By: Nicole Johnson
On a steamy day in early June, a throng of diabetes advocates from around the nation marched up those magical white steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. to make their voices heard.
Call to Congress, the American Diabetes Association’s semi-annual lobbying event, indeed made an imprint on elected officials and the diabetes community. The event went into the books as the largest congressional rally in the ADA’s history. The message to advocates: don’t lose your passion; you can make a difference; diabetes is deserving of attention.
During this two-day event, advocates were tutored on everything from communication styles to messaging to how to handle the challenging, evasive elected official.
After a few hours of training, several hundred advocates boarded buses, armed with information, inspiration and a healthy dose of nerves.
As they gathered with colleagues from Children With Diabetes and the Diabetes Quilt—the tangible representation of the blood, sweat and tears of diabetes—they laughed, cried, held hands and embarked on a journey to benefit us all.
More Funding Needed
At Call to Congress, advocates were asked to lobby members of Congress on three issues: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funding, National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding and stem cell research. Specifically, advocates asked Congress for an additional dollar for each person with diabetes to be allocated to the Division of Diabetes Translation at the CDC. They encouraged Congress to increase the overall budget at NIH by 5 percent.
On the stem cell issue, advocates asked senators to bring Senate Bill 810 to the floor for a vote. (This legislation authorizes the use of federal dollars for stem cell research, including embryonic stem cell research. It is an expansion of the president’s 2001 stem cell policy.)
Lots of Work Accomplished
A lot of good work was accomplished during this two-day event, but much remains to be done. Not every member of Congress heard our message. Not every issue in diabetes was addressed. Not every group in the diabetes community was represented.
This is precisely why advocates were given marching orders as they left the nation’s capital. Advocates were instructed to make diabetes a voting issue during this election year. They were urged to use the media to make their voices heard and their issues highlighted. And advocates were asked to recruit and train new advocates.
This Is Where You Come In
You don’t have to go to Washington, D.C., to be a diabetes lobbyist or advocate. You just have to speak up. The three issues highlighted at Call to Congress merely scratch the surface. Change needs to happen in so many areas: access to care, schools, discrimination, employment, insurance, and more.
This is a big cause—with 20.8 million votes at stake.