The final day of the Arthritis Foundation’s 2019 Advocacy Summit is also the most exciting for Advocates. It’s a day filled with energy, focus and a little bit of nervousness – but those jitters were quickly funneled into fuel for a long day of meetings.
After a full day of training and preparation, approximately 300 Arthritis Foundation Advocates from 37 states were ready to share their stories and implement their skills on Capitol Hill. State delegations gathered at the hotel for the short ride to the Hill, but once there, they headed in different directions toward scheduled meetings with lawmakers from their respective states. Throughout the day, Arthritis Foundation Advocates could be seen in passing through the underground tunnels of the Senate buildings or making their way across to the offices of the House of Representatives.
During the day’s 215 scheduled meetings, Advocates and their representatives discussed legislative priorities, like reforming burdensome step therapy practices and making access to vital treatments easier and more affordable. Many were also urged to support funding for arthritis research at the Department of Defense and to join the Congressional Arthritis Caucus – a bipartisan group that is a clearinghouse for information and educates members about arthritis, how the disease impacts their communities and how to support federal and local efforts to improve access to care.
The Tennessee delegation started their day early in the morning to attend “Tennessee Tuesdays,” a weekly event that U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn host, welcoming local Tennessee groups to Washington, DC, when Congress is in session. Here, Advocates were able to quickly introduce themselves to the senators and preface their meetings taking place later in the day with their representatives and staff.
“Walking the Hill is so empowering and uplifting,” remarks Lauren McAllister of Tennessee, who was also one of 70 Platinum Ambassadors attending this year’s summit. “To share my sister’s story with members of Congress who can effect change gives me this feeling of inching a little closer to real change.”
The California delegation also headed to the Senate offices in the earlier part of the day, meeting first with Kathryn Irwin, legislative aide for U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, then with Andrew Fuentes, legislative aide for U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, before breaking off into smaller meetings with their local representatives.
“Having the opportunity to advocate on behalf of families affected by juvenile arthritis is a very special and empowering experience,” says Jennifer Cox, Platinum Ambassador who traveled alone to DC to represent her son, Shane, who was diagnosed at age 10 with polyarticular juvenile arthritis.
At 12:00 p.m., the Virtual Summit – a digital way of raising your voice to contribute to the summit and help amplify the impact of our in-person meetings with legislators – took off on social media. Advocates from near and far were encouraged to share why they #AdvocateforArthritis through posts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. With over 97 percent of Congress using social media to connect with their constituents and learn what is important to them, the Virtual Summit allows anyone to take action and join in on the day.
As meetings came to a close and the sun set on the 2019 Advocacy Summit, attendees began their journey home a bit tired from a busy day but ecstatic about their experience. Advocates are encouraged and empowered to continue advocating throughout the year on behalf of the arthritis community when they return home.
Arthritis Foundation Advocates are volunteers who have been personally affected by arthritis and want to make a real and meaningful difference for the arthritis community. Using their personal arthritis stories, they meet with state and federal policymakers, helping them better understand the devastating effects of arthritis, and how they can improve access and the cost of health care. It is now more important than ever to stand up, tell your story and be heard. Join the Advocate program today!