"We the People": A Beginner’s Guide to Advocacy
Written by Cassie Vanderwall, MS RD LDN CPT
“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
This declaration found within the preamble of the U.S. constitution, along with the first amendment in the U.S. Bill of Rights, is surely the foundation for democracy in America.
There is always an exhaustive amount of talk regarding public policy in America; for this is the beauty and the beast of democracy. Many people complain, but very few often take action. Operationalizing individual aspirations for the Nation’s priorities can be an intimidating process for beginners, but is crucial to corporate change. Advocacy is critical for the livelihood of licensed healthcare professionals, including registered dietitians.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, formally known as the American Dietetic Association, has instated a legislative and public policy committee (LPPC) to “guide the establishment of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ public policy work including, but not limited to activities related to national and state public policy, legislative and regulatory issues.” The LPPC encourages both advocating and lobbying for the dietetic profession. Lobbying and advocacy are two terms often used interchangeable in public policy, however they are different.
Advocating: When a non-profit organizations seeks to affect some aspect of society, such as laws and regulations, by appealing to another party, which may be the government or another party or individual.
The following will provide 5 tips for any citizen of the United States to make their voice heard:
- Explore. Explore local media to learn about the political issues within the city and state. Learn more about goals and objectives of your professional organization and the population that you may work with, such as low-income children. Identify issues that you are personally passionate about.
- Plan. Once you have identified issues that you would like to address, identify the key players: persons who are on “your team,” and share a similar point-of-view, and the “opposition.” You may also want to identify other people, such as colleagues who also share your passion and perspective. Call the representative’s or senator’s office to make an appointment. Don’t be disappointed if you are invited to meet with staffers; often times these individuals will know more about the issues you want to discuss.
- Prepare. Position yourself for success by learning about your lawmaker before the visit. Identify which committees they are a part of, how they have voted in the past, perhaps even where they grew up and went to school. Also, prepare a gracious introduction that identifies you as their constituent, as well as, your purpose. Speak as one or as many and be clear who you are representing: an organization or yourself. Most meetings will last 15 to 30 minutes.
- Engage. Email the staff and lawmaker topics or questions you would like to discuss before the visit (topics, wish list, or questions). Also, be sure to dress the part; an American flag pin can go a long way. At the visit, provide all staff with your business card. You may also want to right the bill number on the back of your card. After the visit, be sure to thank the staff and lawmaker.
- Stay Active. By showing up at town hall meetings, fundraisers, to vote, or volunteering to answer questions about issues you have expertise in you will increase your interaction in the political scene and gain recognition.
Personally, I charge you, as healthcare professionals and citizens of the United States of America to become politically active and civically engaged; it is crucial in order to continue to positively impact the health status of Americans.
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