In the fight against extreme poverty, time is never on our side. If we're not moving forward, we're falling backwards.
That's why last week's deep and callous cuts to the US aid and development budget were so heart-breaking. It was a big stride in the wrong direction.
Here is quick recap: as part of the agreement on the fiscal year 2011 budget, Democrats and Republicans agreed to carve out $8 billion in appropriations to the State Department. Included in these cuts were:
· USAID operations: $122 million
· Millennium Challenge Corporation (which oversees $7 billion in poverty reduction compacts): $380 million
· Global AIDS initiative: $155 million
· Climate change/energy initiatives: $400 million
· Peace Corps: $71 million
· United Nations Contribution: $304 million
It's worse than it looks because, as Foreign Policy magazine noted, "the impact of these cuts...is even more severe because the 2011 fiscal year is half over, meaning that the cuts must be made before the end of the fiscal year Oct. 1."
Last week Rajiv Shah the USAid Administrator testified that the effects of previously proposed cuts would conservatively cost 70,000 children’s lives.
Some commentators point out that many in Congress wanted to slash even more from these programs. They cite the Republican Study Group plan to defund USAID entirely by way of comparison. But we didn't join this fight to settle for "it could have been worse".
We must change the debate and shift the dynamics. Last week showed that the political cost of making such draconian cuts to these critical programs is too low. It is just way too easy for politicians to wield the axe without fear of consequence.
When progressive activists filed into the Oval Office to complain to Franklin D Roosevelt that he wasn't doing enough to promote their causes, his response resonates today:
Make me do it
That is our call to action.
We have seen success in the UK and Australia where proposed cuts of this magnitude prompted a public reaction that was swift and unmistakable. Activists and voters alike have risen up in strident opposition -- in letters and opinion pages, on talkback radio and television, in political offices and on the streets.
This helps explains why, in the UK, aid and development funding is set aside and protected from exactly this kind of political assault. It is ring fenced.
Are political leaders in these countries more intrinsically virtuous than their US counterparts? Of course not. The difference is that the political dynamic forces leaders in the UK, Australia and elsewhere to weigh the benefits of slashing aid funding against the electoral backlash it would trigger. This shows how we can win. We make them do it.
We tour the US every day, meeting with thousands of highly-engaged young people striving to make a difference. We need to harness this energy into meaningful political action. But this demands much more than clicks and new online petitions. We need real action across America. We need to raise our collective voice above the static and make our message irresistible to the wider public. Only by doing this can we hope to dissuade political leaders from such reckless disregard for world's poorest communities.
To take real action, visit http://www.globalpovertyproject.com/pages/USA_Tour_Routes