Earlier this week, nearly 100 of the Arthritis Foundation’s most committed Advocates and Ambassadors tuned in to our Virtual Advocacy Leadership Retreat. Coronavirus stopped us from gathering in person. But it couldn’t stop us from unleashing the power of our Advocates to influence members of Congress from afar.
Between our action alert urging members of Congress to support full funding for arthritis programs and our Virtual Advocacy Day, we know our impact was felt. It came through loud and clear in seeing members of Congress supporting our legislative asks. One member of Congress even recognized an Arthritis Advocate in a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives.
We caught up with Anna Hyde, Arthritis Foundation vice president of advocacy and access, to learn more about the retreat.
Q: What made the 2020 Advocacy Leadership Retreat different from prior advocacy events?Anna: It was unique because it focused exclusively on cultivating advocacy leaders — helping them learn, grow and share their experiences. It also stands out because it was completely volunteer led — run by volunteers, for volunteers. The idea was to empower these current and future leaders from top to bottom with a new arsenal of opportunities to impact their local communities. It was a launching pad for the coming decade. What does the ideal Platinum Ambassador look like? The sessions offered here helped shape that. Virtual attendees heard many examples of how they can work with their Arthritis Foundation local leadership board, local Live Yes! Connect Groups and others to address advocacy priorities at home and make an impact throughout the year.
Q: What were the main goals of the retreat?
Anna: We are harnessing the momentum from the Arthritis Foundation’s recently-released “A Mandate for Action” report and turn it into a legislative ask. This eye-opening report demonstrates that arthritis needs to be taken seriously as an urgent public health priority. In a way like never done before, it shows that the burdens, struggles and marginalization arthritis causes can no longer be ignored. But the main goal was to help Advocates and Ambassadors prepare for what happens next. We want every attendee to feel equipped to infuse their advocacy leadership into everything they do with the Arthritis Foundation and in their communities.
Q: Did participants get to actively make their case on Capitol Hill?
Anna: Yes, even though their case ended up being made virtually rather than in person. We held a session on virtual grassroots, giving our attendees many options for engaging with their legislators from afar, including requesting phone calls and in-district meetings, and recording videos to send over email or social media. Advocates used the “Mandate for Action” report to urge lawmakers to support full funding for federal arthritis programs, specifically $54 million for the Arthritis Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That amount represents the 54 million Americans doctor-diagnosed with arthritis, so we are calling this campaign “54 for 54.” The CDC Arthritis Program is the only federal initiative solely dedicated to understanding arthritis, and it allows state and national partners to deliver evidence-based exercise and self-management programs for those living with arthritis. We’re rallying to expand those programs in response to the data summarized in the Mandate for Action.
Q: How will arthritis patients everywhere benefit from what took place this week?
Anna: Calling for increased arthritis research and other interventions is a big rallying cry. The arthritis-focused work being done at the CDC benefits everyone affected by arthritis, whatever type of the disease they have. The CDC’s evidence-based programs are for all of us. We’ll use momentum from our Virtual Advocacy Day to keep following up. We’ll continue follow-ups until we start to see more progress being made. If we can increase the investment in public health, more people will benefit in their daily lives. If we can increase investments in research, we’ll get even closer to a disease-modifying drug for osteoarthritis. We’re demanding game-changing actions and answers.
Q: How can someone get involved and make a difference?
Anna: First, sign up! It’s easy to tell your story. Easy to get in touch with your congressional representatives and urge them to support arthritis-related legislation and more funding. We’ll be doing virtual get-togethers throughout the year, so you don’t have to be in DC to make your voice count. Signing up to be part of our advocacy efforts is the first step. Once you sign up, we’ll make sure you’re kept informed so you can stay involved.