Want to share your arthritis story and advocate for issues in the community to members of Congress?
Below are some tips on how to begin.
Members of Congress serve and rely on the constituents they represent. What is a constituent? Well, that is you! The person living with arthritis.
There are many ways to go about this. One way is to make a Congressional visit to the U.S. Capitol in DC. If you can do so, here are the top 10 tips you must know before planning your visit.
The other option and the easiest one for people, is doing it from the comfort of your own home or schedule to meet with your local staff member or legislator in your hometown. (see below)
1. Designate a lead person.
If you are going as a group, there should be one person who leads the discussion to deliver the key message.
2. Be on time.
You may need to wait for your legislator or staff member to meet with you, but they should never have to wait for you. If you are running late, make sure to call them. There is usually a lot of walking so allow time to go through security, find the office, and announce yourself to the staff assistant as there may be people ahead of you in line.
3. Be prepared.
You should know your member’s political party and committee assignments, or whether they are already on board with what you will be discussing with them. If not, you need to go in with a game plan to tell them why this issue is important even if they don’t see it that way.
4. Be brief.
Congress and staff see several people throughout the day and sometimes at a moment’s notice are called to other meetings or floor votes. Most of the time you will meet with the staff member who is proficient in relaying your message to the Congressman or woman and works closely with them. In that case, a staff meeting will last 15 minutes.
5. Staff meetings are valuable.
Don’t be discouraged if you only secure a staff meeting without the legislator present. Staff members are likely more knowledgeable about the issues and will better remember the points you make when they recap the meeting for the legislator. They are in charge of only a portion of all the policies their boss must consider.
6. Provide information.
Bring any informational folders, packets, brochures, facts, statistics and figures with you. The more you have the better. Hand this to them at the end of the meeting and use it as a sounding board during the meeting. If you have any graphics, show the paper to them to make your message stand out.
7. Share a personal story or real-life illustration.
Nothing is better than sharing your own experience. We are all impacted differently and our stories matter. It’s when we dare to voice our concerns, that we can start to make a ripple effect of positive change. The reality at some point all of us will have to deal with some sort of illness and issues related to healthcare, especially arthritis is important. After all, arthritis is the #1 cause of disability.
8. Be sure to get a response.
Ask the legislator or staff member their views on the topic being discussed, and what they plan to do about it.
9. Be a good source of information.
To have a discussion, you need to be able to see it from both sides. You will gain credibility if you can educate and persuade. This is even more important if a legislator doesn’t agree with your position. Impress with your knowledge and the ability to share your story from your own heart. Because nobody else can do it for you.
10. Follow up with an individual thank you letter to the legislator or staff member who works for them as soon as possible.
After your visit express appreciation to any staff member or legislator you met. A simple thank you and reminder of who you were are good enough. You may not get a response back and that’s ok, as you are part of thousands who do the same.
When you can’t travel to DC, these are your other options to help in your advocacy efforts:
1. Write a letter to your local newspaper
Sending a letter to the editor is an impactful way to make your story heard locally.
2. On-site visits
If you are in the medical profession, inviting a member of your congressional delegation to your office, hospital, or clinic for an on-site visit will help them see first-hand what it’s like for professionals but patients as well.
3. Advisory committees
Volunteer your time to be part of an already established committee. If there is none, offer to put together a group of patients, physicians, and other healthcare professionals, who could advise your representative of health-related issues.
4. “Friend” or follow your members
Members of Congress are using social media to publicize town halls or local events, getting your feedback (the constituent), and announcing developments on legislation. By following them, you can stay up to date on the latest happenings, express your opinions on issues affecting your local district and that of the rheumatology community.
5. In-district meetings
The American College of Rheumatology can help you set up a meeting with your lawmakers in the district office nearest you when they are in recess (in town). Compared to a DC visit, members typically can spend more time meeting with you and others in their state, which tends to be more focused and meaningful.
6. Respond to legislative alerts
The American College of Rheumatology sends legislative alerts when it’s critical for congressional offices to hear from you. You can send letters, faxes, phone calls, and emails to the offices so they can know your opinions on certain issues.
*Tips were provided by the American College of Rheumatology (ACR)