Thursday, October 30, 2014

Get Out the Vote!...and then keep in touch

"Vote Obama out of office."

Sitting in a back room waiting for my daughter to finish up a lesson, I had a conversation I'd rather not have had. It was important, but sometimes I'm just not in the mood. It started out well enough with a father politely asking what I do. I told him that I am a writer and a volunteer lobbyist on global health issues. Knowing the words "volunteer" and "lobbyist" don't usually go together, he asked for more detail about what I do. I told him something like, "I contact members of Congress about actions they can take to fight diseases like AIDS or polio and teach other everyday citizens to do that as well." In our conversation, he seemed to not really know what I was getting at, so I eventually asked the question for illustration..."So, if you have something you want to change about what our country is doing, what do you do about it?"

"Vote Obama out of office."

Oh, brilliant. Where do I start with this man who was telling this to me with a straight face right beside his teenage son who will be voting in just a few years? Let's break down the ridiculousness of that comment into three categories.

  1. Obama's not up for re-election in 2014. There is no presidential election this year nor can anyone have three terms. No matter how you feel about President Obama, you have to get over this point. 
  2. The president is not the only one who has influence. For instance, the administration can make budget recommendations, but only Congress can approve the actual spending of money.
  3. Election day is not the only day when you have a voice in government. 

The idea that you can only affect what our government does once every 4 years is a naive and antiquated notion. 
Every single day is an opportunity to shape U.S. policies whether it be through tweeting, blogging, writing letters to the editor, calling members of Congress, writing handwritten letters to Congress, or meeting face-to-face in Congressional offices. All of these actions are open to us. It is our right as citizens and, hey, even if you're not a citizen you can still use Twitter to organize. I was frustrated by this man's attitude, but not really surprised by it. We're taught about elections in high school American government class, but no one ever explains to us how we can influence government as citizens post-election. 

Fellow RESULTS volunteer Richard Smiley and I chatting
 with Senator  Durbin (on right) about global poverty
TV news - or any news, really - would lead anyone to think that voting or contributing large amounts of money are the only things that citizens can do. Since so many people don't know what kinds of effective actions they can personally take, most people end up just frustrated and giving up on our system without ever truly being a part of it. Because of this huge gap between most citizens and government, there is a space for concerned citizen lobbyists to slide right in and have great impact. Just a modest amount of 10-20 phone calls on a topic can sometimes greatly influence a member of Congress because few people really bother to do it. It can have a great effect, especially if it's an important yet little known issue. A constituent meeting face-to-face with congressional staff or an actual member of Congress is even rarer and makes even more impact.

I tried to make these points to the dad in the waiting room in a polite and courteous way. Honestly, I don't think I had that much of an effect on him and I didn't really expect to. His son, on the other hand, was listening to every word and asking questions. And maybe that's who I was really talking to. The son is the reason to have the conversation I didn't feel like having. Because the kids of today are the voters of tomorrow who will help to decide their future and mine. I want that boy and my children to vote with optimism and care...and not stop at the voting booth. That's the same thing I want from you.
US Rep. Jan Schakowksy reads a letter from my children
about global child survival.

So, get out and vote, to be sure! That's where an engaged citizen starts. But don't stop there. Let your elected officials know what you want after they're in office even if - especially if - they are not of the party you favor. They still represent you and it is your right and privilege to contact them on the issues that are important to you. Don't waste it!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Keeping the Motivation UP!

I had a tough run this week. 11 miles training for my RESULTS fundraising half-marathon run. The distance wasn't even what made it so hard. It was the fact that I had to get it done while my 9-yr-old was getting ready for school. It was broken up into chunks while I was multi-tasking. Here's what it looked like:

Starting back again at zero
miles is depressing after
running 6 already!

  • 5 miles on the treadmill before anyone got up
  • Wake daughter
  • 2 miles outside while husband was still home
  • Make sure kid's doing chores and eating breakfast. Goodbye to husband
  • 4 more miles on the treadmill
5+2+4=11. Whew.

Two miles outside made kept up my spirts
for the 9 miles on the treadmill
It's incredibly hard to keep focus on an exhausting task when you are interrupted and doing other things at the same time. Inertia can sometimes be your friend since an object in motion tends to stay in motion. But it can be your enemy since an object at rest tends to stay at rest. Getting back onto that treadmill was the hardest thing I've done all month.

This is not unlike what happens when you play the long game in activism, working on an issue like global vaccines. We fight and lobby for immunizations for children to secure funding for the GAVI, the vaccine alliance and fight diseases like polio, measles, and rotovirus. Sometimes we have big wins, but sometimes there are long distracting pauses in the legislative process during which life happens. Congress is in recess. Kids soccer games, choir performances, and scouting activities happen. School happens. We forget about what we were doing and when appropriations season (the time when Congress decides how much money to give in a year) or pledging time (the time when the President decides how much the U.S. should be giving) comes around, we have to fire up our engines all over again. But I do. Because this is important. Way more important than my run this morning.

It's so easy to think that we can let the issue go because vaccines are kind of a no-brainer in the fight for global health. They are a "best buy" when you think about the value of a low-cost vaccine that buys a child lifelong protection from disease. How do you even put a value on the precious life of a child? And the value on the dignity of a mother who was protected by immunizations as an infant so she can work to provide for her own kids free of illness?...priceless. With all the benefits to saving lifes and bolstering of world economy, you'd think that it would be automatic for Congress to pass adequate funding.

But it's not automatic. 

It's a fight. Every. Time.

One of my Twitter followers saw my updates urging people to tweet the White House to ask the administration to pledge $1 Billion over the next 4 years for GAVI. He did take the action, but said something insightful. He stands up for issues that are little known or publicized, like human trafficking - which is very admirable and I strive to do the same - but tweeted that he expects our elected officials to take care of those widely known issues without his input. 

I'm glad he voiced this. I understand that viewpoint and it's true that it's hard to stand up for all things all the time. Sadly, though, it's just not true that lawmakers do the moral and smart thing even if the benefits are well-known. I've been on the losing side of advocacy battles, too, when child health programs have been slashed on the state or federal level. 

This is why it's important to keep up the momentum and remember to strap on your shoes and get back in the race at those key moments for global this moment. Right now!

We are on the cusp of the pledging event where all the world's nations will send representation to Berlin to publicly say how much they will pledge to the GAVI Alliance. We want the U.S. to step up and pledge $1 billion over 4 years to the GAVI Alliance, which will have the effect of saving 6 million kids' lives.   

Will you join me in getting back in the game?

Three EASY ways you can join the fight for children's lives:

  1. Sign this petition from the ONE Campaign to the White House.
  2. Tweet the White House with this message: "Friends, PLEASE Retweet: @WhiteHouse save over 6M kids' lives by pledging $1B over 4 yrs to @GAVI #AYAAction #VaccinesWork"
  3. Call the White House by dialing 1-888-213-2881, which will connect you directly to the White House comment line. When the operator comes on the line, tell them: “I am asking President Obama to help save 6 million children’s lives by pledging 1 billion dollars over the next four years to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Thank you.” (If you're worried about this one, go see my past blog about how easy calling in really is.)

I hope you will join me in taking one or all of these actions. Even taking all of them would take less than 20 min, but have enormous impact on our planet while costing you no money...except for your taxes and you have every right to weigh in on what they are spent on. Help us keep up the motivation!