After the marches

Ken Patterson, RESULTS
April 05, 2018

Hundreds of thousands of people have traveled to DC to march in the streets and demand change. These massive displays of solidarity -- most recently with the Women’s March and the March for Our Lives – matter. They open a space for dialogue and inspire people across the country and the world.

But marches are a starting point for creating change, not an end in themselves. Politicians may be moved in the moment, but without well-informed persistence, their attention will quickly shift to other matters.

If you think about what makes paid lobbyists effective, it’s a couple of key things:

  1.  Even though lobbyists cannot hire or fire elected officials, they fill a void left by voters who aren’t actively holding their elected officials to account.
  2. Lobbyists get paid to show up day-in and day-out, so their issue always stays on the front burner.
  3. Finally, in lieu of constituent votes, lobbyists give quite a lot of money to elected officials—not as good as votes, but persuasive nonetheless.

The thing that paid lobbyists lack, though, is the ability to hire and fire our elected officials. They know this, and our elected officials know this, but until “the people” show up and assume their proper role, the relationship will remain cozy. Democracy does not maintain itself—it is by the people and for the people, so people therefore must engage with it every chance they can. This is our responsibility as citizens.

So how exactly do we do that? To start, we have to talk to our members of Congress. Remember, they work for you. Without you – the constituent – they would not have a job or a salary. So if you’re not sure who your representatives are, go find out. It’s time for us to walk into the offices of our elected officials, look them in the eye, and have a conversation. Let’s find out what they care about, let them know what we care about, and ask them to take action.

Maybe they won’t immediately do what you ask (remember the paid lobbyists?), but let me give an example that might at least give you some hope. Last year, the White House released a federal budget that proposed slashing a slew of global anti-poverty programs. I was alarmed and worried. Since one political party holds all the power in Washington right now, wouldn’t the cuts would sail through Congress without objection?

Nope. Here’s why: because for years RESULTS volunteer advocates in almost every state have been developing relationships with members of Congress and educating them about global health and education programs. Our volunteer advocates contact congressional offices weekly and get to know the legislative staff. They generate media, engage their communities, and give positive reinforcements when a representative or senator does something good.

Members of Congress understand the power of global health and education programs because there is a group of well-informed, passionate constituents rooting for them to do the right thing. They know that these programs are too important to cut – and so they didn’t cut them. In the end, many of the endangered programs actually saw increases in funding. The White House made the same bad proposal again this year, and smart advocacy will need to fight it back once again.

This July, I’ll be in Washington with hundreds of advocates from the U.S. and around the world at the RESULTS International Conference. We’ll learn about policy, hear from amazing lineup of speakers, and sharpen our advocacy skills. Then we’ll take our message straight to Capitol Hill. Some lawmakers will agree to take action right away, while for others this will be just the start of a long-term dialogue. But one thing they’ll know for sure is that we are not going away.

I want my representatives and senators to see my face, hear my voice, and listen to my requests at every possible opportunity. I want to know what they think when the camera isn’t rolling. Most of all, I want to wake up every day knowing I did everything I could to bring about the change I want to see. I’m in this for the long haul – are you?