Storming the Hill
5.20.10: Day Two of CARE’s National Conference
Day two of CARE’s National Conference was no less exhausting or exciting than the first. All 930 CARE supporters boarded buses to Capitol Hill to participate in our beloved American political process.
Many of you are pregnant with American citizens. Your children will be among the most fortunate on earth, simply because they’ll be born American. Hillary Clinton spoke at this conference last week and said, “I’ve always noticed that talent is universal. Opportunity, however, is not.” If your child is born American, he/she will have opportunities many children in the world will not. Those born with great privilege are also born with great responsibility. Thanks to the Internet, children born today will have unprecedented access to the rest of the world. They will be global citizens who solve global problems like poverty, climate change and hunger. They’ll learn how to be citizens from you, their parents.
Americans are lucky to be able to speak directly to their political representatives yet very few take advantage of this right. Heck, Americans barely vote. We might not be delighted with everything our government does or does not do, but too many of us are content to fight it out at the kitchen table instead of in the voting booth, much less via direct contact with our representatives.
I was initially intimidated at the idea of talking with my congressman. Now that I’ve done it a few times, I realize, our Congressmen/women and Senators are just folks like us. That’s the point of American politics. They’re just men and women who want to make an impact. We tell them what we want and they try to make it happen. I’m not such a starry-eyed optimist to think that’s how it always goes down but I’m coming off the high of having just stormed Capitol Hill, so humor me will you?
Those of us lobbying for CARE broke into groups and met with the Senators, Congressmen/women (or frequently someone from their staff) from our own states. None of us were professional lobbyists and all of us had paid our own way to get to “the Hill.” This was what really made an impression, that we constituents cared enough about these issues to show up at their door. Even though we were nervous and stumbled over speeches and statistics a time or two (I felt about as articulate as Elmer Fudd during our first meetings), I think they found us somewhat refreshing.
Combined, CARE supporters had more than 350 meetings with our representatives. We dashed from the Senate side of the Hill to the House side, weaving our way through the park, tunnels and crowds, and past countless security checks. It was like an endurance sport that left many of us slapping Band-Aids on our feet from walking the tops of our toes off.
Our goals were to ask for specific support on three key pieces of legislation that will help reduce poverty and improve quality of life, for girls, women and families. In times of crisis Americans reach out and help. Look at what you did after the earthquake in Haiti. This legislation offers similar help based on infrastructure so that when crises like that hit, people affected will have a more secure foundation and better chance of survival.
1. Global Food Security Act (S. 384 and H.R. 3077): Seeks to establish a comprehensive, whole-of-government strategy to reduce rates of global hunger by addressing root causes of hunger and poverty.
2. International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act (S. 987 and H.R. 2103): Seeks to reduce rates of child marriage worldwide by creating a five-year plan.
3. Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (Senate: Global and Maternal Health Bill and H.R. 5268): Seeks to reduce rates of maternal mortality in the developing world by coordinating US efforts and focusing on simple, cost-effective interventions that save lives.
The Maternal, Newborn and Child Health bill, nicknamed The Global Moms Act, was just introduced by California Congresswoman Lois Capps on the first day of the CARE conference. The ink was barely dry and we were excited to be among the first to tell our representatives about it. By the end of our lobbying day several congressmen were as enthusiastic as we were and agreed to co-sponsor the bill. Today, we have 26 co-sponsors.
We have a way to go before we see the global impact of our lobbying but the impact on me, personally, was instant. I felt like a citizen and an advocate for the best Americans have to offer: Generosity, big ideas and giant hearts. That’s what the American constitution is all about – We The People. That’s us, guys. Anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
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