Anything but a regular Joe: Our interview with Rep. Joe Wilson

Rep. Joe Wilson and me at his office on Capitol Hill. What a wall! 

Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., is no stranger to ONE. As a ONE Vote 2012 local ambassador and a champion of our issues, he has met with many South Carolina ONE volunteers over the years to discuss the fight against global poverty.

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In order to get to know Rep. Wilson a little better, my colleague Ted Brennan, assistant director of government affairs at ONE, and I visited his office on Capitol Hill last week. We wanted to know what kinds of issues that Rep. Wilson is passionate about, what he thinks will help reduce poverty around the world, and see his office – which we heard was filled to the ceiling with all kinds of knickknacks and memorabilia (as you can see from the pictures, it’s true!).

For those of you who are not familiar with Rep. Wilson, he is on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. He co-sponsored the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005, making safe water and sanitation an objective of US assistance to developing countries. And he has traveled abroad many times to countries like South Africa, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Bulgaria, Kenya and Liberia.

From our interview, it was clear that Rep. Wilson believes that democracy, good government and free enterprise are the keys to help stabilize and strengthen economies and pull developing countries out of poverty.

Malaka: You’ve done a lot with ONE over the years. What have your engagements with ONE members been like in the past?

Rep. Joe Wilson: Well they’ve been very positive – and actually my chief of staff Eric Dell has worked with the ONE Campaign, and he was the one that really got me involved. To me, it’s about putting personal differences aside and do what can be done to promote the people of our country on critical issues.

M: What connection does South Carolina have to Africa, if any?

JW: There is a direct connection between Liberia and South Carolina. People may not realize how direct the link is between Western Africa and South Carolina but there is a shared culture.  I grew up in Charleston on the coast, the low country, and the accents of South Carolina and the accents of Liberia are virtually identical.

In 2004, Bishop David Rwhynica Daniels, was elected as the 124th Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, making history as he is the first West African to be elected.  Before escaping to the United States, Bishop Daniels and other peace-loving Liberians were persecuted for speaking out against the Civil War in Liberia in the 1990s by participating in a national “Peace March”.

Prior to the election, Bishop Daniels served as the pastor of Turner Memorial AME in West Columbia, South Carolina, a city I am proud to represent.  President Johnson Sirleaf is a wonderful person, I was really thrilled by her inauguration, and her restoration of Liberia after the dictator Charles Taylor was removed.

M: Great, so maybe you knew this or maybe you didn’t, but our co-founder Bono was in DC this week. He has been saying that the key to reducing poverty is transparency. What kinds of things do you think help to reduce extreme poverty?

JW: I believe that ONE has been supportive of microloans. In Afghanistan, you can start a business for $100 or $200. When the Soviet Union imploded and then opened up to free enterprise, I was very happy with the effort of the credit unions to send money over and advise on how to make loans work.

I also work very closely with Rotary International, and their PolioPlus program is one of the most successful public health programs in the history of the world. Now, polio has been reduced to possibly three countries in the world. Who would ever imagine that over a billion people would be impacted by PolioPlus? I’m very proud of Rotary. I myself am a very active Rotarian, and they are working now on potable water. People just can’t imagine around the world how rare that is to have water that is healthy and safe. And we all know about the consequences polluted water can have on infants.

Technology is also something we need to be promoting, especially in regards to security. Today 10 to 12 million of the people in Afghanistan have access to a cell phone. When extremists provided disinformation that there would be an attack on a mosque, the mosque is able to call out and say no, that’s not occurring.

M: Any words of wisdom you want to share with our ONE members? 

JW: Well I appreciate ONE’s efforts in promoting health and safety around the world. It obviously has a ripple effect, and we want other countries to be developing open societies, transparent societies. We want opportunities for young people.

I would like to thank the Congressman for taking the time to meet with me and Ted. It was a great honor to meet him and listen to what he had to say about our issues. Ted is going to try to get Rep. Wilson to come with us on our next trip to Africa – so who knows, maybe you’ll see even more of the Congressman on our website!

Leave a comment at the bottom of this piece with a message for Rep. Joe Wilson. We’ll be sure to get them to his office.