September 18, 2018 | ° F

Rutgers ONE campaign encourages legislative action on local, national levels

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Members of the ONE Campaign at Rutgers use grassroots methods like letter writing and calling to push for political action. Recently the organization has worked to increase the availability of electricity in Africa and help in the fight against AIDS.

Since 2007, the Rutgers chapter of the ONE Campaign has actively been working to combat poverty and disease by using grassroots tactics to garner support for important legislation.

The ONE Campaign is a national organization based in Washington D.C. with more than 7 million members around the world, said Lakshmi Kalluri, a School of Management and Labor Relations senior and current campus leader and co-president of the organization at Rutgers.

“The ONE campaign started in 2004 when it was co-founded by Bono, Jamie Drummond, and Bobby Shriver. ONE Campus, the college program of ONE, first launched in 2007,” said Fady Tawadrous, manager for College Organizing. “The goal of the program is to get young college activists involved in the effort to eradicate extreme poverty and preventable diseases in Sub-Saharan Africa.” 

ONE Campus works with over 100 universities across the United States to help them organize and create political change, Kalluri said. The club has a special focus on helping those living in poverty, which encompasses anyone living on less than $1.25 per day, she said.

According to the ONE Campaign website, ONE “pressures governments to do more to fight AIDS and other preventable, treatable diseases in the poorest places on the planet, to empower small-holder farmers, to expand access to energy and to combat corruption so governments are accountable to their citizens."

At the Rutgers Chapter of ONE Campus, Kalluri and co-president Danica Ramos have worked on several initiatives related to combating poverty. Recently, they organized a campaign at Rutgers that was integral to passing the Electrify Africa Act into law last year, which targeted energy poverty.

Rather than simply raising money for charities, the organization uses grassroots tactics such as writing letters and making phone calls to senators and members of Congress, urging them to support important legislation relating to the quality of life in Africa.

“In general, handwritten letters are our main form of currency,” Ramos said. “One of our catch lines is ‘we ask for your voice, not your money,’ so normally we just ask students to take quick, easy action. We’ll hold parties to call a senator’s office all at once because if it’s a united front, it has a greater impact on legislators.”

In support of the Electrify Africa Act campaign, which passed through Congress last February, the Rutgers ONE Campaign also got children involved in letter writing. “We collaborated with another organization that works with small children in New Brunswick,” Ramos said. “A few years back, we also did an art compilation related to HIV/Aids for World Aids Day and sent that to one of our senators,” she said.

During the Electrify Africa Act campaign alone, the club gathered 300 handwritten letters from all across the campuses. 

“We also educated a thorough spread of the Rutgers populous on what energy poverty is,” Ramos said.

The Rutgers chapter also stresses the importance of educating students on the issue of poverty, Kalluri said. Before beginning to actively campaign, the club members take the time to thoroughly understand the topic. 

“As college students at a liberal campus on the East Coast, not everyone is aware of these issues,” Kalluri said.

In addition to their current “Poverty is Sexist” campaign, the Rutgers ONE Campaign is also advocating for the passage of the Reinforcing Education Accountability in Development (READ) Act.

This legislation, according to a press release from the ONE Campaign, would address the barriers to education that millions of children face. It addresses several facets, with a focus on making information relating to foreign aid more transparent to the American public.

“Its primary purpose is to ensure universal education for all children because a quarter of a billion children worldwide still don’t have proper access to education, and most of them are girls,” Kalluri said. “That ties into our other campaign, called 'Poverty is Sexist.' It focuses on how women and girls are disproportionately affected by poverty."

Although the campaigns that ONE campus works on come directly from ONE, the college chapters have a lot of autonomy, she said.

“They give us our overall agenda because the idea behind ONE Campus is that approximately 100 college chapters are all focusing on the same act, the same goal. The way we do it, however, is up to us,” Ramos said.

The different chapters of the organization have a great deal of freedom in figuring out the most effective ways of contributing to different causes, she said. 

“We control how much tabling we chose to do, how we approach the campaign, how we educate people, what events we hold — those things we decide for ourselves, so we still have a lot of independence in that respect. But we know that our efforts are going toward a combined whole,” Ramos said.

A ONE Campus event that is unique to the Rutgers chapter is the annual “Sounds of Sustainability” concert, which is held in April, Kalluri said.

“The aim of the concert is to cap off the semester and to bring attention to the Sustainable Development Goals, which were created by the UN. They’re a set of guidelines to mark how we want society to progress in the next 15 to 20 years,” Ramos said. 

Last year, the concert focused on sustainable energy.

The concert is also used as a tool to engage the local community outside Rutgers, by featuring local bands to come perform, Ramos said. 

“It’s a way to make it feel more grounded in the current setting, rather than it just being something that we’re told by the people on high to do,” Ramos said.

For those interested in getting involved in the campaign, the next meeting of Rutgers ONE will be on Monday, March 6 from 9:30 to 10:30 p.m. in Scott Hall room 106.

The hard work of the Rutgers ONE Campaign does not go unnoticed by those at the program headquarters. 

“The ONE at Rutgers is year in and year out one of our finest chapters in the country,” Tawadrous said. “I work with the Rutgers campus leaders directly and do training with them.” 

Unusual for most social action groups, the Rutgers chapter does not hold fundraisers, Kalluri said. The ONE Campaign believes that the fight against poverty should be about justice and equality, not simply about charity.

“We want your voice, not your money,” she said. “And that means going to a congressman’s office, putting our papers on the desk, and saying, ‘Hey, we care about this, we think it’s important, and we think you should too.’”

Christina Gaudino is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in public policy. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.

Christina Gaudino

Christina Gaudino is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in public policy. She is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. 

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