WASHINGTON D.C. — “It was great. I met so many incredible global poverty advocates.” Since returning home from my four-day trip to Washington, D.C. for the ONE Campaign’s 2014 Power Summit, this has been my default response to the question, “So, how was D.C.?” Classic response, right?
Not quite. Here is where I should mention that within my first three hours in DC I met Bono. If someone told me three weeks ago that after meeting Bono, I would answer that question with “I met so many incredible global poverty advocates” and not “I met Bono,” I wouldn’t have believed them.
But, it’s true.
The ONE Power Summit is an annual conference for top ONE volunteers throughout the country. The Summit equips global poverty advocates with the skills and knowledge to improve their advocacy efforts, including policy lectures, grassroots organizing workshops, Lobby Day training, and keynote speeches by influential political actors like Bono and Sanjay Pradhan, the Vice President of Change, Knowledge & Learning for the World Bank.
While all of these informational and experiential advocacy training sessions are undoubtedly helpful (I took over 10 pages of notes over three days), perhaps the most influential aspect of the Summit for me was connecting and networking with amazing and inspiring ONE volunteers.
The 2014 Power Summit was my third ONE Power Summit and each year I feel more connected to both the organization and my role as an activist, factivist, and advocate for the eradication of global poverty. My experiences at ONE Power Summits over the past three years have solidified my confidence in the power (pun intended) of advocacy and activism. Although we are powerful and influential on our own, experiences like the ONE Power Summit have taught me the following important lessons about advocacy:
1. Advocacy work does not exist within a vacuum
As advocates for programs and policies that protect the world’s poorest people, we are working ourselves out of our jobs. This means that we advocate for incremental policies that, collectively, have the ability to put an end to global poverty. The words “we” and “collectively” highlight this very point: effective advocacy work is a conversation between people who care about how we will make others listen and how we will mobilize change.
I cannot count how many times the phrase “you will learn just as much from the people in the room as you will from us,” was dropped by ONE staffers during the Power Summit. This is because activists with goals as large as ours must be equipped with the ability to organize all different kinds of people using all different kinds of strategies. The best way to do this is to make advocacy a cooperative effort, and conferences like ONE’s Power Summit facilitate this kind of conversation between advocates from all around the world.
2. Influential activism is informed by influential actors
While the power of advocacy and activism is that change is mobilized by “normal” individuals, knowledge is a power that must inform activism for it to be successful. This is where “insider” knowledge becomes extremely influential.
ONE Power Summits are always packed with an impressive array of influential actors; from members of ONE’s executive team to congressional staffers to CEO’s of major organizations such as (RED), the knowledge and experience of those working directly with policy makers and programs on the ground has the power to inform activism in a unique way.
While global poverty activists are passionate about the cause, influential actors speak to the day-to-day complexities of enacting the changes that we advocate for. In my experience, this not only informs my advocacy in a practical way, but also makes me more passionate about the advocacy work that I engage in.
3. Just Do __________ (Something!) (Anything!) (Everything!)
We are all busy. It is certainly not easy for anyone to clear their schedules for four days in order to jet off to Washington, DC to attend a conference as a volunteer. But, if there is one thing I have consistently heard on Lobby Day (the last day of the Summit each year when volunteers “storm the hill” to meet with their members of Congress) it is the whispers of bystanders all over the Capitol saying, “I have been seeing those people everywhere today!”
The three congressional meetings that I attended this Lobby Day took a total of 50 minutes. That’s less than one workout, one college class (which I’ll have to make up), or one commute to work in the morning. My point is this: I did something. My “something” was meeting with Congress on Capitol Hill, but it could have been anything.
Advocacy work can truly be anything—from giving my “elevator pitch” about ONE to NPR correspondents in a coffee shop to the 400 phone calls and thousands of tweets sent by ONE members all over the country on Lobby Day alone.
It is when activists realize that doing anything is doing something that together, one day, we can accomplish everything (read: work ourselves out of a job). Because of the work of global poverty activists from ONE on Lobby Day, 12 more representatives announced their support for the Electrify Africa Bill (the bill that we advocated for in our meetings) and it was passed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday.
This is why to me, meeting Bono was only second to meeting powerful ONE activists from all over the country.
Without activists who tirelessly do the work of advocating for global poverty relief, there would be no ONE Campaign. As a third-year Power Summit alumna, I can say with certainty that the “Power” in Power Summit represents the work of the activists themselves who come together to not only do something on Lobby Day, but also consistently yearn for ways to advocate more effectively for policies that will improve the lives of the world’s poorest people.
– Brandi Geurkink
Photo: Huffington Post