Laurel grassroots advocates take on big change

For the Laurel Leader
Everyday citizens can bring about an end to poverty. That's the message of the Laurel chapter of RESULTS.

Everyday citizens can bring about an end to world poverty.

That's the message being spread by the Laurel chapter of RESULTS, a national network of 110 grassroots citizen lobbies that is marking its 35th anniversary this year.

"We have the resources and we have the technology, but we need to create the political will," says Ed Greville, a Montpelier resident and member of the Laurel chapter, which is looking to add more members.

"People need to get involved and convince our legislators to take action," he said. "There are millions of children worldwide under the age of 5 dying each year from hunger, and we're just not going to bother to help?"

RESULTS, which is based in Washington, was founded in 1980 by Sam Daley-Harris with the belief that ordinary people can be trained to convince legislators — through targeted letter-writing campaigns and face-to-face meetings — to sponsor bills that address anti-poverty issues.

The Laurel RESULTS group is one of only two chapters in Maryland – the other is in Baltimore – and was formed in 2007, said Pat Behenna, chapter leader. Behenna and Greville had held individual memberships since the 1980s before the local group was launched.

Greville and Kathy Bartolomeo, of Maryland City, met with Behenna at her Montpelier home last week to talk about their 13-member group and the need for more people to join their advocacy efforts.

Bartolomeo, who joined the Laurel group in April, said she attended her first International Conference for RESULTS in Washington in July, along with 535 people from 48 states and 23 nations.

She said that she was pleased to find support at the conference for the Senate bill known as the Reach Every Mother and Child Act of 2015, which was introduced July 30 by Republican Sen. Susan M. Collins of Maine. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

"I heard people saying, 'Those RESULTS people just don't go away,' and that was gratifying," she said. "But legislators also [get to] know when constituents are happy about things."

Behenna said Senate bill S. 1911 – which directs the President of the United States to establish an inter-agency group with a Maternal and Child Survival Coordinator that can develop a 10-year strategy to end preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths by 2035 – is bipartisan, and added "we are working our hearts out" to get it passed.

Progress has already been made on some fronts, Greville said.

"In 1987 there were 40,000 children under age 5 dying of preventable [or treatable] causes each day and now that figure is down to 16,000," he said, quoting a UNICEF statistic.

UNICEF states on its website that both the rate and number of child deaths has been cut by more than one half since 1990, but "an estimated 5.9 million children under the age of 5 will still die in 2015 [which is] equivalent to 11 every minute," according to the site.

The RESULTS website states that since 2000 the number of people living in extreme poverty has been more than halved.

Greville said access to health care, education and financial services "will allow the poor to lift themselves up out of poverty."

"Every senator and congress member should know what microcredit is," he said, referring to a lending system established in 1983 by the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh that permits poor people to obtain small loans on manageable terms.

"RESULTS lobbied Congress to award Grameen Bank founder Muhammed Yunus the Congressional Medal of Honor [in 2013] and he and the bank also received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006," Greville said. "He wanted to assure that a certain percentage of loans went to the poorest of the poor."

Behenna said Yunus sits on the board of RESULTS, and that Grameen Bank is also active in the United States through banking partnerships.

"This goes beyond making a low-interest loan; it's a matter of support," she said.

Ken Patterson, RESULTS director of global grassroots advocacy, said Laurel members "are making a huge difference and they are keeping in touch with every single member of Congress in Maryland's eight congressional districts."

As one of 10 regional coordinators, Patterson said he speaks with group leaders, including Behenna, on a conference call every Tuesday night. Monthly webinars are another method of exchanging information and sharing ideas.

"The members of the Laurel group are educating, inspiring and calling Congress into leadership," he said. "They are examples of how people should participate in democracy."

Greville said RESULTS works to make citizens understand that their advocacy truly matters.

"We want to break through the notion that, 'I don't make a difference,'" he said.

"Lots of people have gotten hopeless. When you realize that you can make a difference, it's like, 'Whoa.' This is all about citizen empowerment."

RESULTS members and staff train volunteers in personal skill-building and in learning to talk to elected representatives and to the media in order to "keep the pressure on," Behenna said.

Having constituents pinpoint what's important is helpful to elected representatives because sometimes they just have too much on their plates, she said.

"Congress has so much to focus on that sometimes [members] just need us to draw their attention to a bill," Behenna said.

"This work can change your thinking from "ugh" to 'We can do this. We can change the world.'"

For information on the Laurel RESULTS group, contact behenna@verizon.net or 202-783-7100.

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