Voting is just the beginning.
I did it. I voted. I went to my polling place early and got my “I voted” sticker because I didn’t want to risk not being able to vote on November 3 due to long lines. I tell my friends and family: Voting is so critical, and we can’t take it for granted. Everyone should vote.
But voting is just the beginning. What’s next is following up with our elected officials, moving them into action, and keeping them accountable – whether we voted for them or not.
Have you ever heard of an employer hiring someone and completely leaving the employee alone, never looking to see what they are doing? Probably not. There should be the same accountability with our policymakers. Whoever is elected to office should have to answer to their constituents.
At RESULTS, I’ve learned to talk to members of Congress and say, “These are the issues in our community – how are you going to address them?”
When I went to my first meeting with a member of Congress, I was intimidated. I hadn’t met my policymakers before, and I had ideas about them that made me nervous. I felt like there would be pressure to say everything exactly right. But I quickly realized that members of Congress and their staff are just people. You have to approach them as human beings and be bold about making your requests.
At my second meeting, it was so much easier – the bubble had burst. I thought, I’m just going to meet the same people I did before, we’ll have a discussion, and then I’ll follow up. It became a normal conversation instead of this big, scary thing I’d built up in my head.
When you push your leaders to address the things you care about, sometimes you see big successes. Since I’ve gotten involved with RESULTS, we’ve worked with Congress to secure billions of dollars for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Without advocacy for that funding, the Global Fund couldn’t support access to lifesaving treatment all around the world. Living in the United States, I am far from DR Congo, where I grew up. But through advocacy with Congress, I am able to take part in making change globally on health issues that I’ve seen firsthand and are really important to me.
We all have a role to play in advocacy. Maybe your role is scheduling meetings, or writing letters, or calling your congressional offices. Maybe it’s supporting your fellow advocates. Maybe it’s all those things. That’s the great thing about democracy – we can all participate. We can’t think, someone else is going to do this work, or only a few can be a part of it. We have to make sure all our voices are heard and counted.
Civic engagement isn’t just voting. It’s not just knowing how the government works. It’s remembering that Congress works for us, and then making sure they do their jobs. That’s what advocacy is all about.
Georges Budagu Makoko is a RESULTS advocate based in Portland, Maine and a member of the RESULTS African Leadership Cohort. He writes for and publishes Amjambo Africa, a newspaper focused on educating, embracing and celebrating diversity, as well as raising awareness on the part of Mainers of the scope of the conflict in Africa and why refugees and asylum seekers have left their countries in such high numbers to come to Maine.