In the Shadow of Advocacy: A Meso Morning on Capitol Hill

Wednesday July 11, was Advocacy Day for us here at the Meso Foundation. In a later blogpost, you’ll hear me refer to this Wednesday before our 2012 Symposium as Virtual Advocacy Day but for those of us meeting (some of us, for the first time) on the Hill, it was Advocacy Day. Period. While we put out the call to tweet and post on Facebook awareness on mesothelioma research, I was joining Meso Community member Robena Reid on a visit to Capitol Hill. Our appointment was with Senator Jim Webb of Virginia’s office. I had been asked by the Foundation to shadow her for the morning, write up a report for our blog, and take photographs.

Now here is the true confession: I have never advocated anything before in person. I have emailed my representatives, both on the State and Federal level, but never have I gone to the Hill to speak on the issues. Any issues. This morning I was far out of my comfort zone really not sure what to expect.

The good news is I had Robena Reed to follow. Robena is part of the Department of Transportation; but regarding mesothelioma, Robena lost her mother to the disease. She has now taken it upon herself to prepare for visits with her representatives and bring to their attention the facts and truths of this horrible disease.

We met with a representative of Senator Webb’s, not the senator himself; but Legislative Correspondent McKenzie Bennett (pictured with Robena here) was focused, attentive, and approachable. She asked questions, sincere and thought-provoking questions. This kept us both on our toes, and soon I found myself stepping into the conversation between Robena and McKenzie.  Having your talking points printed from the curemeso.org website prior to your meeting will ensure you have the facts that you need.  Should your staffer have questions, take advantage of this opportunity to follow up with them after the meeting.  Together, we spoke for the community, providing statistics not only specific to Virginia but specific to mesothelioma and meso patients from coast-to-coast. When McKenzie concluded our visit, I admit to feeling elated with the morning meeting. Robena and I had just concluded an audience with Senator Jim Webb, bringing mesothelioma, its community, and its interests before our representative.

Then it dawned on me that we had a group of fifty in total, all of us speaking on your behalf.

The morning on Capitol Hill was a real education, and the last place I ever planned to find myself. I found a new appreciation for being able to make a difference. It is quite humbling and, yes, inspiring that we have the ability and the means to make a difference like this. I left Capitol Hill at the end of the day a little wiser on the process in which laws are made and the government serves its people, and understanding what happens when voters talk to their representatives. It was also inspiring to watch Robena take action, to hear her speak for the meso community. I’m already thinking of next year and what I can do differently.

I also hope, next year, I am asked once again to shadow Robena. After working with her on the Hill, I know I still have more to learn.