by Harini Madheswaran
This April’s Advocacy Summit in Washington DC was nothing short of incredible. John Lennon’s famous lyric comes to mind: “you might say I’m a dreamer, but I know I’m not the only one.” This event captures Lennon’s sentiment: it was filled with passionate individuals who were joined together with a shared personal mission to advocate for children. These people ranged from as young as freshmen in high school to experienced activists. The summit was a culmination of unbridled drive toward making sure every child across the nation and the world receives access to things most people take for granted.
This year, we went to Capitol Hill to ask members of Congress if they would cosponsor two pieces of legislations: the Reach Every Mother and Child Act and the Social Impact Partnership Act.
The event kicked off with a powerful speech from Save the Children Action Network’s founder and president—Mark Shriver. He reminded us that kids don’t vote, they don’t give out money in favor of their political views and thus they don’t have a voice the issues that impact them. We need to be lobbyists for kids the same way big companies might hire lobbyists to fight for their own personal agendas. It is so scary to me that something such as not having high quality early education can place children at risk for a future their parents would never wish for them.
Speaking Up for Kids
On the first day, we heard the stories of people who have been advocating for children. I remember an advocate sharing her story of holding a newborn in Africa and knowing that child wasn’t going to have the best future. It is heartbreaking to think that in today’s advanced society, on a daily basis, 16,000 kids still die before their 5th birthday and 800 moms die due to complications from pregnancy and childbirth.
The most frustrating thing: these are mostly all preventable deaths!
These are kids who have had their future successes stolen from them because they haven’t received the same basic right to health that we have in many developed parts of the world. The U. S. has been an instrumental leader in improving the lives of mothers and children around the world, in partnership with countries, other donors, non-governmental organizations and other actors. We have accomplished quite a bit since 1990. We have decreased the number of deaths by just over one-half.
But the rest of this progress does not need to be deterred. There are proven, evidence-based interventions that we can and should be scaling up to prevent these deaths altogether and help all children survive and thrive.
Making early education more accessible to more families is another great way to help our children thrive here in the U.S. There were so many future teachers and current teachers at the summit who really cared about this issue.
The highlight was hearing from Colorado State Senator Mike Johnston who has been a champion in advocating for early education. He made such a strong statement for the case when he talked of the issue of half-day kindergarten versus full-day kindergarten students. Does this instill in these kids the feeling that one group is better than the other because they get to attend a whole day’s worth of learning versus the other children who just get a half day? The issue is that these students are largely minorities or from low-income families.
Every single child deserves the same opportunities that many of us have received in order to be the best version of themselves. The bipartisan Social Impact Partnership Act (SIPA) is one way to offer this opportunity to more children. I learned so much more about SIPA and everything it will be able to do!
Preparing to Advocate
The second day of the advocacy summit focused on really preparing us to be great advocates. What I most enjoyed about the summit was that it wasn’t just about giving us more terrifying statistics on early childhood education and maternal and newborn health. Every person that spoke to us was so passionate about these issues and that made me want to be the best advocate I could be.
I am normally a quieter person, but when it comes to speaking about issues such as the Reach and SIPA acts, it is hard not to want to raise your voice and join the amazing people involved in this organization. They instilled into the advocates today that we are capable of causing change and that lawmakers and Congress really do want to listen.
After all, they are for the people.
Taking on the Hill
Day three was Advocacy Day. Stepping foot inside the Russell Senate Building was inspiring to say the least. We were there to create some change. We heard from Senators Kelly Ayotte, Chris Coons, Susan Collins and Tim Kaine, actress Dakota Fanning (who we were all Fan-girling over as politely as we could) and many more. These are publicly recognized figures who agree that we, who are able to provide a voice for children, need to do so.
After listening to these amazing voices, we left for our first meeting with a staffer for Senator Dick Durbin. For many people in the Illinois group, it was the first time on the Hill so we were nervous to see how we would be received. We were all surprised at how attentive the staffers were. These senators and representatives are here for us, the people. They want to work with us and for us. When a group of people come together and advocate for an issue that they feel is important, they listen. We came out of this meeting feeling like we definitely used our voices at the office to make a lasting impact.
Above (top left): Meeting with the office of Senator Mark Kirk. Top right: Meeting with Congressman John Shimkus! Middle: Our Illinois delegation in front of Capitol Hill. Bottom left: Meeting with the Staff from Representative Darin LaHood. Bottom right: Meeting with the Staff from Representative Darin LaHood.
You can raise your voice of kids, too! It only takes a minute to send a message to your members of Congress urging them to cosponsor the Reach Act and the Social Impact Partnership Act. We can say from experience: they’re listening.