TAMPA — Consider the issue of preventable infant deaths – from malaria, diarrhea, measles and the like. In the mid-1980s, that number stood at 41,000 globally every day; it’s now down to about 18,000 a day.
“That didn’t happen from trick-or-treating for UNICEF,” said Sam Daley-Harris, author, social activist and founder of the anti-poverty lobby RESULTS. “Kids should trick-or-treat for UNICEF. But that alone is not going to get it done.”
Or consider climate change. “I can get a Prius. I can change out all my light bulbs, which I should do,” said Daley-Harris, the coach of the Citizens Climate Lobby. “But this is going to require a major policy shift. That’s not going to come from what I do personally. That’s going to come from decisions in Washington.”
Rather than devalue individual activism, though, Daley-Harris aims to cultivate it – with the proper training, coaching and support to get people to powerfully voice opinions to people of influence and have individuals work together strategically to change global political will.
This evening, Daley-Harris brings his blueprint for global involvement to the University of South Florida in the College of Public Health Dean’s Lecture Series, with his talk named for his 1993 book, “Reclaiming Our Democracy: Healing the Break Between People and Government.” He speaks at 6:30 in the college’s Bell Auditorium.
Daley-Harris recalls addressing a high school audience more than three decades ago. He asked the students to name their congressman; fewer than 3 percent answered correctly.
Last fall, he toured college campuses and asked the same question; 10 percent knew who was representing them in Washington.
“I’m concluding that students are kind of oblivious,” Daley-Harris said. “Most people are hopeless. Most people think that this notion of making a difference with their voices is nonsense.”
Daley-Harris’ message: Stop being hopeless. Get with a group that offers a rich structure of support. Something that coaches you, empowers you, emboldens you, and educates you.
He founded RESULTS in 1980 to fight poverty, and cites those infant death statistics as evidence of success. He founded the Microcredit Summit Campaign in 1995, reaching more than 100 million of the world’s poorest families with microloans by 2007. He has been coaching members of the Citizens Climate Lobby since its inception in 2007, with members having logged 700 meetings with members of Congress or their staff and placing 1,500 letters to the editor and op-ed pieces in newspapers.
“What makes us special, it seems, is our ability to talk to representatives, to go to their offices, and have them do things that they probably wouldn’t have done if we didn’t talk to them,” said Ken Schatz, who heads the Tampa Bay chapter of RESULTS. “It’s not because they’re bad people, but that it’s not being brought to their attention.”
Schatz and his wife, Linda, along with other members of the group, regularly lobby U.S. Reps. Dennis Ross of Lakeland and Kathy Castor of Tampa on the elimination of preventable disease, microfinancing and education for all.
And they do it methodically. At local meetings, the members train on effective lobbying, pore over support and training materials from RESULTS’ headquarters in Washington, and practice calling a congressman, modeling conversations, and writing publishable letters to the editor or opinion pieces. They have monthly national conference calls, with global leaders often on the line.
“I have had the opportunity to speak with Ken and Linda often. They are very respectful and are great advocates on behalf of those who are in need,” Ross said. “Even if we don’t always agree on how to best solve an issue, I appreciate their passion, perseverance, civility and willingness to have the discussion.”
Daley-Harris cites the civil rights movement and women’s suffrage as examples of the power of political will generated by active citizens.
“There’s so much that can be done,” he said. “People could have such a greater sense that they matter beyond their families – which is critical – and beyond just their block and their community, but to their state and their nation and their world. You can make a difference.”
Sam Daley-Harris will speak tonight as part of the USF College of Public Health Dean’s Lecture Series at 6:30 p.m. in the Samuel P. Bell III Auditorium, Room 1023A, College of Public Health.
The Tampa Bay chapter of RESULTS will meet at 7 p.m. April 22 at the Unitarian Universal Church, 11400 Morris Bridge Road. For information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.