When you picture someone lobbying Congress to protect foreign aid, who comes to mind? For me, it’s a bespectacled twenty-four year old in black pumps, or a clean-shaven guy with a briefcase and a power suit. Not a Portland blogger wearing a ONEMoms t-shirt.
This week, I had the honor of visiting Capitol Hill in my capacity as a ONEMom. With the help of the ONE Campaign, I was there to talk to congresspeople about how the fiscal cliff could affect health and hunger programs for the world’s poorest. Last week, I barely knew what the fiscal cliff even was. (Here’s a good definition.)
Riding in the taxi up the hill, past the majestic Capitol Building, I tried to squash the butterflies in my stomach. I felt seriously inadequate even though I had been to Ethiopia and seen the effect of US development assistance programs with my own eyes. I saw children born HIV-negative thanks to medication provided by PEPFAR. I saw farmers with new sources of nourishment and income due to Feed the Future. And yet, I felt like I didn’t have anything I could say. I was no expert on these programs, nor on the economy, nor the budget, nor the pressures politicians face as they make these budget decisions.
It was only after my first meeting was over (with Congressman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland) that I realized none of that mattered. What mattered was that I was there and that I cared. (In Mr. Van Hollen’s case, it also mattered was that one of our ONEMoms is his constituent.)
Mr. Van Hollen is a politician, and he’s also a father. As it turns out, he visited Kenya with his daughter and saw the difference AIDS drugs has made there. There was plenty to talk about. It was a pleasure.
And I thought, Why was I so nervous? What did I think I needed beyond being an American?
There’s more to tell. But for now I would just say: if there’s an issue you care about, call your congressperson’s office. Every single call, handwritten letter and visit gets logged and counted. It’s as powerful in some ways as your vote.
Tomorrow is World AIDS Day. It’s the perfect moment to call your congressperson to ask him or her to protect PEPFAR and other global health programs from cuts. If you’re not sure who your representative is, plug your ZIP code in here to find out. To find out who your Senators are, just select your state.
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Asha Dornfest is the co-author of Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More By Doing Less and the publisher of Parent Hacks, a site crammed with tips for making family life easier.