It is a stressful, scary time for many of us Americans with disabilities and chronic medical conditions. My intention is not to engage in fear mongering or hyperbole. No matter what happens with the new political administration, an important part of democracy is participation. I have done political advocacy on behalf of people with chronic illness for several years. Many people have asked me for advice about how to get involved and best voice their concerns about how the nation should be run.
I expect to post additional resources soon, but here is part one.
Tips for speaking with your congressperson:
No matter the venue be clear and succinct. Anyone can request a meeting, and some congresspeople even have an online form. The meeting date might be several months in the future, so this might not be the best way if you are commenting on a specific bill that is up for a vote soon. Your representative and Senators will have local offices in their home state, so don’t think you have to come all the way to DC. If you can’t meet in person, we are hearing that a phone call is the next best action. Currently many offices are facing a large volume of calls, but stick with it until you get through. Leaving a voice mail with you ask if acceptable, too. Finally, you can also send an email. You can use a form letter but it is best to customize it. Doing any of these things is better than doing nothing, which is the current most common response.
You will likely receive a form letter in response. Don’t let this discourage you. A large volume of calls and emails about a single issue makes members of Congress pay attention. It is important to let them know how the people who voted them into office (or who can vote them out next cycle) feel about the issues. Elected officials exist to represent their constituents, no matter what political party they belong to.
If you are able to meet in person, you will likely have about 15-30 minutes. Depending on time allowed, pick one or a few specific issues. Thank them for taking the time, explain who you are and why you are there (the issue or even better the bill you want them to support – if you know the bill number and the sponsors including that is VERY helpful. Tell a short story that is personal but keep it professional (like no cursing, don’t be overly dramatic) and use figures/stats if possible (how much medicine costs, how many days of work you miss). Repeat the ask again (“So I hope I can count on you to support house bill XXY.”). Provide your contact info and a link or info to a place for more info on the issue if relevant (lupus foundation?). It is a great idea to have a short handout (1 page is ideal) with this information. You can use this to help you remember your points, and leave a copy behind for the staffer or Congressperson. Lastly, thank them for their time and tell them you will follow up on any questions that came up.
Within the week, follow up with an email thanking, repeating the ask, and linking to the info.