Wednesday, June 24, 2009
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!
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.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
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."
Monday, June 22, 2009
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.
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."
Communications Officer, RESULTS
Sunday, June 21, 2009
“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!
University of Michigan - Ann Arbor RESULTS
Glenn Thomas started by expressing frustration that in a world where we can bailout bankers, it seems terrible that we can’t eliminate this disease of drug-resistant TB that is now in 55 countries.
He spoke about the book, Airborne, which we were all given as a gift at registration. He wanted us to know that the book doesn’t end with the 55 pages. It is a movement. He spoke about how much the project has meant to him personally. Glenn has been working in TB for over five years, but there were still things he didn’t understand until he read them in the book, such as how toxic the drugs are, how much people suffer, and why people stop treatment against their doctors’ orders. To beat this disease is truly a struggle, and this book helps reveal that reality to us.
He wanted to stress two things to us:
1) The importance of stories and images
2) How you tell those stories, especially when so many professional journalists are leaving the industry.
A slideshow of some of the book’s key images and the stories behind them provided a backdrop to the stories he told about the patients and staff he met and captured in the book.
John Donnelly then spoke about the state of newspapers, insisting that they cannot continue with the old strategies, so we need to develop creative new strategies to gt our message out. We must develop our own content. Airborne is a good example of how WHO decided to create something new because their story wasn’t being told in the news. It will be publicized on CNN International World Report and the BBC. He advised us to look beyond op-eds and LTEs. We have to be savvy about blogs. Some concrete suggestions for that are:
Cindy Changyit Levin
North Chicago Group Leader
Saturday, June 20, 2009
greeting, and hugging our way through the day. We were a scattered
group as we checked into rooms, attended early sessions, checked out
the surroundings and gabbed with each other. But finally we gathered
together for the kick-off session. Scott Leckman, RESULTS Educational
Fund board chairman, introduced our beloved executive director, Joanne
Carter. He traced her long history with RESULTS, which is very
inspiring to beginning activists who may be wondering how much impact
and importance they can have. Joanne started as a veterinarian, then
successively became a RESULTS volunteer, group leader, and regional
coordinator. She then joined the RESULTS staff as a legislative
director and became our executive director last year! Joanne warmly and
graciously received our applause by saying “In a really true way, everything I
am is because of you all.”
She continued on by acknowledging how the hard economic times are
affecting our work and our personal lives. “The economic crisis makes
it more important than ever for us to be together, but it makes it
harder for us to come together.” Neverthelesswe had a
great turnout this year including representatives from Canada, Mexico,
the UK, Australia, Kenya, France, Tanzania, Brazil and the
Congo (I’m sorry if I missed some…Joanne however was sure to get all
the countries in). We are a vibrant growing community! We are missing
some people because of economic reasons, so Joanne stressed that we
are making a commitment to connect partners at home. Some ways that
some of them are participating are through letters, phone calls to
offices made on lobby day, media pieces, and even joining in on some
conference calls to be vocally in the room during the lobby day
visits (and hopefully, by reading this blog!!!). We hope that in
these ways, we can make this the biggest and most powerful conference
ever. Joanne says “Hello (to the people at home). We are sending you
our love. “
Joanne talked about the special nature of RESULTS in that what we
bring is a vision of what’s needed rather than what’s likely or
doable. We don’t start with “how much money do we think we’re going
to get?” We start with “what is needed in the world,” then we figure
out how to get there. Her message was that we work on making the
There is a fundamental question that RESULTS will be thinking about at
this conference: How do we keep doing this and create demand? Some
specific facets of this question are: How do we inspire members of Congress to take
it on, then keep being the wind behind their sails that make it
impossible for them not to do it? How do we build a base of support
for ourselves? How do we get 100 people who would make three or four phone
calls throughout the year?
Joanne left us with some inspirational words about hope, which ended
like this: Hope is a decision. Hope is a practice. We’re here to
keep hope alive for each other.
As an extra blog note, I should mention that after the kick-off
remarks came recognition of our fantastic regional coordinators and
the Parade of Groups. If you haven’t seen this phenomenon, you really
should. We were treated to classic state songs, re-lyriced songs,
silly jokes, state history, custom poetry, and a great deal of genuine
Good night, everybody! See y’all tomorrow morning!
Cindy Changyit Levin
North Chicago Group Leader
If you find some of our conversation is a little spicier than usual when you get here, we’ll point our fingers at activist and ally, Valerie Harper, who will be hosting our IC Banquet on Tuesday. A whole pile of RESULTS folks including Sammi Fredenburg, Lisa Marchall, Ken Patterson, and Leslie Reed took advantage of the 50 percent discount to see Valerie play Tallulah Bankhead in a stage production of “Looped” here in DC. Her character was a coke-snorting, scotch-guzzling aging actress who was also the maven of one-liner zingers. I’m guessing we see a different side to Ms. Harper at the IC banquet!
I worked the registration table this morning and was happy to meet activists from Wisconsin, Michigan, Washington, Virginia, Texas and even the UK. It’s inspiring to look at the nametags laid out on the table to see how many folks will come from so far away...all coming for the same purpose of ending hunger and the worst aspects of poverty. The college students are also out and about and forming their own formidable force to be reckoned with. I saw Crickett Nicovich organizing them bright and early this morning in the lobby.
This conference is going to be all about gaining inspiration as well as meeting and attaining goals in our empowerment. So, I want to give a special acknowledgement to Teresa Rugg who met a personal goal of hers this morning that she’s been harboring for years. She got up in the wee hours of the morning today and ran from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial to spend some quite solo time with Abe and back. She told me it was a great moment to stand in his presence with him – all to herself – and reflect on what we’re trying to do before the hubbub of the whole conference starts. Whatever it is that inspires you, whatever it is you want to achieve, I hope you find it here at the RESULTS International Conference. This time is for you to find strength and achieve more for yourself and the world’s poorest people than you ever thought possible. I look forward to seeing you soon!
Cynthia Changyit Levin
North Chicago group leader