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Practical political action on global health

The Boston Effective Altruism group is doing a lobbying project this season, starting with a guest speaker, a meetup to write letters to our Congresspeople, and later including a visit to our senator’s office. We think other EA groups should consider doing this too. This post is written with US groups in mind, but of course individuals could carry out these steps too, and I imagine there are similar lobbying opportunities in other countries.

Why should EA groups get involved in political advocacy?

  • For those of us who aren’t billionaires, it’s probably our only chance to influence how effectively billions of dollars are spent.

  • Local EA groups are hard up for practical activities to do together, beyond having yet another discussion.

  • Even though many of us have an aversion to politics as usual, there are opportunities to "pull sideways" on issues that are neglected and uncontroversial.

  • For people considering a career in policy, or who want to be more involved on a volunteer basis, this is a good way to build up skills and familiarity with the system. It’s a lot less scary to walk into your Senator’s office the second time than the first, and easier to make headway on the next issue when their staffers know you by name.

 

Why is this a good time?

  • A lot of us are fired up about politics right now but don’t know what practical actions to take.

  • Republican administrations, surprisingly, are unusually good times for global health spending because if the President supports the spending, Congress is more likely to go along. For example, George W. Bush’s President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and President’s Malaria Initiative were some of the most ambitious global health programs in US history.

  • Spring is appropriations season — the time when the government decides where to spend its money. The House of Representatives subcommittee that makes global health decisions will make budget decisions on March 16.

 

Why global health?

  • I recognize that global health is not a top priority for everyone in effective altruism. But of the areas EAs often consider most important, it’s unusually tractable in that the government has billions of dollars set aside for "foreign operations," and we have a chance to nudge funding toward more effective areas within the field.

  • Of the things the government is likely to spend money on, this is far more effective at averting suffering and death than basically anything else.

 

What the Boston EA group is doing

  • We invited a guest speaker from RESULTS, a grassroots anti-poverty group, to explain how lobbying works. I do advise getting in touch with someone familiar with the lobbying process to help explain the confusing parts. See if there’s a RESULTS chapter near you.

  • Based on information RESULTS gets from Congressional staffers, hand-written letters are a good way to get your foot in the door (because it’s unusual for Congress members to get thoughtful hand-written letters; they’re costly signaling).
    Yesterday we met for a letter-writing meetup. Using templates from RESULTS, we wrote to our Senators and Representatives about global health spending. We found their templates a little confusing, so I wrote up our own (see below).

  • About a week after mailing the letters, we’ll call the office of the Senator we want to visit. We’ll ask the staffer if they got our letters and ask for an appointment to discuss the matter further with them. Congress members have staff whose job it is to meet with constituents for things like this, and they usually have a few local offices throughout the state, so you don’t have to go to Washington.

  • A small group of us (probably 3-4 people) will go to our senator’s local office to meet with a staffer and encourage more funding for global health.

  • We’ll probably do another round of this when the Reach Every Mother and Child Act is re-introduced this year, as we think it’s particularly effective.

 

How to to do a letter-writing meetup

Supplies needed:

  • Lined writing paper

  • Pens and pencils

  • Envelopes

  • Stamps

Tips for writing letters:

It’s best to write to wherever you are a constituent (e.g. you live). If you live in different areas at different times of year you can consider yourself a constituent in both places.  You do not have to be a citizen or a registered voter — you just have to live there, meaning it’s the senator’s or representative’s job to represent your interests.

Send letters to the Congress member’s local office, not the Washington DC office, where letters spend weeks being screened for anthrax.

Pick one topic to write about per letter. If you want to talk about a different issue, send a separate letter.

 

Who to write to:

Appropriations subcommittee members:

If you live in one of these states, you are in luck! Your Senator or Representative is on one of the two bodies that makes decisions about where to spend the government’s money (the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs subcommittee in either the House or the Senate.) These are especially good people to write to. See the last letter template below.

Note that because Representatives don’t represent the whole state, you may or may not be in the district for these particular Representatives. Find out who your elected officials are.

Arkansas: John Boozman (Senator)

California: Barbara Lee (Rep)

Connecticut: Chris Murphy (Senator)

Delaware: Christopher Coons (Senator)

Kentucky: Hal Rogers (Rep), Mitch McConnell (Senator)

Illinois: Richard Durbin (Senator)

Texas: Kay Granger (Rep)

Florida: Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep), Tom Rooney (Rep), Marco Rubio

Kansas: Jerry Moran (Senator)

Maryland: Chis Van Hollen (Senator), C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (Rep)

Missouri: Roy Blount (Senator)

Montana: Steve Daines (Senator)

Nebraska: Jeff Fortenberry (Rep)

New Hampshire: Jeanne Shaheen (Senator)

New York: Nita Lowey (Rep), Grace Meng (Rep)

North Carolina: David Price (Rep)

Oklahoma: James Lankford (Senator)

Oregon: Jeff Merkley (Senator)

Pennsylvania: Charlie Dent (Rep)

Utah: Chris Stewart (Rep)

 

If you don’t live in one of those states, you can write to your Senators and Representatives (find them here) and ask them to tell the Appropriations committee what they want. See the first two letter templates below.

 

Letter templates (based on RESULTS templates) 

Appropriations letter to a Senator not on the Appropriations committee:

Dear Senator ____,

Re: Please support the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

I’m writing as a constituent, and as a volunteer with Boston Effective Altruism, because global health is the most important issue to me. So I’m asking you to support funding for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

Programs supported by the Global Fund have helped to save 17 million lives since 2002. But too many people still die from these preventable diseases.

Will you please speak and write to the leadership of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, Chairman Lindsey Graham and Ranking Member Pat Leahy, to ask for $1.475 billion to be provided for the Global Fund and its life-saving work?

Thank you very much.

(Name)

(Address)

(Phone number)

 

Appropriations letter to a Representative not on the Appropriations committee:

Dear Representative ____,

Re: Please support the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

I’m writing as a constituent, and as a volunteer with Boston Effective Altruism, because global health is the most important issue to me. So I’m asking you to support funding for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

Programs supported by the Global Fund have helped to save 17 million lives since 2002. But too many people still die from these preventable diseases.

Will you please speak and write to Chair Rep. Hal Rogers and Ranking Member Nita Lowey, to ask for $1.475 billion to be provided for the Global Fund and its life-saving work?

Thank you very much.

(Name)

(Address)

(Phone number)

 

Letter to a Senator or Representative on the Appropriations committee (see list above):

Dear Senator/Representative ____,

Re: Please support the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

I’m writing as a constituent, and as a volunteer with Boston Effective Altruism, because global health is the most important issue to me. So I’m asking you to support funding for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

Programs supported by the Global Fund have helped to save 17 million lives since 2002. But too many people still die from these preventable diseases.

Will you please push for $1.475 billion to be provided for the Global Fund and its life-saving work?

Thank you very much.

(Name)

(Address)

(Phone number)

 

Variations to mention instead of Global Fund:

$900 million for child and maternal health programs

$290 million for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, for global immunization.

 

Facts to mention if you want:

16,000 kids under 5 still die every day of preventable causes like pneumonia. (related to child and maternal health, or immunization)

TB has surpassed AIDS as the top infectious disease killer. (related to Global Fund)

 

Following up with a visit

Here’s step-by-step information on how to do a meeting with congressional staff.

 

Staying in touch

If you try this out, please let me know how it goes! Boston is particularly rich in EAs with public health and lobbying know-how right now, so I'm happy to put you in touch with someone who may be able to answer any questions you have.

Comments (4)

Comment author: AdamHoffman 06 March 2017 02:12:20AM 1 point [-]

Thanks for posting! I'm in the CA Bay Area and just wrote a similar letter along with a group here to Barbara Lee (on committee).

Comment author: Julia_Wise 09 March 2017 02:40:31PM 0 points [-]

Excellent!

Comment author: Andy_Schultz 17 March 2017 02:14:32PM 0 points [-]

Any word on the global health budget decisions?

Comment author: Sindy_Li 01 March 2017 09:06:02PM 0 points [-]