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Local group aims to be bridge between people and government

TEMPLE TERRACE — Their group is small, but their goals are not.

The eight-member Tampa chapter of RESULTS, a national grass roots advocacy organization, is committed to eradicating global poverty.

But the group doesn't collect money or canned goods. Its goal is to create the "public and political will" to bring about an end to poverty, making its presence felt with writing letters to the editor and meeting with political leaders at the state and local level.

"We are just ordinary people," said Ken Schatz, 74, who with his wife, Linda, founded the Tampa chapter of the organization. "We're not extraordinary people. Some of what we're doing is extraordinary, but we're just ordinary. But we could make a significant difference."

The Tampa chapter was formed in 2008 after the Schatzes moved from Virginia, where they had been involved in a RESULTS chapter for more than 30 years. The organization focuses primarily on three issues: the elimination of preventable disease, providing education for all and promoting microfinance in developing countries.

The group meets twice a month, educating each other on ongoing issues and sharing research and writing tips they use. In between meetings, they write columns and letters to the editor for local newspapers, and have met with elected officials including U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor; Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland; Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, and the legislative staffs of Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Democrat U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

Soon, members plan to familiarize themselves with the legislative staff of the recently elected U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores.

"We target the people who make policy for our government so they can leverage what it is the U.S. does," Linda Schatz, 69, said.

Last week at the University of South Florida, the group tabled its meeting and recruited a lecture from Sam Daley-Harris, founder of RESULTS and author of the book Reclaiming Our Democracy: Healing the Break Between People and Government.

Daley-Harris said while things have changed since his book was first published 20 years ago — hashtags didn't exist, as he told his intergenerational audience — many of the approaches necessary to enact change are the same, and he shared some of the strategies from his book.

In meetings with editorial boards, he said, persistence is important.

"It's like a blind date, except you've already decided you're going to marry them," he said. "And if you don't, you'll marry one of their friends — the business editor, city editor, someone will find you interesting."

With politicians, he said, the approach is more like an arranged marriage: the relations start cold and later heat up.

But changing the political will, he said, starts from filling the void between accepting things as they are and calling on lawmakers to take action.

"If you say some of the things I'm saying, not in a lecture … but in the general public, people will think you're minorly nuts," Daley-Harris said. "If you're not hopeless and cynical, you're not normal. But you really have to take a stand beyond the normal."

Diane Gainforth, 55, said when she first heard Ken Schatz speak to her at Unitarian Universalist Church, she wondered if he was crazy.

"But the more I listened, the more I thought it was possible," she said.

Gainforth, who attended her first RESULTS meeting about a year and a half ago, said she enjoys writing to newspapers and legislators.

"I think people are becoming less connected, sitting on the sofa and not as social," she said. "I think this is a way to have relationships with people with a lot of power so they can act on behalf of us."

But though the results of their actions are not often seen overnight, Ken Schatz said the group provides a way for members to keep each other striving for change.

"It's easy in this world to get lost in skepticism and cynicism, but we work hard to support each other and make sure we don't get lost in that," he said. "All that does is get you to where you're doing nothing and keep things going the way they're going."

Local group aims to be bridge between people and government 04/23/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 23, 2014 1:58pm]
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