If someone asked you to take a day out of your life to help mothers and children who are the poorest of the poor, who need the things we take for granted every day – enough food to feed our children, vaccines to prevent diseases, medicines to keep our families as healthy as possible – would you do it?
What if that meant going to Capitol Hill and becoming a lobbyist for a day? Sounds a little scary, doesn’t it? OK, maybe it sounds a lot scary. But I’m here to tell you it’s not as bad as it might sound at first.
When someone says “lobbyist,” the first thing that probably pops into your head is a guy in a suit who wines and dines other guys in suits to influence the lawmaking process on behalf of some giant corporation. And that happens. A lot. But at the end of the day influence is never just about the martinis or the lobster dinners. An effective lobbyist has to be good at face-to-face conversations about something he or she believes in.
That’s why mothers are naturals at the art of lobbying and activism.
Most people would likely scoff at that notion. (One person has actually laughed in my face at the idea). But talking about what’s important for kids and families comes naturally to moms. Moms “lobby” on behalf of their children every day – with teachers, doctors and anyone else who’s making important decisions that will have a lasting impact on their families. So as it turns out, moms inherently have the makings of being amazing lobbyists.
And that’s what I saw when I was asked to participate in a day of advocacy on behalf of ONE, the non-profit organization founded by U2 lead singer Bono, that’s committed to ending extreme poverty and providing vaccines for preventable diseases. A group of ONE Moms who traveled with ONE to Kenya this summer to see the impact these programs have on the poorest of the poor recently took to Capitol Hill to meet with their elected representatives to use the power of constituency to ask that the federal dollars that help fund the programs ONE supports not be cut in the upcoming federal budget negotiations (less than 1% of our federal budget goes to international aid programs).
We were prepped and given lots of stats and facts about the amount of federal dollars that go toward programs overseas that ONE supports, like providing HIV/AIDS vaccines to mothers to lessen the chance that they will transmit the disease to their babies when they’re born, and what a big impact just a few cents can have in the campaign to create a healthier world. I was worried I would never be able to keep all that in my head to make a compelling argument to the staffs of my senators and congressman. Fortunately, people are just people, even when they’re sitting in those power suites in Washington, D.C. And once we started talking, it was clear that the potential impact didn’t come so much from the exact statistics we used or the facts we recited. What mattered was that we took the time to personally express our views, rather than expecting and assuming that our representatives would vote on certain budget issues in the way we hoped.
Of course, not everyone can make a trip to Washington, D.C., or even a state capital, to let lawmakers know what’s important to them. But the people we met with were clear on this – they pay attention to what their constituents take the time to say, whether it’s in person or not. A letter, e-mail or phone call can carry just as much weight as an in-person meeting.
So with the 2012 campaign season upon us, what are the issues you’d be willing to become an “activist” for?
Of course, you can read more about women becoming online activists in my book, Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America (Bright Sky Press, 2011), which explores not only a look at the rise of women and social media, but also features the work of over 50 amazing women writers from around the web.