just lose courage. Send that sucker in! These days, as an experienced letter-writer, I usually have to write five or ten letters to get one published. So, just send 'em in and keep trying!

Do you write letters to the editor? 
What are your favorite tips or tricks for getting published?

Friday, February 14, 2020

Foreign Aid: A Study in Pie Charts

Something about me...I like pie and I like pie charts. I especially like pies that can easily be cut up to into mathematical representations (not the sloppy berry ones...nice firm custards, chocolates, and pumpkins). 

I was on a webinar with Shot@Life champions and they had some great pie charts I want to share with everyone! Consider it a primer for federal budget season.

A common complaint heard from Main Street to Capitol Hill is, "We send too much money away to take care of poor people in other countries when we have Americans in need right here." If you ever hear this, ask the person how much they think the United States government spends on poverty-focused foreign aid. Even among people who care a lot (like the new Shot@Life champions participating on the webinar), the guesses are often that we send 3% or 5% or even 10% to fight poverty abroad. The reality is that number is less than 1%... approximately 0.07%.

Now, I could stop right there. But...pie charts!!!

In the first chart, we see the big hunks of pie. Social security and U.S. health programs are sizable chunks that actually DO help low-income Americans. On the right, though, check out the sliver labelled International Affairs at < 1%. That's where our global poverty programs are, but we're not even narrowing it down to my favorite global health stuff yet...  

Okay, the second chart expands that sliver (I'm not sure why it's labelled 1.6% here, but it's still small, so go with it for now) and shows that only 18% of that tiny amount is used for global health initiatives. This is the part that protects mothers and babies in poverty from starving, fights infectious diseases to prevent an epidemic of drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) showing up in the U.S., and a host of other vital programs.

The last chart expands that little bit and shows how much goes to various diseases (like TB, AIDS, and malaria), nutrition, and other health-related programs. Even if I had a key lime pie to sit and dissect with you today, there's no way we could slice it that thinly to even show you!

Now, note that vaccines are less than 5% of that tiny slice!

So, when I go with my fellow champions to Capitol Hill this month, we'll be advocating to defend that little green sliver of pie. In real dollars, that amounts to $290 million...which sounds like a lot taken out of context. But now, you're savvy enough to know that it's a very small portion of our budget that we can well afford in order to control diseases and save lives. Committing to keep up a pledge up of $290 million for four years would provide immunizations for 300 million additional children and save up to 8 million more lives. When you consider that 1.5 million children still die annually from vaccine preventable diseases each year, that sounds like a great investment!

If YOU would like to help protect life-saving vaccination programs, call your members of Congress today and ask them to support funding for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance at the level of $290 Million in the fiscal year 2021 budget!