By Andrew Fullerton, Government Relations Manager
Will you be around this August and want to help make a difference for patients? Consider taking a few hours to meet with your lawmakers (or their staff) to tell them about the importance of kidney disease legislation and programs!
From July 29th to September 4th, Congress will be on what is commonly called “August Recess.” Your Senators and Representatives will be in their home state meeting with constituents. There are a number of ways that you can meet with them:
- Meet with them in their district offices.
- Speak with them at town halls.
- Speak them at local events they are attending.
- Already have a relationship or met with them recently? Follow-up by phone or email.
With any of these options, remember that you are the expert with a story to tell, so it’s your job to emphasize the impact of chronic kidney disease (CKD) on the people in your state and district. Keep it local and make it personal! Keep in mind to invite your local NKF staff to participate and share details about your meeting with me (Andrew.Fullerton@kidney.org).
Meeting them at their office
Why set up a district meeting at the office?
Simply, you get the most “bang for your buck.” You get time with your legislator, or their staff, in a quiet setting and have their attention solely on you. Building a relationship with your legislators and their staff will yield concrete benefits and set the stage for ongoing discussions. Typically, they will dedicate 15-30 minutes to meet with you and discuss topics important to you.
How do I go about this?
Every lawmaker has at least one district or state office and many have two or more. First, read this short guide. Then call or email your legislator’s district office (Who are your legislators? Click here) and ask to schedule a district meeting. Tell them what you would like to discuss and who will be joining you for the meeting.
What should I talk about?
Your story is the first thing to talk about! You are the expert on living with CKD and you are the inspiration. Then, talk about policy topics related to CKD that interest you. I suggest discussing the Living Donor Protection Act (H.R. 1270) and living donation; early detection and management, or funding research and other programs related to CKD. Talk about how CKD and policy topics, like the above, impact constituents in their district or state. Use the state CKD fact sheets here. Consider inviting your legislator to attend an upcoming NKF event or a CKD related facility, such as a dialysis or transplant center, next time you go.
Who else should I invite to join me?
Contact me (Andrew.Fullerton@kidney.org) or your local NKF office. We would love to participate or find others to join you! Also, consider inviting your local Kidney Advocacy Committee members to join you. Finally, don’t forget that you probably have friends with CKD, your family who helps care for you, and others involved in your care that you can invite.
Anything else I should do?
Follow up! Make sure to send a thank you note by email and a handwritten thank you. Keep in regular contact and offer to be a resource for their office. Send them leave behinds on the issues and impact of CKD in your emailed thank you. Also, communicate about your meeting on social media. Post a picture of you at the meeting with a thank you. Put in a line about your discussion of CKD and legislative policy. Share this with their office.
If you have been reading or watching the news, you have seen an article about town halls held by lawmakers. These can often be contentious events, but are an excellent opportunity to discuss CKD policy and issues in a public setting. They also allow you to participate with a large number of kindred souls who want to advocate for kidney patients. These events are often in-person, but can also be on Skype, via conference call, on Facebook, or other mediums.
How do I find out about town halls?
There are numerous ways. The best is to sign up on your lawmaker’s mailing list. There are various online resources, such as the Town Hall Project, that collect information about upcoming town hall events. Your local newspapers may also list upcoming town hall events in their local news and events section.
How do I separate myself from the protesters?
First off, be friendly and polite. Being combative or frustrated can cause your message to get lost or lose its impact. Thank them for their service, even if you don’t agree with them or their politics. Like an office meeting, have a short elevator pitch that tells your story and make sure you have specific asks and/or good questions. If they have supported CKD legislation or joined the Congressional Kidney Caucus, be sure to thank them for doing so! If you are attending with others, be sure to support each other by applauding after your fellow attendee finishes speaking.
Also, arrive early! Town halls are very well attended now, so as a result, it is harder to get in – let alone get a good seat.
Are there other things to consider?
One benefit to a town hall event is that there will be reporters on scene. Consider taking a moment to introduce yourself to them. Share your story with them and why you are there. If you would like help preparing for this, contact us. Please also be sure to invite your local NKF staff, friends, family, supporters, doctors, and others who can talk about CKD and its local impacts. Finally, consider recording your lawmaker’s responses to your questions and sharing those with NKF staff.
Other local events
Town halls are not the only local events that lawmakers go to. You may also find them at county or state fairs, job fairs, ribbon cuttings, or other large public events. Lawmakers’ offices often will have a booth at events like county fairs, where they (or their staff) will meet with constituents. This is a great opportunity to speak with them in an informal setting.
Are you a member of a Chamber of Commerce, VFW or Legion post, Kiwanis or Lions Club, or other similar organization that hosts large events? Is your membership organization hosting a monthly meeting or other big event? Consider inviting your legislators to meet with and address your group at the event. This is a great opportunity to create your own opportunity to meet and interact with your lawmakers.
For these events, many of the same rules apply that were discussed in the town hall section above. Be polite. Have an elevator pitch with your story and requests. Have questions prepared ahead of time. Invite others impacted by CKD to come. Invite the local NKF office to participate!