Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Preparing for the 2014 RESULTS International Conference & Lobby Day

We're counting down to the day we'll leave for Washington D.C. for the RESULTS International Conference and Lobby Day June 21-24! This will make the second real D.C. lobby trip for my 10-year-old and the first one for my 8-year-old. Oh, sure, they have met with senators up there before for a town hall meeting. Plus, both done their share of in-district lobbying locally, but this is the real deal. They will attend conference sessions and watch movies to educate themselves on issues side by side with adult activists. On Lobby Day, we'll all don our cutest duds for a full day of beating the pavement on Capitol Hill.

I'm looking forward to helping them change the world as we learn more and ask our members of Congress to support education, health, and economic justice programs. THEY are looking forward to:

  • Sleeping in a the same room as a TV!
  • Seeing old friends...some of the RESULTS staff has known them since they were tiny.
  • Visting some monuments they've only read about
  • Running dressed as superheroes for the Everyday Hero Dash
  • Meeting face to face with Rep. Lacy Clay who usually has some toys or bracelets around his office for visiting youngsters
  • Saying "Hi" to actor Sean Astin, a.k.a. "Mommy's Hobbit Friend" or "Special Agent Oso," who is also attending the conference
  • Swimming in the hotel pool
  • Trying to find Rep. Jan Schakowksy in the Rayburn building who they used to lobby in Chicago and often had a moment to tickle or hug them like any good grandma would.
Things we still need to do:
  • Get haircuts
  • Make sure everybody has reeeally comfortable dress shoes that fit. (Every year those feet grow!)
  • Rehearse "Let It Go" for karaoke night (as if we haven't sung it 10,000 times this month)
So, there's a glimpse of what a grown-up lobbying conference looks like through the eyes of a grade-schooler. It's not too late to register and join us there! But if you can't go, but would like to show your support of our efforts, please join us in spirit by donating to RESULTS at our St Louis fundraising page. Your donations will help put on a great conference and we'll be proud to represent you in D.C.!!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Advocacy Made Easy: Teaching Kids to Write to Congress

How far did you walk for your last drink of water? Was it clean water? Safe to drink? How much water would you drink if you had to walk for hours to fill up a canister for your whole family's daily water supply?

These are questions 4th graders at Park View School in Morton Grove, IL have been pondering for the last few weeks. Guided by their teacher, Debby Schmid, they read A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. It's a great book to introduce elementary school students to some of the challenges their peers in Sudan are facing right now. The story, brilliantly told in alternating sections, tells the tale of two Sudanese eleven-year-olds in different times (2008 and 1985). The fictional girl based on current life in Sudanese children, Nya, spends hours each day carrying water making two trips to a pond every day for her family, deprived of education. The boy, Salva, is a real of the "Lost Boys of Sudan" - survivors of Sudanese civil war - who had to flee his country on foot looking for his family and safety. Water is a theme and focus of the book.

Giving some context of how hard it is for a bill to become a law
before showing the SchoolHouse Rock video, "I'm Just a Bill"
My portion of the program came when the students were ready to ask that critical question: "What can WE do to help people have water?" Ms. Schmid and I wanted these gifted youngsters to dive in to make a big difference and also learn some great lessons for both writing and life. We created a field trip to the Morton Grove Public Library to fill up empty water jugs and carry them back. At the library, they would learn about how the U.S. helps people in developing nations gain access to clean water and what our role is as citizens to help make that happen. 

Right now, there's a bill in Congress called the Water for the World Act of 2013. It's an update of an law that directs how U.S. foreign aid helps people in extreme poverty get access to clean water and sanitation. The Water for the World Act of 2005 said we should focus water and sanitation assistance toward the countries, locations, and people with greatest need. Yet countries with the least need receive more funds than those with greatest need. This new bill will help make sure that the people who need the most help will get the most help...without an increase in funding!

With the help of the all-time BEST training video for explaining how a bill becomes a law, the 1975 SchoolHouse Rock "I'm Just A Bill" segment, I showed them that the World Water Act is at the point where we, as citizens, can help it to be passed in the House of Representatives by writing to our U.S. representative and asking her to co-sign the bill.

I taught them the very same method for letter writing that I teach to grown-up RESULTS volunteers. When writing a letter to Congress, it helps to follow this tried and true "EPIC" format to create a clear, effective, one-page handwritten letter. This is what EPIC stands for:

No joke...these kid-letters are gonna be EPIC!
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."

This same format can be used to create a "laser talk" or "elevator pitch" for your issue, but in this case, we encouraged the kids to write just one or two sentences for each section to create their letter. I had them tell me about what they learned from reading A Long Walk to Water and watching videos from the Water for South Sudan organization, so that the letters would be truly their own creations.
The kids gave me their own bullet pints to use for the "Problem" portion of the EPIC format.

Carrying water through neighborhood streets
I was impressed by these kids asking great questions like "If Jan Schakowksy cares about poverty so much why do we need to write her letters?" (Answer: Because hundreds of bills are introduced every year and even her awesome staff can't keep track of everything!) and "What kind of people wouldn't want to help people get water...evil people?" (Answer: Ummm...more like people that don't fully understand the issue or ones that are worried about running out of money. And evil people, I guess.)

After turning in their letters, we loaded up the kids with their filled water jugs and began the 0.7 mile trek back to school, which took about 20 min. All the kids were very aware this was only a fraction of the distance the children walk in Sudan. The trip in the book took a quarter of the day for a round trip on roads in disrepair that must be travelled barefoot.

I feel compelled to point out that the girls are not sad 
and miserable. They're just looking down at the letters.

Last, but certainly not least, came the step of delivering our letters to the local congressional office of U.S. Representative Jan Schakowksy. It was a simple drop-off appointment, but it does make a big impression to hand over 22 letters from school children. I would be very surprised if we don't hear from her office very soon! 

Here was our outline for the program for anyone who would like to duplicate this program in their school:
  • Walk to the library with empty jugs
  • Explain the role of an advocate or activist 
  • Talk about what it's like to meet with members of Congress
  • Explain what a bill is and the difficult process for it to become a law
  • Show SchoolHouse Rock "I'm Just a Bill" video
  • Tell them about the World Water Act and explain where their letters fit in the process
  • Explain where we are in the process and that they will be writing letters
  • Teach the EPIC format of letter writing
  • Have them tell me their own talking points they've learned and write them on the board that they can use in their letters.
  • Pass out an example handwritten by a child
  • Have kids write their own short letters
  • Fill bottles of water
  • Take pictures to send to parents and Congresswoman
  • Walk back to school
Please take a moment to write your own letter to your representative about the World Water Act using this website for talking points and a sample letter! If you take on this program at your school, I'd love to hear about it. Please leave a comment with your experience. Good luck!