By Alan Ruiz Terol
Does advocacy really make a difference? If you are one of the many who push for important issues and reforms by members of Congress, you might have found yourself asking this question more than once. Sometimes, the effort may be disheartening. After all, the range of issues brought to Capitol Hill is vast. But Michael Carlo, an RPCV who works within Congress as a legislative assistant, has a message for our community — advocacy matters a lot.
Carlo’s point is clear: members of Congress ultimately represent their districts and each need to know the priorities of their constituents — and there’s no better way than to tell them directly. “It makes a difference when they can say ‘I’ve heard from these many people and they are passionate about the Peace Corps, so I better pay attention to that and listen to what they’ve got to say.’”
Advocacy is central to NPCA’s work, but the role of RPCVs around the country is also crucial. “There’s ultimately no better voice than people actually from the districts and states that members of Congress represent,” Carlo says.
His own experience taught him that the most effective way of advocating for the Peace Corps is coming to Washington D.C. to meet representatives and staff members. “Those are really effective meetings, because it’s one thing to read about it on a piece of paper, but another to actually talk about it to someone who has been overseas, who has lived in a small village in Africa and knows what it’s like.”
Even though not everyone can travel to the Capitol twice a year, they can still make a difference. “People can also meet their representatives in their district offices or at public events, like Town Halls, that’s fine,” he advises. “And if you can’t make it, you can write a letter to your representative, you can make a call, you can send us an email. Continuing to just be engaged with your representatives makes a difference.”
How he ended up in the Capitol
When asked for advice for RPCVs who want to work on the Hill, his suggestion is to get involved at the local level. In fact, that’s what he did. In 2006, while still at college, Carlo joined (now Senator) Chris Murphy’s campaign to represent Connecticut’s fifth district in the House of Representatives. Against all odds, he defeated the incumbent candidate, who had served for 24 years (longer than the time Carlo had been alive, as he recalls).
After supporting the office of Rep. Murphy, Carlo joined the Peace Corps serving as a teacher in a small village near Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. When he returned to the US in 2012, Chris Murphy was running for Senate and Carlo joined his campaign. During the same election, Elizabeth Esty ran for Murphy’s previous seat in the House. Both candidates won their respective races, and Carlo went to work for Esty in 2013.
What an RPCV can offer
As a legislative assistant, Carlo is responsible for following up on a variety of issues: foreign affairs, defense, veterans’ affairs, transportation, etc. He believes that his Peace Corps experience has proven to be a valuable asset when approaching complex issues. He learned that “the world is pretty complicated and it’s important not to rush to judgment and try to get a better understanding of what’s happening.”
His knowledge of Ukraine’s politics and culture, especially after the revolution, has been essential. “There’s a lot of oversimplification of the situation there, and I have a greater appreciation of how complicated it is,” he says. “I take that with me when there are other situations where I see the immediate headlines and I try to remind myself, ‘wait a second, it’s obviously more complicated than that’, and if I really want to understand that I’d better take my time and try to understand the history behind those events and what’s really happening there.”
How can you help NPCA's advocacy efforts? Our first big event in 2017 comes in early March — our 13th annual National Days of Action in Support of the Peace Corps! Our focus this year is to have at least 100 district office meetings and other solidarity events around the country. Contact us today and commit to organizing a March event in your community. You can also donate! Please be as generous as you can with an end-of-year donation to help fuel NPCA's advocacy program in 2017!