Getting started in political advocacy is easy: My first trip to Georgia’s State Capitol
There I was, cold and uncertain, walking down a once familiar street in Atlanta that was unrecognizable because of the ever-evolving constructional changes over the past years. Then, I had to pay way more for parking than usual and wandered towards a door that seemed to be familiar to everyone else. Yet I was grateful for the shelter from the weather as I scrambled to take out my driver’s license and place my belongings on the scanner to go through security.
Now what? I had to keep moving from holding up the line while trying my best to appear confident as I walked passed staircase after staircase until I found the right one that would lead me to the Clerk’s Office. The words “Room 309” never looked so good. With great relief, I recognized familiar faces wearing white lab coats and royal blue scarves near the assigned meeting spot. That ambient noise of papers shuffling, as the group divided up sessional papers and chatted about our agenda, was not as loud as my heart racing.
Always remember, phone calls are tallied but in person visits are treasured.
Then, the bell rang. Did we stand around talking too long that we missed our opportunity to connect with local Senators and Representatives? Who would’ve thought that the morning session would be so brief? Part of me was disappointed “at the ropes” that I had missed an opportunity to meet my local Senator and Representative but part of me was also relieved. The next step was for me to search OpenStates.org to find their offices so I could leave messages.
Of course, my Representative did return to his office from the session. At this point, I decided to introduce myself and my organization. I provided my business card and info sheet outlining our groups’ legislative agenda to his secretary. Much to my surprise, his secretary was very nice and insisted that I come back to meet with him in person.
Next was outreaching to my Senator. By the time I made it to his office he was speaking with lobbyists. I thought, “Maybe I could get around to talking briefly” and was able to because he preferred speaking with constituents rather than lobbyists. He was patient, quiet, and listened with intent as I struggled to use the correct verbiage while remaining coherent. He looked interested and asked for a copy of the sessional papers. Fortunately, I picked up a copy at the Clerk’s office before heading out on the floor. We had a fruitful conversation as he reviewed the papers. Then we took a picture and he requested that I tag him on social media, of what would appear to others on my Facebook feed as a picture-perfect day.
Once again, I was cold but this time I felt certain as I headed back to my car. It struck me how easy the entire morning went as well as the amazement of how our democracy functions. No, this was not an attempt to change the world but an attempt to experience an exchange with my legislators. Now, I felt confident with approaching Georgia’s State Capitol, finding my representative, and discussing a policy that was important to me.
In the past, my correspondence with the secretaries and assistants was dismissive. Besides, most people are not too receptive to strongly worded emails that are sent in such an abundance. Always remember, phone calls are tallied but in person visits are treasured. Legislators and their staff know how important it is for you take the time to travel, pay for parking, walk, just to try to communicate more clearly with your legislators.
Here are a few tips if you can’t make it during the session. (1) Call your legislators during the off-season and invite them to coffee. (2) Request to meet them with your at their office. (3) Remember that your nursing background makes you an expert in health and patient advocacy. Trust that you will make a greater impression in person than you realize and may even be the one to change the world.
Opinions expressed by NPSM contributors are their own.