by Danielle R. Adams
It’s been just over a month since the mid-year retreat for fellows concluded in D.C., so I’ve had some time to reflect on the experience, and hope to share some of my thoughts with our local RESULTS group! The retreat this year came at a strategic time – the ACA was under attack by the GOP and the threat of repeal and replace was imminent and palpable. Further, the current administration was having budget discussions that involved cutting food programs for vulnerable populations (e.g., school children, low-income families, older Americans). Through our lobbying, advocacy, and outreach, we were able to kill the ACA replacement bill and shed light on the cuts the administration proposed.
RESULTS fellows from every region of the country (and from other countries!) joined forces to have a weekend full of trainings and workshops to further strengthen our advocacy skills and get us up to expert-level status on the issues we would be advocating for. We learned from the best - Ellen Nissenbaum of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities briefed us on the threats to Medicaid expansion and gave us concrete asks to help us in our lobby meetings to keep our politicians accountable to their constituents. As a group, we wrote letters to the editor on protecting Medicaid; many of us shared our own stories of how the ACA has impacted our lives. On lobby day, we gathered together for group encouragement and then headed to Capitol Hill.
I lobbied with three offices, Senator Durbin, Representative Rush, and Senator Thune (SD). During my lobby meetings over the summer, I conducted all of my lobby meetings with a group of people – at the lobby meetings during this retreat, I lobbied alone. I was amazed at the confidence I felt thanks to the training throughout the fellowship. The skills I had gained through the fellowship made me feel motivated and encouraged to share my story of growing up in poverty, and how the various safety net programs impacted my family. Through my coursework at the University of Chicago, I learned how important narratives are to politicians, and was further encouraged to share my story (and the story of others in my life who have faced poverty) to politicians so they would oppose cuts to safety net programs.
Every congressional aide I spoke to was kind and listened with attention. After I finished my story and transitioned to our “asks” (i.e., reject the ACA repeal and replace; project SNAP; expand the EITC) the aides for Rush’s office and Thune’s office both told me their boss was supportive of low-income individuals and would oppose the repeal and cuts. That wasn’t enough. I had learned from RESULTS that you can push representatives to not only be on our side but to also be CHAMPIONS for our issues – I asked each of the aides what more the representative/senator could be doing to actively oppose these things. I suggested writing an op-ed, making a floor speech, or speaking to their Republican peers about these issues – each of the aides indicated they would follow up with their boss about these requests. I made it clear that I was here for support, and would be happy to draft the op-ed for them, or provide them the further fact sheets or research they would need for their boss to become this champion we were asking them to be. Through this, following RESULTS model, I built relationships with these offices by letting them know that we appreciate their support on our issues and that we would like further support by active, not just passive, opposition of safety net funds.
RESULTS has taught me that CONGRESS WORKS FOR US and therefore we can and should be asking them to be champions on issues that are important to their constituents. Considering that roughly 15% of IL residents live at or below the poverty line, cutting of any safety net programs would be a huge detriment to residents health and well-being. However, if our representatives don’t hear from us – that is, RESULTS volunteers and individuals who have been directly impacted by poverty, they won’t know that they need to champion these issues and they won’t have stories to share with their peers of constituents who have benefitted greatly from safety net programs. RESULTS has shown me how to be an effective advocate and how to use my voice and my story to push lawmakers to not only oppose cuts but also to actively build legislation that strengthens and supports the safety net. In doing so we make strides to reduce health disparities and increase opportunities for low-income individuals.
Finally, I would be amiss if I did not mention the people of RESULTS, for a movement is nothing without the passionate, committed individuals who comprise it. The other REAL Change Fellows are some of the best people I have met – they have a vision for the world that they want to leave for the next generation, and they are working in their own way to accomplish it. The cohort of fellows this year has been incredibly supportive of each other’s work both within RESULTS and outside of RESULTS. In the words of Diane Nash, civil rights activist, “We were committed not only to the movement, but to each other” – this work can be hard, and takes compassion and commitment. Essential to the movement, RESULTS builds a community of like-minded individuals who are going to fight not only for the causes we care about, but for each other.
If you’re interested in joining our chapter of RESULTS email us at resultsChicagoUSpoverty@gmail.com, follow us on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/RESULTSChicagoUSPoverty/ and twitter @RESULTS_Chicago, and come to our next meeting! Also, if you are between the ages of 18-30 consider applying for the REAL Change fellowship here: http://www.results.org/realchange