“Hi, Buke!” my representative said warmly, and greeted me with a hug at his Capitol Hill office. His staff also welcomed me by name.
A year ago I never would have dreamed that I would be on a first-name basis with a member of Congress. How did we get there?
A campaign promise
When my congressman was elected last fall, he made us a promise: if you request a meeting with him, you’re going to get it.
That’s exactly what I did.
I live just north of Dallas, Texas, and my congressman is Representative Van Taylor. He ran on a platform of being bipartisan and responsive to his constituents. I have put his campaign promise to the test (Spoiler alert: We’ve met face-to-face 6 times and counting).
My advocacy to Rep. Taylor began even before he was sworn in. I organized RESULTS advocates to write him letters about the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. I am passionate about this health initiative that has helped save millions of lives, and I wanted to make sure he was aware of it as soon as possible. (Read about my personal connection to the Global Fund in part I of this series.)
As Rep. Taylor was still getting settled into his new office, the RESULTS Dallas group and I set up our first constituent meeting with him. We shared our request for his support of the Global Fund.
We were just getting started.
When Rep. Taylor comes back home to Texas from Capitol Hill, he always hosts a “Coffee with Your Congressman” very early in the morning. It’s a chance to talk with his constituents before the sun comes up and the day begins. I have now attended three of those coffee meetings. At the last one, Rep. Taylor’s staffers waved goodbye and said, “See you next month.”
It also just so happens that his daughters and my niece go to school together. I’m very involved in the school, and one day I was volunteering at the drop off lane. When I opened one of the car doors and lowered my head to say, “Have a great day!” to the driver, I realized it was Rep. Taylor, dropping off his kids. That was a pleasant surprise, because I had just seen him the week before. I said hello, and joked, “We both know there are lots of school events here, and I come to ALL of them!”
Then I wrote a letter to the editor addressing Rep. Taylor directly. This is what really solidified our relationship. I thanked him for being open and accessible, and fulfilling his promise to his constituents. I went on to tell him how important the Global Fund was to me. I shared my story, and ended by asking for his congressional support for the Global Fund. It was published in the Dallas Morning News.
His staff sent me an email thanking me for the letter, and the next time I saw Rep. Taylor, he brought it up right away. He said even his own mother had seen it in the paper and called him about it!
That letter was a turning point. I went to his office on Capitol Hill this past summer at the RESULTS International Conference, and his staff greeted me like they were greeting a friend. The congressman said, “Call me Van.” I told him I would see him at his next coffee meeting.
Persistence pays off
I was delighted when Van decided to support the Global Fund by cosponsoring House Resolution 517, which is making sure the U.S. does its part to help save 16 million more lives. My efforts and those of the other Dallas advocates have paid off!
I see my relationship with him as a partnership. We’re working together on this. He definitely works for me, as my representative. But even more importantly, we work together.
We have to participate in our democracy. We have to engage our representatives. That’s the great thing about RESULTS – they support you to build powerful relationships with Congress. And it works.
RESULTS has shown me that civics is not just something you learn about in school. It’s something you can live out in real life.