What I Learned at the Call to Congress

Have you been trying to find a way to get more involved in the political process, but don’t quite know where to start? That’s exactly how I was feeling too. When the American Diabetes Association asked me to become a diabetes advocate and offered me the opportunity to participate in their Call to Congress 2017 on Capitol Hill, I saw my opening.

Call to Congress group on Capitol steps

Advocates on Capitol steps – Photo courtesy of American Diabetes Association/Kevin Koski

On March 30, 2017, more than 180 advocates from 33 states participated in more than 188 meetings with their members of Congress. Advocates included people with diabetes, health care providers, researchers, and 35 members of Team Tackle – members of the NFL Players Association who are raising awareness of diabetes and prediabetes.

What Happened

The Call to Congress lasted three days:

  • Day 1 – took Amtrak to Washington DC, met other advocates from Virginia, received training about how to conduct Hill meetings, got schedule for Day 2, attended reception and met people from across the country
  • Day 2 – received schedule changes, walked to U.S. Capitol, took group photo, attended meetings with members of Congress and their staffers, saw the Vice President’s motorcade arrive at the Capitol (unrelated to the Call to Congress)
  • Day 3 – heard stories from other advocates about their meetings, learned how to be an advocate at home
Call to Congress meeting in Sen Warner office

Meeting in Senator Mark Warner’s office with Virginia advocates and members of Team Tackle
Photo courtesy of American Diabetes Assocation/Kevin Koski

Who I Met

My Virginia team participated in five meetings on the Hill and I told my diabetes story to:

  • Portia Boone, Legislative Correspondent in Senator Tim Kaine‘s office (VA)
  • Charlie Arnowitz, Legislative Aide in Senator Mark Warner‘s office (VA)
  • Reginald Darby, Legislative Director in Representative Scott Taylor‘s office (VA-02) – with a surprise visit by Rep. Taylor, an offer of pizza, and a photo op
  • Justin Goldberger, Legislative Correspondent in Representative Donald McEachin‘s office (VA-04)
  • Zoë O’Herin, Legislative Director in Representative Dave Brat‘s office (VA-07)

I met several professional football players like Kyle Love from the Carolina Panthers, Walt Aikens from the Miami Dolphins, and John Jenkins from the Chicago Bears.

Kyle Love

With Kyle Love

Walt Aikens

With Walt Aikens

Our Call to Congress “Asks”

During the Association’s training about doing Hill visits, I learned that you always ask for something. You shouldn’t be embarrassed to do it; in fact, your members of Congress expect it. We asked for three things:

  • Increased funding for diabetes research and prevention programs – $2.165 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), $185 million for the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) Division of Diabetes Translation (DTT), and $25 million for the National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP).
  • Continued access to adequate health insurance for people living with and at risk for diabetes – no Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal without a simultaneous replacement that covers as many people, ensures continuous availability of health insurance regardless of a person’s circumstances, and continues to prioritize prevention.
  • Affordable insulin – transparency throughout the insulin supply chain is necessary to identify why the price of this lifesaving medication has tripled in the last decade.
Call to Congress in Sen Tim Kaine office

In Senator Tim Kaine’s office (John Jenkins is in the back)

Things I Learned

I learned so many things during the Call to Congress:

  • Diabetes advocates are truly wonderful people.
  • Everyone knows someone with diabetes.
  • Meeting with members of Congress is a lot of fun.
  • Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is no joke.
  • Comfortable walking shoes are mandatory on Capitol Hill.
  • The Longworth cafeteria has the best food.
  • Personal stories are more memorable than statistics.
  • For the most part, once you get through the metal detectors you can wander the Senate and House office buildings at will. If you want to visit Speaker Paul Ryan’s office, however, you need to know the secret knock.
  • The Washington, DC subway system (Metro) will randomly stop for more than 30 minutes, forcing you to choose whether to wait it out or exit the station to catch an Uber so that you have a hope of making your Amtrak train at Union Station. We had one crazy Uber ride through the city and still missed our train. Thanks, Metro.

If you ever get the chance to participate in a Call to Congress or another diabetes advocacy event, do it.

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