Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Celebrities and Members of Congress Praise Volunteers at Annual Banquet

After all of the weeks of preparation and pre-lobby day anxiety, the participants of the International Conference returned to the Washington Court Hotel on the evening of June 23 happy, emboldened, and exhilarated from their day on the Hill. Overall, RESULTS partners visited over 250 congressional offices that day, lobbying on issues such as global health, education for all, domestic healthcare reform and microcredit. Some groups even allowed for members back home to participate in congressional meetings by conference call, so as many voices from home regions could be incorporated as possible.

Traditionally, the completion of Lobby Day and the International Conference is celebrated with the RESULTS annual banquet. This year, we were lucky enough to have actress Valerie Harper emcee the event. Valerie was in town for her role as Tallulah Bankhead in the play Looped, and has a long history of involvement with RESULTS, including serving on our board of directors. “We’re all gathering together as partners in this work, and it’s tangible in this room,” she said. “I’m so pleased to be here with you.”

The banquet is also where we traditionally bestow the annual Cameron Duncan Media Award to a journalist or publication that has demonstrated excellence in highlighting issues related to poverty. This year, the winner was the Times of Trenton, in honor of 20 years of partnership with our Delaware Valley RESULTS group. Accepting was Diana Lee Groden, opinions editor for the Times. She acknowledged the importance of the community’s input to the editorial pages, and noted that when the Times was forced to cut column inches, they chose to keep the editorial pages intact. She also praised longtime RESULTS volunteer Phyllis Alroy, who forged the group’s relationship with the paper, and is known in the newsroom as “the little lady with fire in her eye…Phyllis the Persistant…Phyllis the Positive, the Tireless, and the Passionate.”

Also in attendance were several members of Congress who have worked closely with RESULTS partners through the years. Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) praised RESULTS as “one of the first groups who recognized the importance of educating women.” He also encouraged volunteers to continue to engage their elected officials, even if they get discouraged. “In this town you have to be the squeaky wheel,” he said.

Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) also spoke of the need to make sure more children, especially girls, receive a quality education, in order to raise a new generation of leaders. “If we were to turn over more of the decision-making power and the ability to determine priorities to the women of the world, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in.”

Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA) also spoke well of his local group. “You inspire us to make sure we remember what we’re here for; that we’re trying to change things for the better for the country and for the world,” he said. He compared the idea that poverty can be ended to the civil rights struggle in the 1950s. “How did you get people to think about segregation in 1956,” he asked? He urged people not to give up on what may seem impossible to others.

Canadian MP Judy Wasylycia‐Leis of Winnipeg told of her visit with RESULTS Canada to Bangladesh, which was a powerful experience for her. “We have an absolute obligation when elected to fight for a change locally and globally,” she said. She also made a reference to the serenity prayer, which asks God for help in accepting the things we cannot change. Instead, she said, “our prayer should be for God to help me to change the things I cannot accept.”

Although the conference officially concluded with the end of the banquet, many partners remained in Washington for final meetings with congressional aides. We’re delighted that so many partners and distinguished guests came out for the conference, especially in such lean economic times. The enthusiasm and participation of so many is a true testament to the passion and commitment of our volunteers. See you next year!

Relationship, Relationship, Relationship

This is the day we've all been waiting for. Although waiting probably isn't the best word to use. This is the day we've all been working for. Working hard. First we made our way to Washington DC to sit at the feet of our anti-poverty champions, soaking up their knowledge and experience. Then we crammed like college students the night before a final exam preparing to meet with our members of congress and their aides. My favorite part was watching the RESULTS legislative director, John Fawcett, running from group to group, going over everything one last time.

I have personally attended three meetings today with aides to our state senators and representatives. 17 California constituents piled into meeting rooms to present our carefully crafted agenda. Hands were shaking, information packets were at the ready and speeches were practiced. We all came in with our contribution, even if it was just to be there representing our county without saying a word past initial introductions. I was so proud of everyone at that table. Even when one of our prepared speeches fell short somehow, another partner came through and smoothly filled in the gaps. At the smaller meeting between me, my local RESULTS partner, and her representative's aide, I listened to her grab the opportunity to finally sit down and speak with him about microcredit for the first time.

Tomorrow is my face-to-face meeting with my member of congress. Even after today's successes, I'm a little nervous. Tonight is our celebration banquet. I'll enjoy it but I'll most certainly be clutching my agenda outline under the table repeating the words I hope will come out right. But there's one thing I will take with me that I learned again today. I seem to need to learn it over and over. To quote RESULTS' founder, Sam Daley-Harris, "Relationship, relationship, relationship." The aides who sat around the conference tables with us today were mere mortals. As eager (and nervous) as we were to influence them, they were eager to gain our approval. They're busy, they're tired and they want us to bring them something challenging and inspiring. They're glad when we've done our homework. They actually listen to what we have to say and hope we'll listen back.

I'm not saying they were eager to give us what we wanted on a silver platter. It was actually the opposite in some cases. But RESULTS lobbyists are good at relationship-building because we're hope-filled people. We see the possibility even in the face of an outright "no." All of those hours of cramming do pay off. RESULTS lobbyists build relationships without trying to get our members to do exciting things for us to change the world. We get to know our aides, and supply them with ideas and information, so that we can do exciting things together to change the world.
Kara Stewart
RESULTS partner

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The International Conference on YouTube

We're uploading clips from all of the major plenaries and speeches at the conference on our YouTube channel. Please visit for constantly updated coverage. Plenaries are broken into 10 minute segments, per YouTube's restrictions, but we're gradually loading everything up there. Please check back often!

RESULTS Partners Take on the Hill!

Of all the exciting events and speakers at RESULTS' International Conference, Lobby Day is most definitely the main event. This is the day when all U.S. RESULTS partners meet with their members of Congress, and international partners meet with officials at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to get quality face-to-face time on issues relating to poverty.

The day traditionally starts with a breakfast on the Hill. This morning, RESULTS volunteers and staff gathered at the Hart Office Building in a room with a sweeping view of the Capitol dome and the Washington Monument. There they were addressed first by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), a longtime ally on such issues as global TB and providing health care for all Americans. He praised RESULTS activists in particular for their dedication to fighting poverty. "There's no other group out there that does what you do," he said. "You work for something much bigger than yourselves."

The group also heard from Ambassador Tony Hall, who had previously served as a representative from Ohio for 20 years before being named the ambassador to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. His involvement in global hunger issues goes back to the mid-1980s, when he was the first American member of Congress to visit Ethiopia in the midst of a devastating famine. His commitment to ending world hunger continued into the early 1990s, when he protested the abolishment of the House Select Committee on Hunger by fasting for 22 days. His efforts caught the attention of the World Bank, which provided $100 million to fund hunger projects.

Ambassador Hall said that his experiences affirmed his faith in the ability for a small number of people to bring about significant change. As the RESULTS volunteers prepared to go meet their elected officials, he encouraged them not to be afraid of taking them to task. "If they've let you down, tell politicians you're disappointed in them," he said. "This scares politicians."

"You're here because you love this issue," he added. "Your love will show forth. Don't let them get away with anything."

Robyn Shepherd
Communications Officer

Monday, June 22, 2009

Education as a Force Against Poverty

When it comes to fighting terrorism, extremism, poverty, and violence, the most potent weapon could be as simple as a classroom.

Such was the overarching message at Monday morning's plenary session on the need to establish a global fund for education. 75 million primary school-age children around the world are denied access to an education. The reasons for this are many: some families cannot afford the mandatory school fees; some families require the children to stay home to work or to care for sick parents; some families forbade young girls from receiving an education.

However, the cost of not educating these young people is unacceptable. Julia Bolz, founder of Journey with an Afghan School, addressed the crowd on her decision to leave her lucrative law practice and dedicate her life to building schools in Afghanistan. When she first traveled to the country in January 2002, Afghanistan led the world in such grim indicators as maternal mortality, overall poverty, and illiteracy. Desperate families were selling their children, with the going rate being $14 for a child. When Julia and her teammates traveled to the country after the fall of the Taliban, the primary thing community leaders asked for as a means to rebuild their nation was schools.

With partners in the form of American schools and donors, Julia and her team were able to build 15 new schools and refurbish 15 more. Their schools serve 25,000 children, and impact 150,000 family members. For the first time, the children in these communities -- boys and girls -- were excited about their future, and villages that had warred with each other in the past came together around the common purpose of building the schools. "Instead of carrying AK-47s, these kids were playing soccer," she said.

Franco Mujak, exceutive director of Village Help for South Sudan, Inc., told a similar story of how schools are helping rebuild war-torn areas. For over 20 years, the mainly Muslim, Arabic-speaking north and the Christian and animist, English-speaking southern part of the country have been at war over cultural and governing rights. South Sudan has not fared as well economically as the north, where the government had been historically based. A power-sharing truce in 2005 has held, though it is shaky.

Franco's organization provides not only an education for children who desperately need it, but a sense of community for a population that includes many orphans and refugees. In addition to building schools, his organization carries out projects that foster economic growth in the villages. He said that although there are many crises in his country that are important -- such as the separate issue in the western Sudanese region of Darfur -- long-term crisis zones and their children cannot be forgotten.

Finally, David Gartner of the Brookings Institution spoke about what RESULTS partners could do to help children like those in Afghanistan and Sudan. He reminded the group of the Millennium Development Goal to achieve universal access to primary education by 2015. "The class of 2015 starts this year," he said "We have no time to lose." Education must be free for all people, he said, and teachers must be trained.

To accomplish this, he invoked a promise made by Barack Obama when he was running for president. He vowed to establish a $2 billion Global Fund for Education, which would be supported by many nations and donors. RESULTS has been advocating for President Obama to make good on his promise for several months, and David took it one step further. He asked the partners at the conference to go back to their home countries, and urge their leaders who will be attending the G8 Summit in Italy next month to address the need to establish a Global Fund for Education in the Summit Communique.

All panelists emphasized the same basic point. An education means so much more to a child than knowledge. It means better health, better prosperity, and a better future. The war against poverty and extremism need not only be fought with guns and weapons, but with books and opportunity for a better life.

Robyn Shepherd
Communications Officer

Building a Grassroots Movement

President Barack Obama's campaign was a breakthrough on several fronts, but one of the most powerful was the way in which a large network of community organizers were able to deliver such astounding results. One of the campiagn's major successes was the ability to win the state of Nevada, which previously voted Republican in other presidential elections.

John Gilbert, deputy field director for the Obama Nevada campaign, addressed the International Conference by talking about the fundamentals of building a grassroots movement. "There's both a science and an art to good organizing," he said. Being able to connect and empathize with people is an art, but much of the Obama campaign's success came down to simple metrics. "You need to keep in mind your ultimate goal," he said. "It has to be quantifiable. Set a timetable for how long you have to achieve that goal, and work backwards from there."

For example, he said, the Obama campaign estimated how many voters were likely to turn out for election day. They knew they needed at least 51 percent of those to vote for their candidate. They knew they had until November 4, 2008 (general election day). From there, they were able to figure out how many phone calls needed to be made per day, and per hour. "Without that numerical guidance," he said. "We'd never be able to get where we did."

Beyond the science of metrics, Mr. Gilbert also talked about the importance of training volunteers and investing in building familiarity. He warned about getting so caught up in the urgency of your cause that you just rush in. While working for the Obama campaign, he learned that going slow in the beginning and holding house parties and social events to recruit new volunteers, rather than jumping right into metrics, was a worthwhile strategy. The campaign was able to establish a presence in the community, so they had a much larger pool of volunteers to work with later in the process. "Investing in volunteers in the front end makes the difference in getting a return on the back end," he said.

He also warned advocacy veterans against taking too much on themselves, and not being open to new ideas. A great organizer doesn't try to do everything, but trusts people to carry out their tasks, "like an ethically-sound pyramid scheme," he joked.

Ultimately, he said, the key to good organizing can be traced back to the Obama campaign's overall strategy of Respect, Empower, and Include. This not only applies to your fellow volunteers, but to critics. "You will never win trying to convince someone that they are wrong," he said, and offered encouragement for when the task at hand seems arduous.

"It is difficult work," he said. "It is laborious work. But it is the Lord's work, and I'm so honored to be among you today."

Robyn Shepherd
Communications Officer, RESULTS

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Health Care Reform: Let’s Cure the System

I was honored to have attended the domestic plenary Understanding the Long-Term Solution to our Health Crisis: A National Health Program on June 21. As an American citizen who has lived in France, a country that has one of the best health care systems in the world according to the World Health Organization, the U.S. health system has always been an upsetting part of my life in Michigan. I really felt shocked by the narratives of Registered Nurse Donna Smith who explained how she had uterine cancer and how her husband suffered from severe cardiac problems. This led her family to bankruptcy. Her situation was documented in Sicko, Michael Moore’s 2007 film on the American health care system.

“I was not in Michael Moore’s movie because my story is special,” she said. “I was in his movie because my story is ordinary.” Indeed, over 60 percent of bankruptcies are caused by people not being able to pay their medical bills. The message that health care was a human right stuck with me. Having lived most my life in France, this is common sense to me, but some Americans I speak to seem to think that it is impossible for us to provide for everybody when it comes to health care. The real question is how can we afford not to provide health care for all Americans? I learned that the visionary HR 676 house bill that provides health care for all would actually cut the health care system cost by half!

Dr. Margaret Flowers of Physicians for a National Health Care Program shared a very shocking story. In May 2009, the main committees in the Senate were meeting the major players in the health care system. The senators would not allow any of the doctors and clinicians to have a say and a seat at the round table of “open discussion.” Only the health insurance and pharmaceutical companies had a say in this.

The use of the term Medical Industrial Complex (“Med. I. C.”) really was a great way to capture this very aggravating situation in which health care providers (i.e. doctors and nurses) have to use civil disobedience in order to have a chance of being heard. A total of 13 doctors were arrested for standing up and expressing their discontent to not being given a seat in the round table discussing the future of health care.

I was really empowered by these plenaries and I look forward to learning more in the future. I am recommitted to help all Americans obtain health care. Let’s learn from these heroes and stand up for our rights!

Lionel Sitruk
University of Michigan - Ann Arbor RESULTS