Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Speaking Truth to Power

I just returned from four days in Washington DC attending the Ecumenical Days of Advocacy For Global Peace With Justice as social justice coordinator for Queen Anne United Methodist Church. It was an amazing experience and I’m all fired up! This year’s conference theme was “Challenging Disparity: The Promise of God – The Power of Solidarity.” The conference, including over 1,000 participants from various denominations around the country, offered a series of workshops and lectures on issues of US foreign and domestic policies ranging from the environment, security, economics, and health. We also received training on how to influence legislators most effectively.

I chose the Africa issues track as that is a big passion of mine. Our keynote speaker was Stephen Lewis, United Nations Secretary General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. What an amazing man (and Canadian, too!). If you ever have the chance to hear him speak I highly recommend it. He is poignant, witty, intelligent, and a wonderful story-teller. His talk was powerfully motivating to build political will to fund the fight against HIV-AIDS in Africa. During this talk I sat next to and had a chance to speak with Wahu Kaara, an intense and riveting woman who was nominated for a Nobel Peace prize last year and is currently running for the presidency of Kenya!

In between workshops my friend Lisa Shannon and I networked with a handful of wonderful organizations that were represented at this event, including Marie Clark Brill, Director of Public Education and Mobilization for Africa Action, who graciously offered her time and advice. We have asked her to continue mentoring us as we begin to establish the foundations of a campaign for peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Several other individuals and organizations have expressed interest in forming a coalition with us to build awareness and work for peace and justice in the DRC. In fact, one of the presenters was a Congolese man, who holds a graduate degree in conflict resolution. He will be helping us make contact with local peace activists and organizations in the DRC. We are definitely on a roll!!! Lisa and I anticipate heading to the Congo ourselves relatively soon for a fact-finding and coalition-building mission. We want to see for ourselves the situation there and ask the Congolese what they think about how we can most effectively help shape US policy towards their country (which, incidentally, is about to have their first democratic elections in 40 years!).

Yesterday we spent the entire day on Capitol Hill lobbying for the particular issues we had just spent the weekend being educated about. It was exhilarating and nerve-wracking. I met with the legislative aids of Congressman McDermott and Senators Murray and Cantwell. As the Senate is voting on the 2007 budget this week, it is a highly important time to make sure strategic HIV/AIDS funding is not cut any further. I presented several specific points relating to the needs represented and reminded them of the US pledge during the G8 summit to commit 1/3 of the necessary assistance towards the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. I also asked for further appropriations to fund the training and support of healthcare workers in impoverished countries, where even if funding for medication gets through, there is no one available to implement the program and get the medicine to the people.

I think it went really well, of course my reps are pretty much on the same page so it didn’t take a lot of convincing. But there was a lot of talk about the deficit and where is the money going to come from. My answer is simple: our country needs a budget that represents the sanctity of life. If we cut back on funding for programs that represent death and destruction, we would have more than enough for programs that value life… and still plenty left to go towards our deficit! For example, while the Senate votes this week to decide if the 2007 budget will include $4 billion towards fighting AIDS, they will also vote on an appropriations bill for almost $70 billion more for the Iraq war (with $200 billion already spent!). One choice could save millions of lives, while the other will continue to take thousands of lives and greatly increase our deficit. Click HERE and HERE if you are US citizen and want to take action on these issues today.

Between appointments with my state reps I attended an interfaith prayer vigil for peace in Iraq on the Capitol lawn. Here I met Mike Ferner, a Vietnam veteran, peace activist, and writer. Since February 15th Mike and four others from Voices for Creative Nonviolence have been on a fast entitled “The Winter of our Discontent” to commemorate the third anniversary of worldwide protest against the Iraq invasion. The fast will end on March 20th, the date on which the US invaded Iraq three years and thousands of lives ago. Check out this interview with Mike.

Before heading home I also met with Women for Women International, an amazing organization that I promote as often as possible and who will be working with us on our campaign for peace in the DRC.

Exhausted, yet… invigorated. There is a lot of work to be done. Hope you will join in solidarity to challenge disparity and speak Truth to power!


Blogger Kristin said...

This sounds like an amazing experience, Tonya. Exhausting and amazing. Thanks for letting us look over your shoulder.

My husband spent a few years in the Congo as a child, where he and his family got to know a Congolese man named Pakisa Tshimika, who was doing public health stuff (I think) at the time. He quickly became a surrogate uncle to my husband. Subsequently Pakisa got a PhD in Public Health, and is living now in California. Like you, he is committed to building bridges between U.S. and Congo. His most recent project is a non-profit called Mama Makeka House of Hope, founded in honor of his late mother.

I say all of this because I wonder if he might be someone you'd like to know and/or collaborate with. He's a wonderfully warm person. His email and info can be found here: mmhhope.org

Blessings on your work.

7:53 PM  
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Blogger pearl said...

Tonya, I'm enthralled. I praise your effort and your passion.

9:11 AM  
Blogger steph said...

Wow, what an amazing adventure!

11:39 AM  
Anonymous Pakisa Tshimika said...


As I said in my e-mail to you, I am thankful to connect with people like you who are committed to the cause of others who are less fortunate. We can only know God when we invest ourselves in the lives of those who are weak, marginalized, handicapped, brokenhearted, and the so called needy of our societies locally and globally. Keep up the good work and your passion. Pakisa

12:32 PM  

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