When I began working as the Policy Analyst and Advocacy fellow for the Office of Social Justice (OSJ) in August, advocacy was a new practice for me. It seemed daunting. But I've learned that advocacy is something that almost everyone can participate in -- it’s accessible and simple.
As Christians we are called to seek justice and show compassion to all people, especially the widow, the orphan, the stranger, the hungry, the poor, and the sick (Isaiah 1:17). The Bible contains inspiring examples of advocates. People such as Esther and Moses spoke alongside marginalized and oppressed people who were greatly affected by decisions made by people in power. There is a biblical and moral call to serve as advocates for systemic change.
Jesus’ teaching and example point us to the command “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39), which calls us to extend our compassion to neighbors throughout the world. This motivates me to practice advocacy consistently. But to be honest, it is also motivating to know that advocacy actually works.
Recently, the Global Food Security Act passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and in the U.S. Senate. Many organizations were advocating for this important bill, including OSJ, because it focuses on the critical 1,000 day period between the beginning of a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday.
It is shown that without breaking the cycle of permanent damage caused by malnutrition during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, later economic, education, and food interventions do not have the same effect or value that they otherwise would. Therefore, bills such as the Global Food Security Act make the poverty focused development work of World Renew and other agencies that much more effective and sustainable.
As part of World Renew’s Maternal & Child Health Sunday on May 22 this year, OSJ and World Renew decided to incorporate the opportunity to advocate for the Global Food Security Act. The two agencies worked together to provide a leader’s guide for churches to write to their members of Congress in support of the act.
OSJ then sent out an action alert via email, Facebook, and Twitter urging CRC members to email Congress -- 92 emails have been sent. The office also partnered with the Health Advisor to World Renew, Alan Talens, to make sure that what we were saying lined up with his expert knowledge.
Before sending out the action alert, OSJ held meetings with members of Congress about the act, to communicate the critical need for the bill and to find out what these representatives of districts where CRC members live thought of the bill. Many legislators were interested in the economic perspective rather than a purely moral argument. So we used what we learned about their perspectives to shape future messaging--we emphasized that the impact of malnutrition early in life has irreversible effects. These effects reach beyond generations, resulting in economic loss for countries from diminished productivity and high but avoidable healthcare costs.
OSJ signed on to letters with other faith-based organizations urging Congress to take the act to the floor for a vote. Finally, a year after it was reported out of committee, the House placed the act on its schedule for a vote. That day, OSJ asked Twitter followers to call their members before the House vote. Letters were sent to undecided members of Congress with whom OSJ had been communicating. Alan and OSJ also personally called these members of Congress before the vote.
Then the Global Food Security Act passed! The majority of members advocated by OSJ voted in favor of the act -- some changed their previous positions on the legislation.
OSJ sent letters thanking those who voted in favor and asked CRC members to call to say thank you as well. The office also revamped its action alert to focus on the Senate -- to urge Senators to continue the momentum and pass the Global Food Security Act.
Eight days after the House passed its version of the act, the Senate passed its own version. Because the two acts are slightly different, the chambers will either have to reconcile the differences in a conference or choose one of the versions to pass. At this point, it seems more likely that the House or Senate will re-vote on one of the other’s bills -- so there is still work to be done.
Together these actions may seem overwhelming. But by initiating discussions with Congressional offices, forming relationships, listening, being persistent, and following through -- advocacy worked. Even just one of these actions is an important part of stewarding your voice and power to stand with mothers and children throughout the world.
Interested in practicing advocacy yourself?