Profile of an Activist

April 28, 2009

From RESULTS Chicago activist, Cindy Changyit Levin:Rep. Schakowsky and Cynthia Changyit-Levin

Hello. My name is Cindy Changyit Levin. I’m a RESULTS activist in the Chicago area and a grassroots board member for RESULTS and RESULTS Educational Fund. I’d like to share my story about how I became an activist.

Now, I didn’t come to advocacy right away. At first it seemed like a big, scary thing, and I was very intimidated by the idea. I thought I’d have to be an expert and was worried that if I called a member of Congress, he or she might call back and challenge my opinions. I didn’t understand that members of Congress really work for all of us. Several years went by before I realized that advocacy can be as simple as putting a pen to paper and saying to my elected official, “I care about people living in poverty, and I want you to care about them, too.”

During this time, I was also making a personal journey from being a full-time professional engineer to being a full-time mom. I used to be very busy doing a lot of direct service after work. I was a volunteer for my church soup kitchen, and I chaired fundraising events. But quitting my job and having my first baby during the winter in Chicago was both physically and emotionally isolating. I spent my days feeling tired and fragile, listening to the world’s problems on NPR, and then feeling more disconnected and utterly powerless to do anything about those problems. I felt like I didn’t have a purpose and couldn’t make a difference. Since I was unwilling to take a baby to my former volunteer activities, I was frustrated and felt like I needed to find a new way to help.

Advocacy gave me a way to get involved. I could write to senators or submit letters to the editor in the middle of the night, when I couldn’t sleep anyway after a baby woke me up for a feeding or a diaper change. I found I could write on my own time and on my own terms and actually be a part of the national conversation about poverty.

I got my first taste of success when I submitted my first letter to the editor in a local paper, and it was printed right away. I didn’t realize how persistent I would have to be to see my name in print again. But finally, after 46 more submissions, one of my letters was selected for publication by the New York Times. My letter appeared right beneath a letter from Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. I was so excited! Since then, I’ve been published in the Washington Times, the Chicago Sun-Times, and the Chicago Tribune. Every time, it’s a rush of adrenaline!

Encouraged by these experiences, I wanted to do even more. I started writing op-eds, and traveled to the RESULTS International Conference in Washington, D.C., to learn how to lobby in person. That conference was a turning point for me. Not only did I meet a whole new set of peers to work with and be inspired by, but I got the surprise of my life when I walked into a Congressional office expecting to talk to an aide, and instead saw my U.S. representative sitting and waiting to talk to me!

RESULTS has taught me a lot. One of the most startling things I’ve learned is that 25 years ago, over 40,000 children died every day from preventable diseases. Because of the efforts of dedicated grassroots volunteers, today that number has almost been cut in half. And because of my personal experience fighting for the Lantos-Hyde Act — the largest piece of global health legislation ever passed in the U.S. — I know that I have a role in driving that number down even further. I’m proud to be part of the long line of people working on this problem.

Your journey will not be the same as mine. I encourage you to follow your own path and find your own voice. With the support of RESULTS staff and partners, your voice will be heard . . . even if you are speaking from your own kitchen table.

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