Advocacy Explained

Or what is advocacy and why should I care?

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

- Theodore Roosevelt

Government affects practically every part of your life – the quality of the air you breathe, the safety of your car, the taxes you pay, the quality of your child’s education, and more. Did you know that there are state employees who check to be sure that when you buy a pound of potato salad or a gallon of gas, that you are really getting a full pound or a full gallon?

Government’s role in health care is enormous – from setting staffing levels at hospitals and nursing homes, licensing doctors and nurses, funding community health clinics, monitoring ambulance services, oversight of health insurers and their rates, putting fluoride in the water, preparing for pandemics, to spraying mosquitoes for West Nile Virus.

It’s a lot easier than anyone knows to influence government policies, especially health policy. A great deal of the decisions about your health care are made at the state level, and three or four calls to a State Senator on an issue is an avalanche. Many bills happen because one motivated informed citizen had an honest, persuasive conversation with a legislator. It happens all the time.

And, believe it or not, legislators WANT to hear from you. They can’t read your mind and they much prefer a conversation before a vote to an angry call afterwards (or a vote against them on Election Day). That’s not a promise that they will do what you ask, but they will listen. It is their job.

If you think that you don’t know enough about the issue to make a call, you couldn’t be more wrong. You know enough to be angry. You know your own experience, your family’s, friends’ and neighbors’ experiences. That’s plenty. You will never know everything there is to know, especially about something as complicated as health care. “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer to a question, and far better than making one up. Very few people are swayed by statistics alone. Just tell your story – you are the expert on your story.

But lobbying is distasteful, kind of sleazy, right?
Call it advocacy if you like, but no, it is exercising your right as a citizen. It is your duty, really. Guiding our elected officials how to write our laws and run our government is the heart of democracy.

I remember speaking to a group of middle school students and asking if they know what a lobbyist is. They said they did. I asked if banks have lobbyists? They said yes. Do utilities have lobbyists? Yes. Do big insurance companies have lobbyists? Yes. Do homeless people have lobbyists? No. Do hungry people have lobbyists? No. Do people with chronic health problems have lobbyists? No. Wrong, they all have lobbyists – they just call themselves advocates. Lobbying is just part of the process.

But there are really smart people working on this, right? They don’t need to hear from me. Wrong. There are professional lobbyists/advocates for many causes, including health care. But nothing replaces your voice. Consumers have no hidden agenda, no ulterior motive. Policy wonks and other well-meaning folks are sometimes too removed from the real world you live in. Your voice is critical to the process.

I know, you’re busy. Who isn’t? But it doesn’t have to take a lot of time or effort. There are many different roles that can fit your time, your skills, your resources and your comfort level. Even five minutes makes a difference -- If you only have 5 minutes.

It is also cheap. All legislators have online contact forms or emails and toll-free phone numbers in Hartford. You can write a letter for the price of a stamp. You can meet a legislator for a cup of coffee in the district or in their office in Hartford. You don’t have to make out a big campaign check to be heard.

So, does this hit all the excuses?
Give it a try back to the Toolbox

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If you only have five minutes

Lobbying vs. Advocacy


US State Policies, Politics, and Life Expectancy, Millbank Quarterly – state policies have profound impact on residents’ health

A young activist’s view of advocacy