As we move beyond the record setting election turnout of 2020, one thought keeps coming back to me. What would happen if just a little of the energy (and time and money) that was poured into get out the vote efforts leading up to the 2020 elections was directed at engagement with the next Congress and Administration? What progress could our country make on critical issues like the future of health care if more Americans were regular participants in the political system? Thoughts and frustrations are often shared on social media, but what if more Americans dialogued with their elected officials about their needs?
The new Congress and Administration have major issues to tackle. You don’t have to be one of the 160 million Americans living with a disability or chronic condition to know that our health care system needs help. If we have learned anything this year, it is that we must prioritize health. And yet, too many Americans struggle with affording health insurance or paying for medications. Too many are unable to access the treatment or curative therapy their provider recommends because of insurance hurdles. Too many are not realizing their best possible health outcomes because of challenges finding and accessing a provider.
All of these issues and more will be addressed by the new Congress and Administration. The silver lining of 2020 may have been that we all now know what is possible when we partner toward a common cause. The arrival of multiple COVID-19 vaccines demonstrates that if we set a goal, and seek out solutions together, meaningful reform may be possible.
On Jan. 3, a new Congress was sworn in. As new and returning elected officials get to work, they are building their list of priorities. Whether you voted for the current member – or for their opponent – they represent you, and you have the ability to reach out and tell them what matters to you.
Call them, send an email, join a virtual town hall, connect through an advocacy organization, engage over social media – the choice is yours! Just don’t disengage from the process.
You may be surprised to find that even a Member of Congress with whom you disagree on several policy issues could become one of the biggest champions on a topic that matters to you and your family. You would not know that without reaching out, sharing your story, and asking for them to take action.
Last week, my son’s kindergarten class learned a lesson on being assertive. As I listened in on the teacher instructing the class via Zoom, I hear them practicing how to use your words to ask for help when you need something from a teacher or another adult. The children took turns practicing an introduction. “Excuse me,” a statement of the problem, “I spilled my milk” and a request for assistance, “could you please help me clean it up?” As she moved from one child to the next, they gained confidence and learned tips beyond simply the “right” words to use, from their peers and teacher. Tips like speaking clearly, looking the teacher in the eye and the importance of sincerity. These are wonderful lessons that will serve these children well throughout their life.
These are the same tips I give advocates when they are preparing to meet a government official. You are the expert on your life. No training is necessary to be an effective advocate. It is simply you reaching out, sharing your problem and asking for assistance. If more Americans did that in 2021, think of the problems we could solve together. Don’t wait until 2024 to make your voice heard.