March 13, 2014

Washington Monument

Images and text by Gabrielle.

I’ve been meaning to write up a little post about what I was doing in Washington D.C. a week and a half ago. It was a short trip, but an exciting one! The first day was spent learning about initiatives and government programs that ONE.org is supporting — specifically, we learned a lot about the Electrify Africa bill.

The short story is that 70% of people living in Sub-Saharan Africa don’t have electricity. Here in the U.S., electricity is practically a human right — so it took me a minute for the reality of no electricity, and what that means for the people there, to sink in. No way to power a cell phone, a computer, the internet — and without those, it’s almost impossible for people to make economic progress and pull themselves out of poverty. No lights for students to take classes or study after sundown. Women giving birth in the dark without access to life-saving medical equipment. No electricity to power machines, so businesses can’t scale well. No feeling safe outside at night.

No electricity! It’s so hard to even imagine. I mean, even when I go camping I use electricity — at the very least for my phone and my lanterns and flashlights. One little tidbit we learned? The Dallas Cowboy’s stadium uses more electricity on game day than the entire country of Liberia uses on the same day. Insane!

But the problem is actually more stunning than that. In homes without electricity, kerosene is the fuel used for light at night. But. The fumes from the kerosene are so harmful that they are responsible for more deaths than AIDS/HIV and malaria combined!!! Just nuts, right?

That’s where the Electrify Africa bill comes is.

This bill seeks to provide power to 50 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2020. And bonus: there’s no cost to the American taxpayers — in fact, the bill will even produce revenue, which means it will lower the deficit. That’s a win all the way around!

Anyway, I was in Washington D.C. with ONE.org to learn about the Electrify Africa bill (among other things) and then to lobby my congresswomen and representatives and ask them to support the bill.

Poster in Rep Barbara Boxers Office

Have you ever lobbied before? I hadn’t. I was a complete newbie. And I was fairly terrified. The ONE.org representatives split up by state, and the California delegation (I think there were 6 of us), had appointments with the offices of Senator Barbara Boxer, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Representative Karen Bass person, Representative Nancy Pelosi, and Representative Barbara Lee. Quite an intimidating lineup!

ONE.org is a bipartisan group, which means the ONE representatives met with both Republicans and Democrats in every state, and regardless of personal political views, while we represented ONE we stayed politically neutral. So for example, when I was meeting with Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office, Laura Mayes (part of the Texas delegation) was meeting with Sen. Ted Cruz’s office. I’m sure there were some ONE representatives that found it challenging — that didn’t want to meet with one party or another. But they did their lobbying respectfully anyway.

We received some training the night before we lobbied. It consisted of reviewing the key facts and then thinking hard about personal stories related to the topics we were lobbying. We were told that we didn’t need to be experts, we just needed to share our stories, share why we personally cared, and be passionate about the bill.

Washington DC in the Snow

The next day was quite magical. There was a light snowfall with huge flakes that made the whole city glitter. Our appointments were in grand old buildings, full of Senate and Congressional offices, and also in the Capitol building itself! I found myself doing a lot of gasping as we would round a corner and see another amazing mural or marble staircase.

The meetings were brief and respectful — about 15-20 minutes. The representatives and senators are busy, busy people, so our appointments were with their senior staff members (who are almost equally busy). We introduced ONE.org, told them why we were there, shared our personal stories, and then gave specific “asks” for the senators and representatives — for example, one ask was a request to co-sponsor the Electrify Africa bill. The staffers took notes, and asked questions, and then we thanked them for their time.

It was interesting to me to see the different offices. In Rep Barbara Boxer’s office, I snapped the photo of the Geraldine Ferraro poster (above). I was proud that California has such strong women in political positions.

ONEMoms and Nancy Pelosi

The 3rd meeting was with Nancy Pelosi’s office. We met in a big room in the Capitol, sitting around a grand conference table at the foot of the huge painting of George Washington. And then just as we were wrapping up, Nancy Pelosi came in! She sat with us, taking the time to hear each of our stories and shaking our hands. The whole thing felt like a pretty big deal.

After the meetings I had a little time, so I went with Jyl of Mom it Forward to the National Portrait Gallery/Museum of American Art. The museum had been renovated in a big way since I visited last and I loved getting to spend some time there. At one point I was sitting in front of a painting by John Singer Sargent (one of my very favorite artists), and started to cry. It was a lot packed in to one day and I was having one of those how-in-the-world-did-I-get-so-lucky waves of emotion. A gorgeous day in the Washington, powerful meetings at the Capitol, then sitting in front a stunning painting in a world-class museum. So much good stuff.

National Portrait Gallery Atrium

After the museum, Jyl and I sat at Shake Shack, which is across the street, and talked for several hours. In fact, we talked so long, I ordered twice. : )

It was a really good day. Overwhelming in the best way. Emotional and exciting and really wonderful. I don’t know if I’ll ever get the chance to lobby again, but I’m so glad for the experience. It was this amazing reminder that the women and men we elect really do want to hear from us, and are more accessible to constituents than I’d imagined. A reminder nothing is stopping me from being more politically active.

The best part? Our lobbying worked! The Electrify Africa bill is moving along!

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Have you ever lobbied before? Or gasped as you walked through the Capitol building? Do you know who your senators and representative are? And would you be intimidated to meet with them? Do you have a favorite Smithsonian museum? Have you ever eaten at Shake Shack? : ) Tell me more!

P.S. — It’s hard not to love a bill that helps people and costs nothing! I can imagine that lobbying for something more controversial would be an entirely different experience. : )

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{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Teri March 13, 2014 at 11:38 am

I don’t understand how any bill can “cost nothing”, but I do believe you have yourself a winner. It’s hard to argue that we shouldn’t help the world get electricity, it’s helping the world fight wars for decades, and essentially charging the aid we send to credit, that our government has to stop. If you have to charge your charitable giving, it’s time to stop. Thank you for an enlightening post.


2 Design Mom March 13, 2014 at 12:23 pm

I can’t find my notes, but if I remember correctly (and I might be way off) it costs “nothing” because American companies will have contracts to create the electricity, and in fact generate revenue for the U.S.


3 Bambi March 13, 2014 at 11:46 am

That sounds awesome! Congratulations!!!

Love and deep respect from Germany- may God bless you,




4 Summer March 13, 2014 at 11:59 am

As a Dallasite, that statistic made my jaw drop. Glad you’re doing good work! That all sounds very exciting and gratifying.


5 Design Mom March 13, 2014 at 12:23 pm

I imagine they used the Cowboys in the example because it’s such a famous team, but I’m guessing every big stadium in the country is probably similar. I just don’t want you to feel some sort of Dallas guilt. : )


6 Josie March 13, 2014 at 11:59 am

Quick correction from a DC resident: Capitol, as in the building itself, is spelled with an O, while capital city uses the A. Don’t know why! It’s great to see your experience on the Hill!


7 Design Mom March 13, 2014 at 12:24 pm

I had no idea! So glad you told me, Josie. I’ll go in and make corrections.


8 Jessica @ Little Nesting Doll March 13, 2014 at 12:03 pm

It sounds like an amazing day! When I was in college I worked on Capitol Hill for a Congressman from Ohio. I was lucky enough to give tours of the Capitol Building to visiting constituents several times a week, so I got to stroll around taking it all in pretty frequently. It never got old though–it’s just an amazing place. And once, I wrote a statement for the Congressman that was read on the House floor in support of raising the minimum wage–I still have the Congressional Record with my words in it. All in all, it’s one of my favorite memories from working there. :)


9 Robin March 13, 2014 at 12:09 pm

I’ve never lobbied myself but my husband is later this month in DC. The doctorate class is going to lobby for their rights as CRNAs. I had no idea what lobbying even meant (until just now) but I’m so proud!


10 Design Mom March 13, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Very exciting for your husband!


11 mom in mendon March 13, 2014 at 12:15 pm

Good for you! Interesting post.


12 Emily March 13, 2014 at 12:27 pm

I am lucky enough to live in DC and was inspired to move here after taking a summer course through my university. We spent two months meeting with representatives from our home state (NC) as well as meeting with lobbyists, staffers, and a myriad of other people. By the end of our trip each of my days spent in the Senate/House buildings or the Capital itself felt partially commonplace and partially unbelievable–it was quite surreal to be honest.
One of my favorite memories was from a reception thrown in our school’s honor in the Capital building. It was on one of our first nights in the city and at one point my friends and I just looked at each other and said “we are drinking wine. In the Capital building. With real politicians. Is this real life?!” For a nerd like me, it was better than any celebrity sighting.

Oh, and now, as resident of DC I can say that I visit Shake Shack at least twice a month and have been known to cry in the American History Museum on countless occasions. It’s the best.


13 Carin March 13, 2014 at 12:34 pm

This is tax payer money. President Obama announced a$7 billion U.S. commitment to the energy sector in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, and Tanzania in June of 2013. While this isn’t new money being pledged with 2014 dollars, these are dollars pledged from 2013. While I realize that they need electricity to thrive, we have people in our own country who are starving, unemployed, job less, parentless and so on. While the world needs help, but so does our own country.


14 Amanda March 13, 2014 at 2:51 pm

There are plenty of other places we could make cuts… like our huge “defense” budget. And if this bill is revenue neutral, as Gabrielle stated, it isn’t even actually adding to the deficit.


15 Design Mom March 14, 2014 at 10:27 am

Carin, I believe we’re talking about different things. The Electrify Africa bill is a new bill (H.R. 2548) introduced by Rep Royce, a Republican from California & Rep Engel, a Democrat from New York. It has wide bi-partisan support, and it’s poised to generate revenue and decrease the deficit.

I agree that people in our country need help as well, but as I’m sure you know it’s never quite as simple as we-need-to-help-us-instead-of-them. Helping developing countries directly improves our national security. If you have millions of people in severe poverty with no prospects for improvement, that’s a recipe for war and strife that will have impact on countries throughout the world.

There’s a quote from a U.S. General (I need to look up the name): Cutting foreign aid? Then you better buy more bullets.

Helping other countries helps America buy both security and goodwill. I’m no expert on this bill — in fact I was lobbying specifically as a non-expert — and I don’t pretend the bill is flawless, but I’m definitely in favor!


16 Gayle March 13, 2014 at 12:39 pm

So proud of you Gabrielle. You just keep jumping deeper and deeper into life — into its joys and responsibilities! You So inspire me!

I was a political activist in my youth — anti-Vietnam war, and pro-Civil Rights. Went on lots and lots of demonstrations! But never went to Washington. My first visit to DC was last summer, but only as a tourist.

Thanks for all your wonderful and varied posts — speaking to so many parts of who we are!


17 Eva March 13, 2014 at 12:58 pm

Such a cool experience! Congratulations on the bill moving along! And, yes, love the Shake Shack. Discovered it with my kids visiting NYC this summer.


18 Michelle March 13, 2014 at 1:18 pm

My husband visits many pacific islands for work. I’ve been feeling the urgency to do the same to these remote islands all over Fiji in particular. So many places without so many things we take for granted everyday. I am especially drawn to help mothers who need emergency assistance during labor. Many of these islands, not only don’t have electricity or running water, but do not even have a dock for fast and easy travel to a hospital on a boat. Thank you for spreading the word about this.


19 Katie March 13, 2014 at 3:11 pm

As a Hill staffer and longtime Design Mom reader, I was so excited to read this post and get your perspective on what I do every day! Thanks for making my job sound so special.


20 Design Mom March 14, 2014 at 10:28 am

I definitely think you have a special job, Katie! Very cool.


21 Tina Z March 13, 2014 at 4:48 pm

Lobbying is intimidating, for sure. I’ll be representing Resolve in May at their advocacy day to lobby for legislation to make access to infertility treatment more affordable (e.g. tax credits for IVF and other treatments, like the adoption tax credit). I’ve lobbied before and every time I think about a) how important it is for people to take this kind of action, especially for issues not well represented by high powered lobbyists, and b) how nerve-racking it can be!


22 Design Mom March 14, 2014 at 10:30 am

Good luck with your lobbying, Tina!


23 Katie Harding March 13, 2014 at 4:59 pm

You go girl! What a cool adventure! Great post!


24 Ann Martin March 13, 2014 at 7:40 pm

It just seems wrong that there’s a place called Shake Shack across from all those heady experiences. :) But good for you… thanks for helping to make a difference, Gabrielle!


25 Design Mom March 14, 2014 at 10:29 am

Hah! Shake Shack was the perfect end to the evening. Man oh man I love their burgers. I actually had no idea there was a Shake Shack in D.C.. Up until this visit I had only been to Shake Shack in New York.


26 Maureen March 13, 2014 at 8:42 pm

I live in the Capitol Hill neighborhood and LOVE LOVE LOVE glancing at that beautiful building every single day. It never gets old and when we move back to California this year it will be the thing I miss the most! And the Portrait Gallery is my favorite Smithsonian!


27 Design Mom March 14, 2014 at 10:30 am

Sounds like a dreamy neighborhood!


28 julia g blair March 13, 2014 at 8:43 pm

I’m so impressed and so proud of you, Gabby! It does boggle my mind that the
USA can “give” so much $$$ to struggling countries and yet must borrow so much
from China! Good that smarter people than I work these things out.

Love the idea of electricity for Africa!!!


29 Martha March 14, 2014 at 5:24 am

I think it’s super cool and very admirable that you got involved and stood up for something you believe in! Way to go! I do want to comment on something that makes me uncomfortable, though. I agree 100% about the dangers of kerosene fuel for those living in Africa. However, for me, something doesn’t sit right about the assumption that developing countries like Africa must “develop” in the same ways and same stages that we in the West did. Although electric power was one of our first steps, we now know the effect that this type of power is having on the environment (and our entire planet as a result). I believe that once we know better, we must do better. Why not solar power? The expensive electrical infrastructure isn’t necessary, it allows people to be self-sufficient, and has far less impact on our fragile environment. I also believe that the contracts for this type of development should be given to local companies rather than American ones. If we send the bulk of profits back to the states, how can we ever expect these countries to become self-sufficient? I hope this doesn’t come across sounding as though I feel what you did in Washington is wrong, because I don’t! I just wanted to add my thoughts to the conversation :)


30 Shanna March 14, 2014 at 8:46 am

Martha summed up exactly what I was thinking about the movement’s assumptions, environmental and financial impact. I was hesitant to mention it because I think politics are so difficult to engage in because of the inherent complexities. The movement made me think of the great book “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe. I do applaud Gabrielle for going to Washington and participating in Democracy though!


31 Design Mom March 14, 2014 at 10:53 am

Martha, you would have fit right in with the rest of the ONE lobbyists — the thoughts and questions you raised are identical to the ones raised while we were learning about the bill. In addition to a small team of ONEMoms, there were also approx 200 college students that were there to represent ONE, and everyone in the room was concerned about the environmental impact this bill could have.

Again, I’m no expert, but from what I understood, solar power would be part of the way electricity would be provided. And overall, please know, this bill is definitely being approached with an eye to the environment. If it wasn’t, I’m afraid a huge portion of the ONE reps would have walked right out of the room. : )

As far as giving the contracts to local companies goes, I think everyone agrees with you, but from what I learned it sounds like in many of these places there are simply no companies (or governments) with the infrastructure and support to accomplish the goals. The bigger picture is: helping provide electricity to 50 million people, which enables existing industries to expand and provide more jobs, which brings more stability to the country, which enables governments and citizens to provide for their own electricity needs.

I’ve had quite a few conversations with the FashionABLE founders. They’re based in Ethiopia and recruit women from the streets — commercial sex workers — and teach them a new skill and provide them with work making gorgeous scarves from local materials. An amazing company. But the company’s access to electricity can be spotty and it has a huge impact in the way the company can grow and whether or not they can provide more jobs.

With no electricity, they can’t contact vendors, process orders, or communicate with customers. And even if the women can’t work that day because of electricity issues, they still receive a paycheck, which is lovely, but it means the company takes a loss that day and grows slower, and can’t hire as quickly as they’d like to.

If companies know they have reliable electricity, jobs can grow across every sector — not just in the energy industry.

Just my two cents. Not everyone will agree. I’m sure it’s not a perfect piece of legislation, but I’m excited about the bill.

By the way, I think it’s awesome of you to engage in the conversation and leave a thought-provoking comment. Political discussions can be challenging, but obviously necessary and important. It’s how we figure things out! So thank you.


32 Lauren March 14, 2014 at 8:16 am

This is an interesting read! My husband is a lobbyist here in DC, so I know a bit about it from his side of things, but I think it is so important for “regular” people to talk to their representatives about what is important to them and it does have an impact. So glad your bill is moving forward!


33 Kellee | FreeTime, Ltd. March 14, 2014 at 8:32 am

Good for you! I’ve lobbied locally in Washington State several times on behalf of public education. A few years ago, the state was actually sued (and lost) for failing to amply fund basic education. It depends on how exactly you crunch the numbers, but our per capita education spending puts us in the bottom 40 of states. This is crazy to me, given that we’re a relatively wealthy state (home to Amazon, Starbucks, Microsoft, Boeing, etc.), and that Seattle and surrounding areas are full of very highly educated people. One of the most startling stats: Washington state only funds 5 periods of middle and high school. (The national average is 7 periods.) But in schools with only 5 periods, it is impossible for students to graduate with enough credits to meet college admission requirements. Districts try to pass levies to fund a 6th and sometimes 7th period to pick up the slack, but sometimes levies fail. So I, along with lots of other angry parents, lobby and lobby and lobby some more to increase state funding. It’s slow going, but we’re making progress, and I’m proud to say I’ve been a part of it!


34 Design Mom March 14, 2014 at 10:31 am

Thanks for your comment, Kellee! A good reminder that we can lobby in our own states — we don’t have to go to D.C..


35 Robin March 14, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Gabby – Love this post. Completely get your emotions at the end of a powerful day!


36 Bethany March 14, 2014 at 11:20 pm

How fun to read about this! One of my first jobs out of college was actually at a lobbying firm in DC. And I totally love Shake Shack!!


37 Jyl Johnson Pattee March 17, 2014 at 12:08 pm

I am laughing out loud about your “ordering twice” comment. And craving another Shake Shack dinner with hours of conversation. Such a great day!


38 Amber March 17, 2014 at 7:47 pm

Wow, thanks for the enlightenment! What a cool experience and a great cause. I wouldn’t even mind having my tax dollars spend on something like this. Everyday I drive around Brooklyn swerving to miss one pothole after another and have to wonder where my money has gone. :)


39 Mojca April 3, 2014 at 7:31 pm

Hello to everyone!
Well, I can tell you, how it is to be withouth electricity in Africa. It’s dark! And you are waiting for the ring bell, which tells you, state power is ON, and you are running to the room, to charge your phone, lap top or whatever you need to charge, because you never know, when the power will be off again. Maybe it will last 5 minutes, maybe 20, and if we are lucky, like right now in the middle of the night, we can have it couple of hours toghether. Yeah! And I can finally read this blog again. :)
I am volunteering in foster home in Nigeria since this February and first shock here was: where is electricity when you need it? You can’t charge your phone or lap top, internet is sloooow and is not working properly, children are doing homeworks or eating in dark, they are cooking in the dark, hospitals are in dark etc. And it’s true, people are using kerosine to run generators for electricity instead of using solar power! Nigeria has state power, but it’s not working properly and when state power is off, which is most of the day (at least in the area where I live now) you have to run generators or inverters. But if you don’t have money to afford fuel, you are living in the dark. I am talking this from my experience here, maybe in some other area or state, things are much better that I just described it.
But after two months of living here, I can just tell you one thing: we can be very very grateful to live in a world with electricity 24/7, where everything works more than properly and faster, but on the other side, here you can still find people sitting outside in the evenings, talking about life and despite everything, they still have smile on their faces. And yes, to experience lack of electricity, is just one of the reminder, that there are better things in the world to do, so cheers to that, but we all know, without electricity we can’t imagine our lives anymore…
Greetings from Nigeria!


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