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Birddogging in the South: Ben Carson Says "Definitely" to Being a Leader in Global Health Initiatives

Election season is an extremely crucial time for advocacy because it grants a level of access to presidential candidates and influence over their presidency commitments that is simply unmatched at any other time. PIH Engage teams and members are committed to capitalizing on this unique opportunity to birddog on the campaign trail. Birddogging is the advocacy tactic of repeatedly asking pointed questions to presidential candidates to get them to make concrete commitments on issues that we care about.

Below is a story from the Memphis PIH Engage Team about their birddogging efforts to gain commitment for global health initiatives from Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson.

Renea Satterwhite, Aderoju Thomas, and Cyril Patra - Memphis, TN

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Memphis PIH Engage Team snaps a picture of Ben Carson at his rally in West Memphis High School, Arkansas.

"On October 30, 2015, Renea Satterwhite, Aderoju Thomas, and Cyril Patra, from PIH Engage Team Memphis trekked across the Tennessee-Arkansas Bridge on a mission to meet and challenge Presidential Candidate Ben Carson to get us back on track by leading a global plan to double the numbers of people on life-saving HIV treatment to 30 million by 2020.

The rally was held at the West Memphis High School gym and was filled to the brim with Carson supporters. Our small PIH Engage advocacy team arrived during the middle of his campaign speech and marched to the floor of the gym and pushed ourselves to the front regardless of how much attention we drew to ourselves. Once Carson was done with his speech, he opened the floor to two questions. Cyril, the PIH Engage spokesperson, without haste raised her hand high to get recognized but her plea was dodged. The microphone had already been handed off to a person in the crowd. So, she then proceeded to raise her hand with even more enthusiasm the second time as soon as Carson was done responding to the first question asked. Unfortunately, the microphone bypassed her again to yet another Carson supporter.

The second wave of disappointment surged through us, but then Carson walked off the stage and began walking towards us. This was it! This was our time! As soon as Carson approached us, Cyril grabbed his forearm and asked him “Will you get us back on track by leading a global plan to double the numbers of people on life-saving HIV treatment to 30 million by 2020?” Carson was taken by surprise at the question, but he did attempt to answer the question. At first he waltzed around the question but then after a couple follow-up questions, he stated “Definitely” to the final question of “Will you at least be a leader in global health initiatives?” This interaction with Dr. Carson was filmed by Renea Satterwhite and Aderoju Thomas scribed the conversation. It took great teamwork to pull it off.

Overall, the experience was thrilling, terrifying, but thrilling. We all learned to muster up courage and address a very serious topic and challenge a potential global leader. The city of Memphis is looking forward to hosting Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton on November 20, 2015. Our PIH Engage Team advocacy experience at the Carson rally initiated our understanding of a rally and provided good practice for our next political birddogging opportunity at the Clinton Rally, which is approaching just around the corner. We hope to have our questions heard and answered at the Clinton rally by having even more members of the PIH Engage team present. This past experience with Carson was very insightful and a cool experience to partake in. It made us more prepared and excited for our next opportunity!"

If you want to learn more about birddogging, check out our advocacy resources here.

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