So today, I had lunch with a bunch of bloggers (Patrick Ruffini and Joe Carter were the conservatives. I didn’t know any of the liberals) and staff from the ONE campaign, a bipartisan effort to raise awareness of international poverty issues.
I came in with several kinds of questions.
The first one was about success and scale. How do they measure it? What does it look like? Etc. It certainly sounds like they are encountering some degree of grassroots success. In NH, they have signed up 17,000 people. Now many of those are students, unreliables, or other. But this is still a pretty substantial number. The more interesting answer was what they considered success to be: long-term legislative change. They want a President who agrees with them, and they will almost certainly get that. They also want a Congress that agrees with them. That’s a lot harder.
At one point, the CEO Susan McCue, formerly Chief of Staff to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, made what was what I thought was a very clear statement. She said that the goal of the ONE campaign was to "make international poverty the next great social justice movement." I hear that on par with civil rights, suffrage, abolition, independence, etc. In a previous meeting, they had said that they wanted to develop a constituency for larger foreign aid, but I think that Susan’s statement above is much clearer and important.
The next question is about public education. It is clear that there are majorities in any Congress for increased foreign aid and that any President is likely to support large foreign aid budgets, at least by American standards. But the real problem for them is public education. Synching up the reality of our foreign aid budget with people’s perceptions will be quite hard, I believe. PIPA has done some excellent polling on this subject.
My final question was about what kind of activity they get. The deeper question is whether the ONE campaign is something that people feel deeply about, and therefore invest time and energy, or whether it is just an identity. They report, although I want to see real numbers, that they have had hundreds of thousands of emails or phone calls made by members. Let’s see what the numbers actually say.
In any case, the ONE campaign is a deeply, deeply ambitious program. It has strong bipartisan support (Bill Frist and Tom Daschle. Michael Gerson and Tony Podesta. Jack Oliver and Mike McCurry, etc.) It has strong support across the ideological spectrum. Susan McCue recognizes that the coalition that really enacts social change in America is students and churches. They have churches from across the ideological spectrum, and they are planning a Big ONE Sunday to engage their church coalition partners.