How I learned to love my conservative representative and embrace bipartisanship

jeffseale_oneI voted for Ronald Reagan in my first Presidential election in 1984. I also wore “Free South Africa” and “End Apartheid Now!” T-shirts to school and bought Band Aid records.

You could chalk up these politically conflicting actions to a heavy dose of parental influence. I have not voted for a conservative since.

In fact, I’m about as far left as one could be, and am heavily influenced by the words of Bobby Kennedy and the teachings of Jesus Christ. “To whom much is given, much is expected,” is a creed by which I believe we should all strive to live.

Seeing images on TV of starving Ethiopian children in 1984 was eye-opening for a kid from West Texas, but those images have stayed with me since, fueling my desire to improve the lives of those less fortunate than I only because of the place of their birth.

The ONE Campaign’s work is important to me for this reason. Their life-changing campaigns are why I got involved early on as a “clicktivist” – signing every online petition I could to use my voice to make a difference.

In the last year I decided I needed to do more than just click. I became involved as a Volunteer Leadership Team Member for our St. Louis chapter.

The recent Electrify Africa campaign was my first as a more active member. Calls went out to our local team to enlist our Congressional Representative, Rep. Ann Wagner, to co-sponsor the House bill and to subsequently vote yes.

These days, there are few items that come through the House of Representatives that can be agreed upon by members from both parties. Congresswoman Wagner is a Republican, and I am a left-wing partisan.

I thought that there was surely no way we’d agree on this issue, and was skeptical that our efforts would produce any action. But, we wrote letters, we sent tweets, we made calls (my first ever call to one of my representatives), we sent cards, and a few even met with her local staff.

Words are hard to describe the elation felt when we got word that Representative Wagner would sign on as a co-sponsor upon returning from the previous recess. I was incredibly encouraged that someone so different from me, politically, saw the value in our bill—just like me.

We expressed our sincere gratitude through calls and tweets, but we also kept up the pressure for her to vote “Yes” on the final passage of the bill. On the day of the vote in May, we were thrilled to see her vote in favor of providing 50 million people across sub-Saharan Africa with access to electricity.

The title of this post is a reference to a comment I made to our Field Manager Samantha Meyer in the event Representative Wagner co-sponsored and voted for the Electrify Africa Act.

A few short months ago, I would never have imagined that my representative and I would ever agree on anything. But in my first real participatory action as a ONE member, I have learned the valuable lesson articulated by one of our co-founders, Jamie Drummond:

“In a democracy you need to deal with power directly—whoever wields it. Lefties, that means you have to hang out with people on the Right! To those on the Right: You, too, have to deal with the other side.”

So, a sincere thank you to ONE and especially Representative Wagner for teaching me the value of bipartisanship. I’m looking forward to the next issue where we can find common ground to do better for those less fortunate.

Jeff Seale is a dad, biophysicist, Bobby Kennedy Democrat, sailor, humanitarian, Red Sox fan, blogger, and a guy that just wants to help repair the world. Follow him on Twitter here.

 

Big news – the bill that we are working on was just introduced to the Senate as the Energize Africa Act! Send your Senator a message TODAY and let them know you’re counting on their support of this life-changing bill.