So you want to advocate in the United States Congress?
As someone who has actively advocated for the last five years and traveled from New York City to Washington, D.C. thirty-two times to meet with members of Congress to fight for more accessibility and affordability, I can tell you that advocacy works!
In December 2016, shortly after President Trump’s election, I joined Twitter and created the account @morethanmySLE with the goal of fostering awareness of men who have Lupus, as I do.
My account gave me visibility that led me to work with my U.S. Congresswoman, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), to advocate for accessible healthcare that is affordable to people with Lupus, disabilities, and other chronic illnesses.
I want you to know that I was a very private person prior to the 2016 election. But once President Trump was elected, I realized I could no longer keep quiet. I had to, in good conscience, do something to promote healthcare advocacy and empowerment.
I recognized that meant I had to share the very personal details of my own story on social media. There are people in my life that were not aware that I see seventeen different doctors annually, take thirty-eight different medications, I survived kidney cancer, and I live with Lupus.
Many of them found out through Twitter — that’s how guarded I was.
But listening to President Trump’s campaign rhetoric to attack health care for 18 months caused me incredible stress and motivated me to speak my truth directly to Congress. Before President Obama left office, Senate Republicans had begun already to chip away severely at the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare, on their way to an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to repeal America’s most important healthcare law. I had to act.
Whatever your issue(s) is, it is worth getting involved, it does matter, and you can make an incredible difference. Here are five ways you can advocate:
- Call and/or email your representatives: Other than voting, the quickest and most effective way is to call your three members of Congress. Your U.S. House of Representative member and your two U.S. State Senators. You can either call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 (if you know their names and the operator will transfer you), or you can visit house.gov for your U.S. Representative and senate.gov for your U.S. State Senators. If you call, it’s best to keep it simple because whether you passionately give every supporting argument on a particular issue or ask your member(s) to vote a certain way, your call will be logged the same. Most of the people who answer the phones in these offices are unpaid interns. I always try to remember this when I call. A little kindness goes a long way. If you want to expound on an issue, it’s best to send an email, and you can find all this information at the House and Senate internet addresses above. If your story is compelling enough, it will sometimes make it to the floor of the House and/or Senate and will be documented forever in the Congressional Record. I encourage you to call and email, it’s worth your time. The best part is that you can call and email about multiple issues at the same time. For instance, I have called about a health care issue, the immigration issue, financial issue, and several others all at once, and they will be logged as such. If your issue is about a bill moving through the House and Senate, try to call and email before the votes, your input could honestly sway your representative. And yes, they must log each phone call and email they receive for or against their perspective. Remember, they work for you!
- Ask your loved ones and friends to call and email: There is power in numbers. The more calls and emails your three members receive for their constituency, the more they will be forced to respond to the ask. The members respond most to people in their constituency, so asking a friend to call from another state will not be as effective as someone who lives down the street or across town.
- Be persistent and personal: The more calls your representatives receive every day or even once a week, do matter. When you begin to memorize the Capitol Switchboard phone number, you know that you are doing good advocacy! When it comes to writing emails, the more personal you can be, again, has the power to sway and make a member of Congress stop and think. I have been told this by many members of Congress. Your story could sway a vote, so you should always write with that in your heart.
- The volume of calls matters: One question I have asked in both Democratic and Republican offices is: “How many calls does it take to get a response?” I was surprised to hear it was sometimes as little as 50. But think about it this way: if you are ringing the phones off the hook and clogging up your member’s emails that paid staffers are required to get involved, your members are going to respond!
- Never give up: If you believe in an issue, you should never give up. Even if you make one phone call and write one email, it does make a difference. It may not happen overnight, but it does work! Personally, as a patient with chronic illness and disabilities, I find it empowering.
So, there you have it. You don’t have to travel to the U.S. Capitol thirty-two times and testify to Congress.
You can advocate from the comfort of your home.
And this doesn’t only apply to national issues.
This also works for your state and local governments.
I’ve been honored and humbled that due to my advocacy, I was asked to testify before three separate House Committees (my Oversight Committee hearing that I testified to made it on to C-SPAN). Advocating for better health care for all Americans has given me a purpose in my life.
Due to my health diagnoses, I literally must walk a fine line between the stress of my health and advocate, but it’s truly worth my time.
I encourage you to take a few minutes daily or weekly to call or email your representatives about issues that are important to you, it matters, and more importantly: it works!
Peter is an opinion columnist, healthcare and disability advocate, father to Anjelika.