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A Moral Imperative to Reach Every Mother and Child

The Bainbridge Island Youth team of PIH Engage, made up of students from Bainbridge Island High School and Eagle Harbor High School, came together in late November with a chance to meet Representative Derek Kilmer (D-WA), one of the co-authors of the Reach Every Mother and Child Act (H.R. 3706). In this blog post, we highlight the interaction these students had with Representative Kilmer, their key takeaways, and a brief update on where the PIH Engage network is on this important legislation. 

Meeting a Congressperson can seem like a daunting task. You see their ads on television when they run for re-election, you see some of them on the news debating policy, and you hear critiques of their work given by presidential candidates, pundits, and nightly news shows. But, as a group of students on Bainbridge Island learned in November, members of Congress can be incredibly approachable, caring human beings as well. 

At the beginning of this campaign year, PIH Engage set out to support the work of our allies on the Reach Every Mother and Child Act (H.R. 3706). We began by introducing the basic ideas behind the act and combining those basic ideas with training on how to move forward advocacy that shows constituent power and builds support for a bill to become law. To many, the Reach Every Mother and Child Act embodies a set of values that we should care about in the fight for the right to health. It works to provide a more equitable approach to funding, by targeting the poorest and most vulnerable populations for maternal and child survival grants from USAID. You can read more about the act on our advocacy resources page. 

As we end 2016, it's clear that the Reach Every Mother and Child Act will need a fresh, energetic effort in 2017 if it is to become law. But this fall, we've helped create a lot of support for it. When we first joined in, there were 176 co-sponsors of the bill in the House of Representatives. Today there are 219 co-sponsors. This spring we'll build on those supporters and co-sponsors, and hopefully, push this bill to be reintroduced and then passed by the new 115th Congress of the United States. Check out our Meeting With Congress tools to see how you can join the effort.

As a part of their effort, students on Bainbridge Island had a chance to connect with their representative, Derek Kilmer (D-WA). He spoke to the students in the library of Bainbridge High School on a late November afternoon. Representative Kilmer spoke mostly about the bill and the importance of global health funding in general. He pointed out that although less than 1% of the U.S. budget goes to foreign aid, many Americans think otherwise. But investing in health care is a smart investment, because "health care creates growth for society." 

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Stella Steufert, a member of the Bainbridge Island Youth team, asked Representative Kilmer if the bill was likely to be passed and what the timeline might look like. Kilmer responded by saying that it's "not likely to be passed right away, but it is a moral imperative to pass it as soon as possible."

Given the state of American politics, where partisan divide is larger than ever, some in the audience felt skeptical about the likelihood of a bill that sounded so liberal to pass. Representative Kilmer addressed those concerns: This bill is bipartisan, created by folks from both sides of the aisle in a true example of collaboration. He said that the majority of legislators are not on one extreme end of the political spectrum like the ones that are in the news. Most legislators want to get work done and will compromise to do so. It helps, of course, that the Reach Every Mother and Child Act doesn't ask for new funds, but instead re-purposes existing funds, making it easier to pass through a Congress that's so focused on the budget.

The students noted that Representative Kilmer was kind, approachable, and personable. He spoke a lot about how issues like taking care of mothers and children shouldn't be political; they are just the right thing to do. He quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., saying, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." 

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The future is always uncertain in politics, global health, and advocacy. But opportunities like this one to speak with an elected official are very important for securing the future in the way that we, as constituents, see fit. We must continue to organize, create dialogue, and let our voices be heard as a part of the right to health movement and all other causes that are dear to us. Check out the advocacy resources page to see how to join the movement for the right to health alongside the Bainbridge Island Youth team and 70 other PIH Engage teams around the country.

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