How the Electrify Africa Act helped me realize the power of my voice

Joshua, left of Chairman Royce, after the passage of the Electrify Africa Act.

Joshua Ibarra, leader of the ONE Campus chapter of Georgia Regents University, writes about his experience attending the bipartisan House committee hearing for the Electrify Africa Act – and seeing it pass to the House floor for a vote.  

Six months ago, I was at my campus at Georgia Regents University, fighting hard to get the word out about the Electrify Africa Bill (HR 2548). We collected letters, petitioned tweets, made presentations, and hosted events to raise awareness. With the right combination of hard work and crazy idealism, we became one of the top poverty-fighting schools in the ONE Campus Challenge.

I would have never imagined that it would lead up to this past week at the ONE Power Summit in Washington, D.C. The ONE Summit started with an Irish rock star, was punctuated with 230 meetings with members of Congress for Lobby Day, and concluded with a House Foreign Affairs committee hearing that underscored the power of my voice.

Photo caption: Joshua talking about ONE on campus at Georgia Regents University. 

It was there where I truly witnessed my advocacy in action. Naturally, ONE members were first in line for the markup. As I walked in to the Committee on Foreign Affairs room, it was empowering to see other familiar faces from this weekend, ONE staff and volunteers, all wearing ONE tshirts. You could feel a sense of unity and tension in the room as we waited for all the congressmen to arrive.

Once the hearing started, we began to hear points supporting The Electrify Africa bill from both parties. The bipartisanship was glaring as Chairman Royce, Congressman Engel, Congressman Smith, and Congressman Bass all spoke passionately about Africa’s potential, the opportunity for smart energy investment, and the urgency of electricity access as a basic right for the world’s poor.

A congressman from Florida even said that at first he was against the bill, but after hearing from the people at ONE and his colleagues, he knew supporting it was the right thing to do. To cap it all off, Chairman Royce even asked ONE members in the audience to stand to be recognized for their months of advocacy work on the legislation.

When it came time to vote, the bill was passed through committee almost unanimously. For me, the energy, camaraderie and sense of victory was almost palpable. The months of hard work that we put in, collecting letters, petitioning tweets, making presentations, hosting events truly paid off and we had a huge victory that day.

Now we stand with even more resolve, determined to push Electrify Africa through the House and Senate, so that we can continue the legacy of life saving aid to those who need it the most.

If you were to ask me last year where I saw myself in a year, standing in a House of Representative committee meeting in Washington D.C., surrounded by victorious advocates and policymakers would be the last thing I’d have said. But life has a funny way of surprising people, and right now I’m on cloud nine.

Want a chance to come lobby your members of Congress here in Washington with ONE? Get involved in your local community to be eligible to attend the 2015 ONE Power Summit. Sign up here and a local organizer will be in touch!