Gina with her newfound international RESULTS friends from St Louis U.S.A

By Gina Olivieri, Grassroots Engagement Manger, RESULTS Australia

At the recent International Conference in Washington DC I found myself with a little spare time on Advocacy Day, so joined some friends from RESULTS St Louis for two meetings at the Capitol!

Here’s what I learned…

1. RESULTS St Louis are awesome!
Led by Anti-Poverty Mom and RESULTS Grassroots Board Member Cindy, this group really know what they’re doing. They come up with fun ways to learn and plan together, share their successes, and collaborate with others (letter writing jams at the pub anyone?). Their planning is thorough, their teamwork impressive, and they always encourage each other. You can see what they’re up to and get ideas for your own group by following them on Twitter and Facebook.

2. It’s easier to see your representatives in DC than in Canberra
Visiting Parliament House as a tourist is easy enough. But visiting a Member of Parliament there is another story; a frequently stressful ordeal involving electronic swipe cards, visitor passes, ensuring you have enough pass holders to accompany visitors, bothering parliamentary staff to come down to sign us in, actually signing in, and airport-style x-rays. In Washington DC – we went through the airport-style x-ray, yes. But that was it. No passes, no guarded security doors, no magical electronic swipe cards. There was a feeling that they were a bit more accessible, more transparent – literally in one of the buildings that was all glass and you could see in the offices! I began to think it’s no wonder citizens are so intimidated at the thought of going to talk to their representatives when they are hidden behind so many layers of brick and bureaucracy.

3. There are some key ingredients to a great meeting wherever you are
I thought perhaps that with our different political systems the meetings in DC would be different to ones I have experienced in Australia. I met with the staff of two US Senators, one Republican one Democrat, and found them to be very similar to the meetings I’ve had at home. Good preparation, engaging stories, confidently delivered asks, powerful laser talks, listening – all key ingredients to a successful meeting wherever you are!

4. Kids make amazing advocates!
RESULTS St Louis has a couple of amazing kids in their team. At just 10 and 12, they spoke with passion and authority, knew their facts, and made a really powerful contribution. They weren’t there as a prop, they really knew their stuff! I imagine it makes a nice change to the staffer’s day to meet with a kid now and then, and let’s face it – it’s really hard to say no to a kid who is asking you to do something that will improve the lives of other kids!

5. We shouldn’t be afraid to just show up
Chatting to some other RESULTS volunteers during Advocacy Day, I encountered a few people who had not heard back from a representative’s office to secure a meeting, so planned on just showing up. One lady described taking a cup of coffee and a package of campaign materials, telling a receptionist “I’m happy to wait, I’ll only need a minute of his time”, then sitting in the Senator’s office for an hour until he emerged from a meeting. She really did only need a minute, delivering her laser talk and getting a commitment before he was whisked away to his next meeting. I think we should take a page from our US counterparts’ book and, when we struggle to get a meeting time with or response from our representatives, just show up! Make friends with the staff manning the front desk, ‘pop in while you’re in the neighbourhood’, make a habit of occasionally hand-delivering a letter, and become a recognised friendly face instead of just another of thousands of emails.

RESULTS advocates the world over are asking their political leadership for strong investment in The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria at their September 16 replenishment in Montreal, Canada. Keen to get involved? Check out our Sprint to the Finish for the Global Fund or email info@results.org.au to be connected to your local group.