STRAIGHT TALK: Achievable Goals

by Christine Clark

My son, Jack Clark, had a big transition this year as he started middle school. My husband and I saw it as the perfect opportunity to teach him how to advocate for himself. We started this summer by fighting against Medicaid cuts proposed by the US Congress. Jack will proudly tell you "No Caps, No Cuts!" He also participated in his annual IEP meeting last fall, and successfully advocated to spend more time with his friends.

Christine Clark (r) is a parent advocate and a member of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities. She is pictured here with her husband and son Jack.

I started a transition myself last year. I started graduate school at Georgia State University. I also began my first year as a parent advocate on the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD). Both new adventures got me involved in advocating during the legislative session. I still have a lot to learn, but I quickly picked up on how important it is to do your homework and use all of your resources before heading to the ropes.

First, research your representatives online. Find common ground with them. The House of Representatives have other careers, see if there is a commonality. Look up what bills they are sponsoring and get a feel for what they support. Find past or current legislation that you agree with or find an initiative that they are supporting in the community.

Every representative is required to be on a committee and so research which ones yours supports. Think about the issue that you are advocating for and try and understand it from their point of view. If they are a Republican on the budget committee, think about how the issue may save money or reduces government oversight. If they are a Democrat on a health and human services committee, identify how the issue will positively affect the people in their district.

Plan on what you want to say after you introduce yourself as their constituent. Show support for a previous piece of legislation or initiative in your community to put both of you at ease and to get their attention. Or share a joint interest group or profession that you have with them. Then introduce why you are there today. Explain how the issue affects you and your family. Highlight a benefit to them for supporting your point of view.

The legislative session is an opportune time to get in front of your representatives, but it isn't the only time. Initiatives pop up all year, and they may have more time to sit down with you after the legislative session is over. Also, the ropes during session can be sensory overload for anyone and not the best environment for you to have a conversation. Reach out to your representative via email or by calling to schedule a time in the afternoon when session breaks or find time during other times of the year.

Last but not least, one final bit of advice, everyone is nervous the first few times they do it, especially if the issue is crucial to you or your family's future. Don't let that stop you!

To read more in Making a Difference magazine, see below:

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