United in action at the RESULTS virtual conference
Hundreds of attendees were tuned in on phones and laptops from all over the world at the opening of the first virtual RESULTS International Conference in late June. Some were wrapping up their day in Kenya; some were up well past their bedtime in Australia; others were preparing their morning coffee in Alaska.
With attendees from over 25 countries across the globe totaling more than 800, the virtual conference was the biggest in RESULTS’ forty-year history. Attendees logged in to hone their advocacy skills, connect with each other in a time of widespread isolation, hear from leaders in the fight for equity, and take action together to create real change.
As the United States grapples with centuries of unaddressed racism, advocates came together recognizing that this moment is a response not only to individual acts of violence against Black people, but to systemic violence and racism – the same systems that drive poverty. And the global pandemic is only further laying bare huge disparities and injustice around the world.
Dr. Joanne Carter, RESULTS’ Executive Director, kicked off the event by addressing the direct relationship between inequity and the structures that design and maintain it. “We can’t lose sight of how centuries of systemic racism, and the injustice of this moment, are rooted in public policy. These systems of injustice were created. What discriminatory policies have created, equitable policies can help change – but only when we stand up for them.”
Throughout the conference, plenary speakers tackled issues like affordable housing, building social justice movements, global health systems, and more.
Dr. Joia Mukherjee of Partners in Health: “I don’t think we have ever been able to do real social justice work without doing real anti-racist work…We can win these fights, but only when we center human dignity.”
Prof. Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize winner: “We have to build new roads to go to a new destination; we have to define a new destination…Look for that first step that you want to make.”
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of WHO: “When we say ‘build health systems,’ when we say ‘health for all,’ it has to be done globally. We should build it together…We have to make the conversation about bigger change.”
Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis of the Poor People’s Campaign: “We believe that to revive American society, it will have to be from the bottom up.”
Rosemary Mburu of WACI Health: “I always look forward to this conference that really gives us the opportunity to reflect on the power of our voices, especially when we speak and act in a united manner.”
Attendees also had the opportunity to enjoy some live music and join a long list of policy deep-dives and advocacy skill workshops. Though the virtual format was an adjustment for everyone, the passion of RESULTS advocates was palpable through the screens. Interactive dialogues in break out rooms gave advocates a chance to share their knowledge and plan for the upcoming Advocacy Week.
The rubber met the road from Monday to Thursday as advocates put what they had heard and discussed over the weekend into action. They held more than 300 virtual meetings with policymakers in Congress, the World Bank, and parliaments around the world. U.S. advocates asked their representatives in Congress for $100 billion more in funding for emergency rental assistance, expanded SNAP benefits, more equitable tax policies, and a bold global response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Advocates found that the online format brought some advantages. They were able to spend more time in each meeting without going back and forth on Capitol Hill. Meetings were less rushed, and no one had to wear uncomfortable shoes (or any shoes at all). For many, their nervousness before meetings turned to a sense of satisfaction at having the chance to be heard by their policymakers.
The week of advocacy ended with an online celebration attended by members of Congress and hundreds of advocates (some in their pajamas) and featured live music from activist and musician Elena La Fulana.
A few advocates described their powerful experiences meeting with policymakers. Karyne Bury from Miami shared that 22 RESULTS advocates from all over Florida had met with their senator’s office online. “Our experiences with RESULTS ranged from 40 years to just 40 minutes. This was the most participation we’ve ever had in my four years with RESULTS and reflected a really cohesive showing of solidarity from our state.”
The evening included a special acknowledgement of congressional champion Chairwoman Nita Lowey, who thanked RESULTS advocates for taking action throughout the years and finished with some inspiring words: “I am so heartened that you are continuing to work together to mobilize in unprecedented times. You are truly unsung heroes, making an impact in the lives of millions, both now and for years to come. So keep going; keep up the great work.”