``I've never been behind my government's policies.'' The woman speaking was in Leeds, England - though she might have been expressing the frustration many citizens feel the world over. But Sam Harris, founder of a successful Washington-based lobbying group, Results, refused to let her off the hook.
``Have you ever been in front of your government's policies?'' Mr. Harris recalls asking. ``Have you ever decided where you want your government to go, and then pulled it up there?''
Harris was speaking from experience. As head of a nonpartisan citizens' lobby group called Results, this is what he and hundreds of volunteers in the United States have been doing with considerable success for several years.
Results is dedicated to generating the political will to end hunger - chronic world hunger that is linked to poverty and that, according to UNICEF, results in some 40,000 deaths daily. Like a growing number of analysts, Results workers say that ``traditional'' development efforts have done little to solve the problem.
``We focus on the poorest,'' says Deborah Pavich, a volunteer in Washington. ``We don't expect [foreign aid] to `trickle down' as it did in Germany and Japan with the Marshall Plan. Developing countries don't have the same infrastructures. Benefits don't bubble down.''
Hunger advocacy groups often point out that the resources to feed all of humanity exist - but the issue remains a low priority on political agendas. That's where Results comes in.
Since 1985, Results has promoted legislation to increase US support for international development efforts, and has drafted bills refocusing those efforts on the needs of the very poor.
In 1985, Results was instrumental in increasing US funding of the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development, which aids small farmers in developing nations.
In 1986, it played a key role in more than doubling the amount the US spends on child survival programs in the third world.
In 1987, Results was a major force in the drafting, and passing, of the ``Self-sufficiency for the Poor'' Act, which earmarked $50 million of US foreign aid for small loans to the world's poorest.
It has currently rallied more than 200 congressional supporters for the Global Poverty Reduction Act, a bill to make human welfare indicators (such as infant mortality rates) the means of assessing the success of US-third world development programs - rather than economic measurements such as GNP.
``I've been impressed with how they come up with good ideas, blend them with political savvy, and go out into the community and build public support,'' says Rep. John Miller (R) of Washington.
Results has five paid staff members in Washington. About 100 volunteer groups of at least four people each work in one third of US congressional districts, generating editorials and letters to legislators. Results groups are overseas, too - 20 in Britain, six in both Canada and Australia, three in West Germany.
What kind of background does it take to lobby successfully for the world's poorest people in the world's richest nation? Harris, a music teacher in Miami and a percussionist with the Philharmonic there, once felt world hunger was insoluble.
Then, in 1977, he came across The Hunger Project, a group working to increase public awareness of the feasibility of ending world hunger, and his views began to change. ``I realized my thinking was off,'' he says. ``My sense of what was possible was really limited and not accurate. That's when I first got involved.''
Getting involved, for Harris, meant tackling public and political ignorance and inertia. Most people he met had little understanding of, and even less contact with, political institutions. And they knew very little about world hunger.
Today, the 400 Results ``partners'' have established relationships with congress members, raising the issue of hunger a little higher on the political agenda - no mean feat in an era when short-term, strictly national interests tend to predominate.
``I attribute the success of the `Self-sufficiency for the Poor' Act almost exclusively to Results,'' says Rep. Edward Feighan (D) of Ohio. ``They generated over 100 editorials throughout the country in support of the bill. For a bill that did not have high visibility on its own, that was a remarkable effort.''
Harris began Results in 1979 with meetings in homes across the country. Now, from an office on Capitol Hill, his staff works closely with legislators and with 400 Results partners from Hawaii to Maine.
The 100 Results groups meet three times a month. First, on a national conference call with an international development expert who briefs them on an issue. Next, the partners learn to ``speak the issues.''
The partners' new-found expertise is enhanced by mailings of articles, studies, and books. At the third meeting, they write letters to newspapers and legislators.
If Results draws criticism in Washington - and it does - it stems from a sense some legislators have that Harris and his team can be too rigid in urging lawmakers to endorse specific points in a bill.
``Some members have felt almost afflicted and harassed,'' says a key congressional aide. ``It's as if you have to do it this way, or else.''
Results exists solely on private contributions, which are not tax-deductible. Last year, it cost $300,000 to run the Washington office. This year, the estimate is $500,000.
As Harris sees it, the focus of his work is ``empowerment'' - of the poor to control their own lives, and of the citizens to have an impact on their government's policies.
``There's such a potential that's not been unleashed because of this stumbling-block of `I don't make a difference,''' he says. ``What people get from working with their government is not only the opportunity to take effective action - they get their democracy back.''