Stories and Quotes
Powerful Advocacy Stories for Grassroots Activists
These stories are, in large part, YOUR stories. Please use these powerful stories to inspire you and our leaders. Read them to reinvigorate your own group, to help new partners understand our dedication to change, to open the eyes and hearts of community members, and to create champions out of your representatives, senators, and editorial writers.
Looking to our youth to reclaim our democracy
Excerpt from “Generation Q,” by Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, October 10, 2007
. . . I noticed at Auburn and Ole Miss more than a few young men and women proudly wearing their R.O.T.C. uniforms. Many of those not going abroad have channeled their national service impulses into increasingly popular programs at home like “Teach for America,” which has become to this generation what the Peace Corps was to mine.
It’s for all these reasons that I’ve been calling them “Generation Q” — the Quiet Americans, in the best sense of that term, quietly pursuing their idealism, at home and abroad.
But Generation Q may be too quiet, too online, for its own good, and for the country’s own good. When I think of the huge budget deficit, Social Security deficit, and ecological deficit that our generation is leaving this generation, if they are not spitting mad, well, then they’re just not paying attention. And we’ll just keep piling it on them. There is a good chance that members of Generation Q will spend their entire adult lives digging out from the deficits that we — the “Greediest Generation,” epitomized by George W. Bush — are leaving them. . . .
America needs a jolt of the idealism, activism, and outrage (it must be in there) of Generation Q. That’s what twenty-somethings are for — to light a fire under the country. But they can’t e-mail it in, and an online petition or a mouse click for carbon neutrality won’t cut it. They have to get organized in a way that will force politicians to pay attention rather than just patronize them. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy didn’t change the world by asking people to join their Facebook crusades or to download their platforms. Activism can only be uploaded, the old-fashioned way — by young voters speaking truth to power, face to face, in big numbers, on campuses or the Washington Mall.
Virtual politics is just that — virtual.
Maybe that’s why what impressed me most on my brief college swing was actually a statue — the life-size statue of James Meredith at the University of Mississippi. Meredith was the first African-American to be admitted to Ole Miss in 1962. The Meredith bronze is posed as if he is striding toward a tall limestone archway, re-enacting his fateful step onto the then-segregated campus — defying a violent, angry mob and protected by the National Guard.
Above the archway, carved into the stone, is the word “Courage.” That is what real activism looks like. There is no substitute.
Bridging lives and bringing hope
Excerpt from the book, The Impossible Will Take a Little While, by Victoria Safford
Not long ago I came across a photograph, a picture in a magazine that inspires me and troubles me, and calls me to account in ways I would rather not be called. It’s of a woman with two children lying on a bed, their arms flung across her body carelessly, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, the most ordinary, peaceful afternoon, one child blissfully asleep, the other just a little bit awake. The woman is lying on her side with open eyes, with an expression of alert concern, maybe fear, but also, underneath, a certain calm, and deep intensity. It is a beautiful face, for these reasons.
This is the caption:
Irene Siegel, a Jewish American, sleeps in the home of a Palestinian family in Beit Jala as a part of a human shield campaign to deter Israeli shelling of Palestinian homes. She says: “Magdalene, my Palestinian hostess, looked at me sideways and said softly, ‘Are you Jewish?’ And I nodded. She threw her arms around me and said, ‘You know, I love you, Irene. I love you like a sister.’ And I cried. And so did she. And then she talked to me until two in the morning about everything — her fears, her pain, her experiences — everything she had held inside for so long, surrounded as she is by a community who are all suffering the same pain.
Using a story to bring a football player-congressman to tears
RESULTS Grassroots meeting with Rep. Schuler (D-NC), April 2008.
Story courtesy of Kathy Lyons-Spear
Our member of Congress, Heath Shuler, was a quarterback in the early ‘90s and runner-up for the Heisman trophy. He is a first-term conservative Democrat. We’ve met with him three times during the 15 months he’s been in office. The first was right after he took office. They were running behind and had to cut our appointment to 15 minutes. We cut most things out and ended up reading the Mark Kwadwo story, the young boy who had been sold to a fisherman. We were pleased that we chose to focus on deepening a relationship rather than out “laundry list” because over the following months he took actions on “all” of the requests that we had in our hands at the first meeting.
The second meeting held in Washington, D.C. at the International Conference, and was very brief. He had to go to the floor for a vote so we chose to build our relationship. He sat on the edge of his desk and made great eye contact. After we looked at the pictures of his two young children, we requested that he sign onto a bill on Child Survival. We said we needed more than just cosponsorship, that we were looking to him to be a champion for children.
The third meeting was in March 2008. We had a special planning meeting for it. Of course we went for the stories. We invited a friend of RESULTS to attend. She told a story about her daughter working for a summer in Congo at a medical outpost. It was painful for Ellen to relate the story because her daughter had held a baby in her arms as the baby died of TB and other ailments. I looked over at the congressman and saw he was crying himself. We then spoke of how easily and cheaply it is treated. We touched on at least five personal connections, including baby Amelia, our partner’s engaging five month old child who was totally stealing the show in her car seat on the congressman’s office floor.
Four days later, Ellen, our guest at the meeting, went to a town hall event where our representative started talking about a group of folks he had met with who had spoken to him about the priorities of our foreign aid spending. Ellen realized he was speaking about OUR meeting after mentioning he had met a beautiful, healthy, baby named Amelia and spoke about her rosy future compared to children living in poor parts of Africa. He went on to talk about how we need to focus our money where it can do the most good for children in poverty.
I’m so grateful to know that our stories and shares can be so profound that our representative can make them his own stories. I like to think that he might be sharing like this everywhere and we just aren’t there to hear it.
“The point is, the story telling worked. . . .”
RESULTS West Los Angeles meeting with Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), December 2007
Story courtesy of Jane Daley Gamble
When the five of us arrived at Henry Waxman’s office we were a little bit scattered, as it was right after Christmas and we were trying to pull ourselves together. So we started to portion out sections of the “script” for each to take up in the meeting. Some of us didn’t want to do this story or that piece because we didn’t know that one so well or were not up to date on certain information. There was definitely some fear entering in. Then we all starting saying, and believing, “Wait, he’s an important congressman, he won’t have time to hear all this stuff, listen to these stories. Let’s just talk to him and tell him what we want and wing it.”
But Amjad, co-leader of my West LA group with Peggi Sturm, said, “We’ve all heard these stories so many times maybe they don’t seem so powerful to us anymore but Henry Waxman has never heard them.” So I agreed to tell the Mark Kwadwo story.
As we headed in to meet Rep. Waxman, I was thinking, “How can I make this story come to life for him?” After we sat down in his office we all started sharing information and making introductions and showing our passion and enthusiasm. The congressman was listening and being very friendly, interested, and supportive. But I hadn’t really introduced myself yet, so I decided to use my introduction to “make it personal.” I decided to be vulnerable in front of strangers and speak from my own life experience.
I’m going from memory, but this is something like what I said:
“Henry (yes, I called him Henry), I am producing a documentary on the success of microfinance in Africa because I believe so strongly in what microfinance has already done for millions of women. Twenty-five years ago, I was a single mother raising my 6-year-old son alone in Hollywood. I was truly a starving young actress and there were times when I didn’t know where to turn for groceries or rent. I remember the desperation I felt about wondering, how do I feed my little boy? I personally know, congressman, what it feels like to be a desperate mother. I know what is meant when we say, “A woman will do anything to feed her children.” If I may, I’d like to read you a short excerpt from the New York Times about child labor in Africa. It’s titled, “Africa’s World of Forced Labor, in a 6-Year-Old’s Eyes.”
“Just before 5:00 am, with the sky still dark over Lake Volta, Mark Kwadwo was roused from his spot on the damp dirt floor. It was time for work. . . .”
I went on to part read and part performed the Mark Kwadwo story. I looked the congressman right in the eye, I whispered the “I don’t like it here” part, and I tried to drive home the ending by emphasizing the “they are indentured servants leased out by their parents for $20 a year,” allowing the meaning to sink in that this is what some mothers are forced to do to feed their children. I did it slowly, directly, and right eyeball-to-eyeball across his desk.
There was a silence, and then we all saw it, his face softened, his eyes filled up, he was truly moved. For that moment, he was truly connected to why we were there. The story clarified for him what we are asking him to do. It humanized the problem and put a face on it.
After a moment, I asked him, “Congressman, do you think you can take the lead for us on the microfinance issue with the World Bank?
And he said “I don’t know if I’ll have the time to be the leader on this but I will be a ‘champion’ for your cause.”
At which point we all sort of erupted and said “Great! Yay! We’ll take that. We’ll take you being a CHAMPION! Because, of course, that is exactly the word we were looking for. Of course we’ll meet with him more and share more moving stories with him in order to deepen his connection to this issue.
The point is, the storytelling worked. In Congress they make speeches, they don’t tell stories. We’re used to stories — that’s why were here. But your congressperson is not used to stories. Told passionately and from the heart, told with a personal connection, you can make your representative go from being interested and aware of what you want to really being committed to your issue and a champion for your cause. Find the story that you can make personal or even just share your first reaction to hearing the story and use that as your signature piece with your member of Congress.
The Flywheel Effect
Excerpt from Calling All Radicals: How Grassroots Organizers Can Help Save Our Democracy, by Gabriel Thompson
The business writer Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, makes a similar point about successful corporations, using the image of a flywheel to help explain their achievements. The flywheel, as Collins describes, is a massive metal disk weighing 5,000 pounds, and a company’s metaphorical task is to get the flywheel moving somehow. The company goes to work, slowly at first, and as all the workers continue to push in the same direction, momentum begins to build. He is worth quoting at length:
’Then, at some point — breakthrough! The momentum of the thing kicks in in your favor, hurling the flywheel forward, turn after turn . . . whoosh! . . . its own heavy weight working for you. You’re pushing no harder than during the first rotation, but the flywheel goes faster and faster. Each turn of the flywheel builds upon work done earlier, compounding your investment of effort. A thousand times faster, then ten thousand, then a hundred thousand. The huge heavy disk flies forward, with almost unstoppable momentum.
‘Now suppose someone came along and asked, “What was the one big push that caused this thing to go so fast?”
‘You wouldn't be able to answer; it’s just a nonsensical question. Was it the first push? The second? The fifth? The hundredth? No! It was all of them added together in an overall accumulation of effort applied in a consistent direction. . . .
‘No matter how dramatic the end result, the good-to-great transformations never happened in one fell swoop. There was no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no wrenching revolution. Good to great comes about by a cumulative process — step by step, action by action, decision by decision, turn by turn of the flywheel — that adds up to sustained and spectacular results.’
Experiencing the power of microfinance to change lives
Story courtesy of Carolyn Prouty from her visit with FINCA in 1993
In 1993, I had the privilege of visiting a microfinance program, FINCA, in El Salvador that was funded through the lobbying we had done to have USAID support microfinance programs. This was early in the days of microfinance when USAID was very resistant to the idea of microfinance, though the success of the FINCA programs was beginning to turn their heads. A group of 15 or so RESULTS volunteers visited village banks throughout the countryside and there were two of us at one particular meeting of the women bankers that I remember well.
The bright blue room at the community center where we met was filled with women borrowers, as my RESULTS friend and I were present for the weekly meeting. Probably because of us, the room was filled with family and friends of the women, and there were villagers peering through the windows and children hanging on the ledges. The excitement and pride in the room was palpable.
The moment I remember most was at the end of meeting, when woman after woman got up and, with their hands over their hearts, they pleaded with us to take their message back to the U.S. and tell the people who had helped to make their bank possible, “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
“We are all walking a little taller these days.”
Story courtesy of Paul Wilson, South Kitsap (WA) partner
Congressman Norm Dicks is the third ranking democrat on the Appropriations Committee, and he sits on the Committee on Homeland Security. Although the congressman votes for RESULTS issues, he does not take a lead role on them. Our challenge was to get him engaged in solving the problems of poverty.
Then we got great news! Judy Arbogast from our South Kitsap group had worked for two years to get a district meeting with the congressman, and she had prevailed! The Bremerton and South Kitsap groups started planning, giving everyone assignments and setting an agenda. We even had the pleasure of having county and state public health experts planning to attend with us. We were ready.
Beth Wilson thanked the congressman for supporting RESULTS with his votes 100 percent of the time and told him that we hoped he would consider becoming more actively involved in moving some of our issues along. She also presented the congressman with a specially prepared RESULTS three ring binder which contained information on the Global Fund and a series of Seattle newspaper articles written about global health, Seattle NGOs, and the Gates Foundation.
To start off, the congressman wanted to know more about the Global Fund, so Rich Renner talked about the Fund, the U.S.’s $2.7 billion dollar fair share, and the Fund’s purpose to fight AIDS, TB and malaria.
The congressman said that the current year’s budget would be on President Obama’s desk by February 24 and that the discussion about the fiscal year 2010 budget would be starting in April. He said the president had stated an interest in this issue, and so if the president asked for money it would be in the budget. Then the congressman volunteered to talk to the president’s budget writers about the $2.7 billion for the Global Fund, and he said he would encourage them to put it into the budget.
At this point we were about only about ten minutes into our one half hour session. Wow!
We learned a lot of lessons during the process of achieving this face-to-face meeting. Preparation is important. You should use all your resources. Follow-up is key. And so is persistence.
And success does wonders to a group’s outlook! We are all walking a little taller these days.
“It was a powerful moment.”
Story courtesy of Kara Stewart, Orange County (CA) partner
Last month, we finally had a face-to-face meeting with my member of Congress. He hasn’t voted with RESULTS on many of our issues, but he’s taken great interest in Africa and has traveled there several times in the context of his work.
Up until this time, we’d spent one and a half years trying to get him to sign the letter to World Bank president Robert Zoellick. While his aide has always been quite nice to me, he told me over and over that my representative declined to sign. For this reason, we decided that our face-to-face meeting topic would be microfinance.
When it came time to reference the letter to Robert Zoellick, my member of Congress excitedly picked up the letter saying that Zoellick is a personal friend of his and that he’d be willing to sign onto the letter and speak to him personally. I thanked him but timidly mentioned that the letter had gone out in December and that his office declined to sign it.
This is where it got interesting. At this point, my member of Congress looked down and shook his head, seemingly in frustration. I was alarmed because he uttered under his breath “some people don’t understand.” I asked “Who?” out loud before I could stop myself. My first thought for some reason was that he was referring to me. He outright said that his foreign affairs aide, with whom I’ve had my year-and-a-half-long relationship, didn’t understand. He said he’d given his aide books to read and other resources, but that he didn’t yet see the big picture.
I knew it might be crossing the line, but I stepped into the moment with a pointed question. I remarked that the aide had passed up an opportunity to meet the head of one of the world’s leading microfinance institutions in Kenya just the week before. I said, “I don’t think your foreign affairs aide has any frame of reference for what he should do with my requests. He doesn’t see how these things fit into the context of being your foreign affairs aide. If you could help me make that clear, we can get a lot done.” He seemed to agree.
Before I could even ask, my representative declared that he would write his own letter to Robert Zoellick. The excitement amongst our partners was palpable. We closed the meeting how we’ve typically opened them — by reading the Mark Kwadwo story. We prefaced the reading by thanking him for his hard work and saying we’d like to share a story that pointedly reminds us all why we work so hard on microfinance. We quoted Muhammad Yunus’ statement that the first thing a woman typically does with her microloan is to bring her child home from forced servitude. It was a powerful moment.
In the following weeks, the aide was extremely responsive. He asked me for help in drafting the representative’s letter to Zoellick. We went through draft after draft of a detailed letter similar to the ones sent by the other representatives, but in the end, my member of Congress wrote a very short, personal note to Robert Zoellick supporting the letter sent by his colleagues. I thought it was funny that he sent that short note after all of the work his aide did to craft a detailed letter on microfinance. But then I realized that he got his point across after all, and the aide received quite an education in microfinance when it was all over.
And I’ve received quite an education myself. My member of Congress’ office sent each of us a copy of the book “The Mystery of Capital” by Hernando de Soto. It’s an amazing book that I think will open up even more dialogue with his office on microfinance and foreign aid reform.
Without persisting in getting this meeting, our group would have continued to be blockaded by an aide who was not on the same page as his boss. Through persistence, that gap was identified and overcome.
Building a Champion in Congress
Story courtesy of Monica Jolles, Triangle (NC) partner
Brad Miller is one of the congressmen we work with in North Carolina, and he has been a quiet but steady supporter of RESULTS. I first met Representative Miller in D.C. at last year’s International Conference. He had just gotten back from a congressional trip to Africa, but his description of the experience was rather hopeless. He also seemed distracted during our conversation.
We decided to change our style when meeting with him — short contributions to keep his attention and vivid stories that highlight solutions. We came up with a narrow agenda focused on microfinance and foreign Aid reform through specific stories. One story was about a young woman I met when I traveled to Colombia for Christmas. She desperately needed to increase her income after her husband got killed and left her on her own with five children. I brought to the meeting with Rep. Miller, samples of the crafts this mother sporadically sells in the streets. The crafts were a good example of how microfinance could change her life. Heather then described the housing project being undertaking by Jamii Bora microfinance clients in Kenya — about how they are building a whole new town and the link to microfinance as an example of lives already transformed.
On our way out of the meeting, the aide eagerly asked us if we could meet with her again so that she could document in a CD the stories we just shared. She mentioned that they would be effective tools for Rep. Miller to use on the floor of Congress.
Our lessons learned are:
Our group was very surprised to see how much story-telling framed within a context specifically tailored for Rep. Miller moved our relationship even further. We were very proud of our pre-planning efforts and our careful consideration of how to deliver our message.
“RESULTS fulfills dreams!”
Comment courtesy of Colleen Hernandez, Topeka (KS) partner
For the first time in my life, I feel like I have a say-so in what happens in this country. I love how RESULTS motivates folks. Things you couldn’t imagine yourself doing, you find yourself doing. I would never have imagined myself speaking to the National Press Club, but RESULTS gave me the opportunity. RESULTS fulfills dreams!
“I really feel empowered. . . .”
Comment courtesy of Lydia Spitalny, former D.C. intern
Meeting with my member of Congress is not as scary as I thought it would be. I really feel empowered and confident with how everything went and I could go right back out and do it again.
“They say our generation can tip the scales. . . .”
Comment courtesy of Bethany Weller, Minnesota State University partner
They say our generation can tip the scales politically, but we don’t really know how. RESULTS training was great because it broke it all down into easy steps. We learned we can do such simple things, like writing letters and calling editors and member of Congress. It helps you realize that literally anyone can do this.
The ability to take action
Comment courtesy of Jeff Steller, University of Kentucky partner
Other campus groups raise money or awareness, but not much else. The ability to take so much action is what makes RESULTS so awesome.
“. . . realizing our personal and political power as citizens in this country.”
Story courtesy of Sarah Goodman, NYC partner
One of the forms of political activism in which I had participated was large scale protest but I didn’t find that very rewarding. I also worked for Sen. Kerry’s 2004 Presidential campaign. When he lost, it left me feeling emotionally crushed and disempowered politically. It seemed my voice would not be effectively heard by my government.
Then, last fall, my brother asked if I would like to be involved in a NYC RESULTS chapter that he was founding. I loved the idea. The second goal of RESULTS spoke to a need within me: empowering individuals to have breakthroughs in exercising their personal and political power.
During the inviting team stage of our RESULTS group, I was asked to get Rep. Yvette Clark to sign on to the World Bank letter. I had little faith it would go any farther than someone’s voice mail box. I made the call, left a voice message and sent an e-mail.
What I was not prepared for was the return call the next day. He had read my e-mail and we had an extensive conversation about the Zoellick letter. Weeks later Rep. Clarke agreed to sign the letter. The feeling of accomplishment I felt when I heard the news was amazing.
When I called for a meeting with the congresswoman, I left a message, followed up with an e-mail, and received a call back within days. The brusque scheduler informed me that the Congresswoman was completely overbooked and that I should not expect to see her for at least six months. Though disappointed I also felt relieved. Our RESULTS group was less than two months old and I wasn’t really ready to meet with a congressperson yet anyway.
I followed up again in March and the new scheduler was extremely friendly and said “How about Tuesday, April 7 at 3:30?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing I wanted to just tell him, “thanks, but actually, no thanks.” I knew it would be hard to get other RESULTS members to attend the meeting and bottom line. I was just not ready! But, instead, I said that the time he proposed was perfect.
When Rachel Casparian, my brother, and I arrived at the office we wrote our names on the sign-in sheet, we were the only ones to indicate we were there to meet with Rep. Clarke directly. We were all a little giddy as we waited for our meeting. Anita Taylor, the district director informed us that Rep. Clarke was running late and asked if we could start the meeting without her. We spent the next hour getting to know each other. While we didn’t share the Mark Kwadwo story or the Jorimon Khan DVD, we did talk generally about mothers forced to send their children out as laborers and the power a loan of $20 can have on a poor family. In retrospect, I think sharing one or both of the stories would have been more powerful but I think we were a little unsure about the reaction we would get. Even so, the conversation was extremely moving and even brought Rachel to tears at one point.
An hour in Rep. Clarke returned to the office and headed straight to our meeting. She seemed truly happy to meet with us. We briefly introduced ourselves and then were honored to hear the District Director sing our praises to Rep. Clarke. We thanked her for signing the letter to the World Bank and the Pomeroy letter for Education for all and showed her our appropriation requests.
She looked them over and said that she was “no stranger to these issues” and would be fighting to promote this agenda.
As the time approached 5:30 we realized that WE would have to be the ones to end the meeting as Rachel and I had childcare issues to attend to. I redirected the conversation by asking her how we could effectively continue to work with her in the future. She told us that she “applauded the work” that we were doing and would strive to be an ally for us. She recommended we stay in touch with her aides and suggested that we approach other members of the Congressional Black Caucus as many of their goals overlap with that of RESULTS. She mentioned Reps. Lee of CA, Meeks of NY, Payne of NJ, and Waters of CA in particular.
Rachel, Dave, and I walked out of her office after our two hour meeting in a state of elation and shock. Not only was our Representative committed to the same ideals that we were, but she was committed to working with us on them. Now the ball is in our court to continue to develop the relationship and to support her as she continues to be a powerful advocate for the poor and eventually an unstoppable champion. Working towards the end of poverty will probably be a lifetime goal for the three of us. Meanwhile, after just six months as members of RESULTS, we have already had real breakthroughs in realizing our personal and political power as citizens in this country.
“. . . I’ve taken an important step towards making the change I want to see in the world. . . .”
Story courtesy of Anika James, Middlebury College partner
My name is Anika James. I’m a sophomore at Middlebury College in Vermont, where we started a RESULTS group seven months ago. One of our first tasks was to call the editorial writers of the major newspapers in Vermont (okay, so the only major newspaper in Vermont). We were supposed to encourage them to write an editorial celebrating the fact that the Microcredit Summit goal of reaching 100 million of the very poor with microloans had been surpassed. I decided to take on the Burlington Free Press.
After a few days of putting it off, I finally sat down, reviewed all my notes, decided on what I was going to say, and dialed the opinion page editor’s number. It rang and rang, but no one answered, and when the answering machine came on, I hung up, unsure of what to do. I decided I should call back and just leave a message, so I dialed his number again. I was relaxed: all I had to say was something along the lines of “please call me back.” But the second time I called, the editor picked up the phone, and I was so surprised to hear a human voice that I completely forgot what I wanted to say. I sputtered out a few incoherent words about microcredit and Muhammad Yunus, but I could tell he was confused by my garbled message and patronizingly letting me finish.
I breathed a sigh of relief when I hung up and swore I would never call him again. But the next week found me calling him again, asking if he planned to write the editorial. He said no (of course) but this time I was better prepared, and I asked if I could write an op-ed instead. He agreed, so I spent the next week researching and writing an op-ed. I sent it in, and waited and waited. I was about to call the Free Press to see if he had even received my op-ed when he called me himself, to confirm my name and contact information. I was elated. I was going to be published in my state’s largest newspaper!
A few weeks later my little sister called me excitedly telling me that she found me in the paper, “and it’s not a little article either,” she said, “it’s a big one — it takes up half a page in the newspaper and it has a headline and everything!” That whole day I was incredibly happy. Finally, what I’d been working on so hard had come to fruition and I had actually done something tangible. This editor who had first heard me as an incoherent college student now had published my op-ed in the paper! I was really proud. Next fall I’m going to Latin America for my junior year abroad, but I leave with the knowledge that I’ve taken an important step towards making the change I want to see in the world, and when I come back I’ll have the foundation to go even farther with the work that RESULTS does.
Getting In The Game
Story courtesy of Kara Stewart, Orange Co. (CA) group co-leader and Bruce Preville, San Jose (CA) group leader
Occasionally, we activists receive a prompt to make a quick call to my representative or click a button and sign a petition. These are great ways to support, to cheer on, the end of poverty. But RESULTS partners learn that we’re capable of so much more.
When we experience a breakthrough with our member of Congress or local editorial board, we learn that we can get our hands dirty and really become instruments of change. Now the question is, do we want our representatives to stop at cheerleader, essentially performing a congressional version of “click here to sign this petition?” No.
Our real job is to get leaders in congress out onto the field themselves. We need some good quarterbacks. This is why a group of California RESULTS partners led by Bruce Preville from San Jose has launched on a little adventure over the past year to help our senator become a champion for the end of poverty by setting up regular conference calls with her aide.
It took a good deal of time, patience and tenacity to get the calls organized and scheduled. The group has had seven calls with the senator’s aide since they started in the summer of 2008. About three weeks before each call, John Fawcett, the RESULTS Legislative Director in Washington D.C., and the partners begin crafting the agenda. “Unlike our usual asks, these are targeted especially for her,” Bruce explains, “We’re asking her to move into leadership, to create momentum, they don’t take action like that unless there’s real passion there, so we have to make sure it’s something we can imagine she may have even come up with herself.”
The work of empowerment between the senator’s aide and the RESULTS Partners has not always gone without a hitch. But Bruce believes that because of these “bumps in the road,” the relationship has moved from diplomatic and polite to a new level of true partnership and authenticity.
On the December call, the aide agreed to talk with another senator’s staffer about movement on reforming foreign assistance. Because RESULTS partners are trained to be persistent, they pressed him on it in January and again in February, but he maintained that he hadn’t heard anything yet. At the end of the February call, he became irritated and said that he would only talk to the staffer when foreign aid reform gains some momentum. He said it didn’t make sense for them to continue pressing the point. His obvious frustration was uncomfortable for everyone. They knew that applying that kind of pressure meant taking a risk, and this time they wondered if they’d pushed too far.
But what happened next was a testament to the integrity of the aide and to the kind of professionalism the RESULTS DC staff tries to encourage their partners across the country to practice. Bruce wrote the aide a few days later to apologize for any misunderstanding and they scheduled a one-on-one discussion. The aide took the time to explain aspects of the Washington world that we citizens never have to deal with. He said that unless foreign aid feform was already underway, bringing it up otherwise might inadvertently signal that our senator was moving independently on the subject, which was not the case. After his introduction to the world of politics and protocol, Bruce thanked him for helping to educate him and giving him a new perspective on the Washington world the aide inhabits day-to-day. Bruce assured the aide that he could count on the RESULTS partners pushing him for actions they wanted to see happen, but that he should feel free to say no and educate the partners when appropriate rather than have misaligned expectations. As a result of this seemingly difficult call, what they have now is more like a real working partnership than a fragile diplomatic relationship.
Even though it can be challenging for us, Sam has pushed us on these calls to share the stories of Mark Kwadwo and others to demonstrate profoundly the emotional side of poverty and its solutions. These stories have the power to move the aide, move the member of Congress, and ultimately create champions and the aide has obviously been moved by the stories and asked for a copy each time.
Part of the real breakthrough has been in what this sustained approach to relationship-building with our senator has done for the partnership, passion, and achievements of our groups in California. Our confidence is up because of our initial success, and so, building on this success, Lisa Schliff led our first conference call with an aide of Senator Boxer’s last month. It was a good call that began with the aide listening tentatively and ending with her enthusiastically suggesting actions that we and Senator Boxer could take.
Everyone engaged in these calls is a partner who is choosing to step out from the stands, put down their pom poms and put some real skin in the game. If you would like to do the same and would like to receive advice regarding setting up a regular call with your member of Congress, send us a quick e-mail and we’ll be glad to help you find all of the resources you need to help your member become a champion for the end of poverty!
Kara Stewart ([email protected]), co-Leader of the Orange County RESULTS global chapter
Bruce Preville ([email protected]), leader of the San Jose RESULTS global chapter
“. . . [S]mall concrete steps I could take would improve the daily lives of strangers. . . .”
Story courtesy of Joan Combs Durso, Louisville (KY) partner
My campus minister recommended Sam [Daley-Harris’] Louisville talk to me, but my immediate response to his presentation was a feeling of extreme nausea. You see, I became an economist because I wanted to understand and work to end the horrible disparities I saw in my military travels overseas, but I became a college professor in Kentucky instead of an aid program administrator abroad. Somehow, I never realized that even if I was not working overseas, I could still contribute something vital outside of the classroom, besides donations. Sam made it clear that small concrete steps I could take would improve the daily lives of strangers, and had already done so. To think that I, Joan Combs Durso, could have been doing this important work all along, so simply and effectively, and had not even known I could, made me ill. I signed a partner form that day and RESULTS has been a part of my life ever since. Within months, I had two face-to-face meetings with my Congressman. My RESULTS work has enriched my students’ classroom experiences and has made my international economics courses much less about theory and more about the real world. It is important to me that RESULTS is a non-partisan organization and is respected on both sides of the aisle in Congress. I am very proud to be part of an organization that has Muhammad Yunus on its board. Wherever I go in life, I will join a RESULTS chapter or start one if it does not already exist.
Story courtesy of Bruce Preville, San Jose (CA) group leader
During the May global conference call, I talked about the monthly calls that California RESULTS groups are having with Senator Feinstein’s foreign affairs aide. Today I’d like to tell you the rest of the story.
Our work with this aide hasn’t always gone smoothly. However, the “bumps in the road” have actually moved our relationship from “polite and diplomatic” to new levels of authenticity and partnership.
Last December, the aide agreed to ask Senator Menendez’ staffer about the status of foreign assistance reform in the Senate. In January, we asked again, but the aide said he hadn’t heard anything. When we asked again in February, the aide was actually frustrated by our persistence. He said he’d only move forward when foreign aid reform had some momentum and to stop bringing it up. His irritation made us all uncomfortable. When the call ended, he said he’d wait a week before discussing scheduling the next call. With our calls at risk, we were very worried.
A few days later, I called the aide back. I began by thanking him for his commitment to end poverty. I said that RESULTS is committed to progress, where even small steps can lead to large outcomes. I told him to feel free to push back on our requests, since we’d rather understand the situation than risk differing expectations. And I asked him to tell us when he can’t do something he’d expected he could. Then we agreed to discuss how we could most productively work together.
That conversation was very valuable, because the aide began talking to me about the prickliness of how Washington really works. I thanked the aide for giving me this new perspective. This discussion was a difficult one to have, but now we’ve moved from polite ineffectiveness to the possibilities of real partnership. Sam has challenged us to share stories that profoundly reveal the despair of poverty as well as the stories of solutions. This sharing of feeling, courage, and heart is working; our aide has been inspired by our stories, and has asked for copies!
Our experiences show that to get more accomplished, we must move past the familiar, where we feel comfortable. We can then build powerful partnerships with each other and our elected officials, where our commitment leads us to new possibilities for being and creating champions for the end of poverty.
“I was really discouraged, but I persisted.”
Story courtesty of Steve Arnold, Bloomington (IN) Group Leader
Bloomington is a small city, and our newspaper publishes every one of our letters to the editor. Up till 2 years ago, they also published every op-ed we submitted. We have a good relationship with the editor, who is a RESULTS sponsor, and until five years ago, he would run occasional editorials supporting our positions.
All this press was very helpful in our relationships with elected officials. For example, in 2007, we met with one of Senator Lugar’s aides on the Foreign Relations Committee, where Lugar is ranking minority member, and the aide herself showed me a copy of the op-ed I’d had in the paper two days earlier. It had been e-mailed to her by a member of Lugar’s staff, who flagged it because we had praised Lugar’s work on diseases of poverty. This was our first meeting with this aide, and it really got us off to a good start.
Then things changed. Over the past 3–4 years, our paper’s emphasis moved, in their words, to “local, local, local.” The editor told us they could no longer run editorials on global issues. The I two op-ed pieces I wrote in 2008 never ran.
I was really discouraged, but I persisted. I remembered how we’d gotten an article in the paper in 2007 by having the reporter interview two local residents who had visited a microcredit program in India. So when I submitted an op-ed this May on global education, I focused heavily on local hooks. I started with discussing how I wake every morning to the sounds of the new elementary school being built across the street. Then I wrote about reading in my morning paper two front-page stories on the importance of elementary education. I wrote that people in our town obviously care about educating our kids, all of whom have access to schooling. I pointed out that citizens in developing countries also care about their kids’ education, and I gave examples of the risks and hardships kids will go through to attend school. This led naturally into a mention of the need for a global fund for education.
I’m happy to report that the paper printed this op-ed, the first we’d gotten accepted in 2 years. We were able to fax it with cover letters to all our elected officials, and we will include it in the packet of media we give out in our Hill visits during the conference. So, when possible, keep tying your media work to local stories and concerns. And, most of all, don’t be discouraged just because the media climate has changed. Keep trying.
“. . . [F]aith outreach is possible.”
Story courtesy of Yvonne Wyborny, North Detroit (MI) group leader
My name is Yvonne Wyborny and I am the group leader for the North Detroit RESULTS Global Group. I have been involved with RESULTS for more than ten years.
In the midst of our wider efforts in outreach, I started to approach different churches, hoping to interest different social action committees in taking some of the RESULTS actions. Eventually, I hoped that we would find new constituents to attend face-to-face meetings or call offices. The first church that I approached was a United Methodist Church. This congregation had cosponsored a World AIDS day event for the Detroit area. The minister was on a leave, so making progress was tough. In the meantime, I decided to reach out to another church.
The second church that I approached was a Universalist Unitarian Church. My husband and I had a personal history with the church. I started attending the social action committee meeting and I shared about RESULTS and the issues that we tackle. The members of the committee seemed interested. I made a request to have two Sundays designated as letter-writing days. We would write letters to our members of Congress during the coffee hour and our topic would be foreign operations appropriations requests. The Social Action Committee picked two issues, microcredit and primary education for all. I prepared materials prior to the letter writing Sundays. The congregation turned in nine letters for me to fax. Many more took materials and said they would write and fax their own letter.
The next year, we had just completed an election and we had a newly elected representative, U.S. Representative Gary Peters. I invited members of the congregation to attend our first meeting with the Congressman. Not only did the meeting go well, but our new friends from the Universalist Unitarian Church were quite impressed. They had that glow of success and accomplishment on their faces and talked about the meeting for a long while after. They could not believe how knowledgeable we were about the issues and really caught the spirit of RESULTS. Consequently, their engagement has deepened. And the Social Action Committee has suggested that I participate in the Michigan Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Network. And some members of the congregation will be joining our meetings in D.C. this year via conference call.
What I have learned from this experience is that faith outreach is possible. Faith-based groups and individuals that are tuned into justice want to know about us. RESULTS can provide a bridge to those who are interested in making a difference. The most difficult part is making those initial connections. Be courageous. Introduce yourself. Show you’re genuinely interested in the community that you’ve reached out to. Look for ways to build mutual partnerships. Take bold actions right away. See if you can get them to attend a face-to-face meeting with a Member of Congress. You may be surprised at the new allies you gain and the enthusiasm that spreads.
“. . . [T]he first change starts within us.”
Story courtesy of Vanessa Johnson, Salt Lake City (UT) partner
Still being relatively new to RESULTS, I hope to share with you what I feel has been my success as a RESULTS activist.
In April of 2008, I had no idea who RESULTS was. I was a student at the University of Utah, and I was applying for internships. But as it turned out, I spent the summer of 2008 as a RESULTS intern here in Washington.
I was inspired by my time at RESULTS, and when I got back to Utah, I felt a need to continue my relationship as a partner. I started a RESULTS chapter at my school.
Starting a RESULTS group took some time and commitment, considering the demands on students. The process of setting up a new group at my university took effort because we had to make the case for RESULTS to campus leadership. But we tabled to get the word out, talked about RESULTS, and persisted through the process.
By spring 2009, we were an official group. One of our projects this last year was a benefit concert which raised money for RESULTS and food for our local food bank. It was a great turnout (despite the blizzard), and knowing that we contributed food to hungry individuals and families was rewarding. Also, the money we raised helps support RESULTS.
Last year as an intern, I was privileged enough to work with our grassroots and be present for the passing of the $48 billion reauthorization to fight AIDS, TB and malaria. It was so rewarding for all of us to be educating and talking to our members of Congress about voting “yes” on this bill. Successes like these make all of our hard work worthwhile.
Even though I am new to RESULTS and working towards the breakthroughs my fellow members have had, I do feel that my breakthrough has been a ability to act on a new desire to learn more about poverty and hunger — and to work towards ending it. I feel that our passion and desire for this goal is our first step in becoming the activists we hope to be. Without grassroots activists educating and advocating for selfless issues like microfinance; more funding to fight AIDS, TB and malaria; and education for all, it is possible that many of our members of Congress would be unaware of such issues and the actions they could take for real change. However, the first change starts within us. Your presence at this conference proves your desire to learn more and to make a positive difference in this world.
“I think we need to challenge people . . .”
Story courtesy of Misty Novitch, Atlanta (GA) group co-leader
We in Atlanta were planning a big outreach event, and we decided to have a pool party where there’d be music, beer and wine, grilling out, and swimming. Just a fun, light, relaxed, informal atmosphere with a 10- or 20- minute presentation on RESULTS and ongoing discussion throughout the evening. And I would do a form of engagement and feedback collection via videocam. So is was a good atmosphere that I think made people receptive to RESULTS, build community ties, and even inspire thought and hope. Relaxed, party-type atmospheres (as well as phone calls and face-to-face invitations, invitations over Facebook, and texting) bring people out. We had about 40 people!
I think we learned that Friday evenings are not necessarily the best time to call a Senator because his or her message box may be full. Additionally, we need to follow up more with people individually. We need to make sure our spaces that we choose for events are conducive to having people all in one participatory circle to raise objections, ask questions, and offer ideas and epiphanies instead of mostly scattered unfocused conversations. We need to structure informal events better to encourage focus on the issues — real directed thought with flexibility, certainly, but focus for sure. And we need to start with “Do you think we can end poverty? Because we do, and here’s why. The world has made great strides by talking about the MDGs as well as the solutions and the mechanisms for delivering aid and working strategically.”
The secret’s not out about the fact that we CAN end poverty. I think we really need to challenge people to imagine such an achievement. Because what most people said when I interviewed them on camera was that they didn’t believe we could end poverty, though some certainly said they did believe we could. Many of these people were activists and many were regular people, and they didn’t know how we could start to do it
I think we need to challenge people to think of why we should consider the question and really take seriously the end of poverty by envisioning and responding to the pain and the promise of today.
“. . . [W]e waited nervously as the room slowly started to fill . . .”
Story courtesy of Anne Child, Austin (TX) partner
After our last fundraiser, we invited interest people to an outreach meeting. A handful of people came, one joined our global group but others expressed interest in domestic issues. So we decided to do a domestic group start. We found out Jos Linn from the domestic staff was coming to Texas in August. So after the international conference, the global team and a couple enthusiastic friends got into gear. Jos kept us on track with regular conference calls. We all set goals. Jos had to prod but when one of the new inviters said she’d invite 20 from her various book clubs, others of us, feeling the peer pressure, promised to invite up to 30 people each. Jos set up a Facebook announcement that we fanned out to our Friends. Jos started each call by reporting how many Yes’s were on Facebook. Then each of us would check in with how many we had personally invited and how many had said yes. On the morning of the event, we waited nervously as the room slowly started to fill . . . with 29 people! Mind you, 6 of those were already in RESULTS. The event had been posted in the newspaper and on Organizing for America, local calendar websites and various e-mail group lists. Only one person showed up from such a posting . . . and that was a friend of Eloise who saw a notice in her church newsletter. As far as Facebook, I think the only Yes responders who showed up were those on the inviting team. What Facebook did give us was a quick way to get No’s. If we had personally spoken with those No’s, maybe they would have come. True to RESULTS experience, most of the people who actually came were personally invited and then reminded by people on the inviting team. Many in the room were already involved in health or poverty issues . . . “prequalified” people but busy. When asked if anything they heard that day sounded like RESULTS was worth giving a try, 12 people signed up. That was half of those not already in RESULTS! This week, they started their “new partner” training with Jos and if even just half of them stick, we’ll have a strong domestic team in Austin.