Small In Stature But Big In Impact: The Little Lobbyists

If you think you are too small to make a difference you haven’t spent a night with a mosquito. ~ African Proverb

They hatched their plan to save the Affordable Care Act late one night over leftover birthday cake.

It was June 2017. Trump was president, and the GOP held majorities in both the House and Senate. Republicans up and down the ticket had promised to dismantle the ACA. Its demise was seemingly inevitable. An estimated 22 million people would lose their healthcare.

It’s against that backdrop that Elena Hung kissed her two kids goodnight and went over to her friend Erin’s house. With another friend Michelle, the three sat around her kitchen table, taking out frustrations on leftover birthday cake and trying to figure out what, exactly, they’d do.

Because this fight was personal.

Three years before, Elena’s daughter was rushed to the NICU just minutes after she was born. She stayed there for the next five months. During that time, she was diagnosed with conditions affecting her airway, lungs, heart, and kidneys, resulting in three major surgeries, countless medical procedures, and consultations with over a dozen specialists.

And that is the moment when – without warning (both her pregnancy and birth were typical) – Elena was thrust into the terrifying, confusing world of “complex medical needs.” And she was automatically, unwillingly enrolled in a crash course on how to advocate for a medically fragile child.

Like I said. This fight was personal.

It was personal to Erin and Michelle, too – both of whom also had kids with complex medical needs.

So when plans to repeal the ACA and cut Medicaid had been proposed, they all called and emailed, attended health care rallies and forums.

Nothing seemed to stick.

And time was running out. The GOP planned to push its health care legislation through at the end of June. Just weeks away. They had to do … more.

More of what, exactly … well, they didn’t yet know. They’d figure it out along the way.

As Elena said: “We don’t have policy expertise or lobbying experience, but we do have a primal instinct to protect and fight for our kids.”

So, around that kitchen table late that night, they hashed out the blueprint.

They were convinced that if lawmakers saw their kids – if they just met them and saw that they were just kids, and were thriving because of proper medical care – then they could start a real conversation about what health care means in their world.

Putting a personal face on this was important – because while as Maryland residents they had two Democratic ACA-supporting Senators, they had heard from other families that GOP Senators were nearly impossible to reach.

Office phones would ring and ring and they couldn’t get through.

They would leave messages and nobody would return their calls.

They would email and patiently wait for replies that never came.

There were no town halls. No office hours.

Nothing.

These families were desperate to connect with their Senators. But they couldn’t get through.

So around the kitchen table, Elena, Michelle and Erin thought – Maybe we could help them get their message across. Maybe we could show up at their Senators’ offices in person and hand-deliver their stories with photographs of their children, and explain how repealing the ACA and cutting Medicaid would devastate these families, their constituents. Maybe we could change hearts and minds … just by telling our stories.

And so, that night over leftover cake, they decided to have a “lobby day” when they’d go office to office, with their kids and all their medical equipment in tow.

As Michelle later described it, they would go “trick-or-treating for health care.”

They had to work fast: they only had a week to organize.

In that short time they got almost 100 stories from families across the country. They got their photos, the costs of their care, what their lives were like – and what the demise of the ACA would mean for them personally. They put all of those stories into a big binder, tabbed by state, to carry along – and made extra copies to deliver by hand.

And they made their way to the Senate.

From office to office they went, moms in flats and kids in wheelchairs. Staffers’ eyes widened as moms expertly suctioned trach tubes while balancing binders, formula, and oxygen tanks … while simultaneously talking about lifetime limits, Medicaid coverage, and the very practical, real-world applications of the ACA that touch their lives so intimately.

They met with Democratic Senators on that first day – even though they sought meetings with Republicans, those were hard to come by. They saw their own Senator Van Hollen, had a meeting with Leader Schumer…

And then Elizabeth Warren nearly whooshed past them in the hallway, before stopping to talk to the group – especially the kids (apparently making herself late for another meeting in the process). Her message to the group was clear: keep going. Keep telling your stories. Don’t stop.

They didn’t.

One lobby day turned into two. And then two more. And then still more…

… until finally they had spent 14 days on the Hill and visited all 100 Senate offices, meeting with staffers and Senators from both parties.

And by the end of their lobbying blitz, sixteen families had come to the Hill on behalf of their group – which they had come to call the “Little Lobbyists.”

They brought their kids every time. But they didn’t just bring their own stories.

They brought their whole community.

Because in all, they carried with them the stories of 225 families from 46 states – with each family’s story adding depth and texture to what could have been a detached, dispassionate, and bureaucratic debate.

There were many who brought their best to the ACA fight, and no one group owns that victory.

But the Little Lobbyists brought their heart and soul, and reminded us just what and who we are fighting for.

And it all started because they planned one lobby day.

Over leftover cake.

Note: As I explained earlier this month, this is part of a month-long series of stories of people who became activists not necessarily by choice, but because their circumstances pushed them in that direction. The goal is inspiration, but each story offers slightly different takeaways. Let’s reflect on those (briefly).

Lessons We can Take Away:

Go big, and don’t be afraid to ask. At every stage, Elena and the Little Lobbyists went big, taking every idea that started with “can we do this?” and turning it into “let’s do this!” They asked families to share their children’s medical details and concerns, and they did. They asked U.S. Senators to speak with them about health care, and they did. They asked the media to highlight parents visiting Senate offices with their kids to fight for health care, and they did. Go for it.

Say yes. Elena explained that she was always on the lookout for ways to fight for the cause. Her advice? Say yes to everything. Show up. Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. Rehearse your elevator speech Be ready for when you get the mic. Example: one evening she and other families attended a late night healthcare rally. In the middle, the D.C. organizer of MoveOn texted her asking her to speak. She didn’t expect it, but said yes anyway – and two minutes later was telling a fired-up crowd of advocates how powerful telling stories can be.

Never, ever, ever give up! There will be hard days and fights that appear unwinnable. There will be painful losses. Power through. Persist. As Elena said, “Families like mine think back to when our kids were in the NICU and in and out of hospitals. There were lots of hard days there – really, really impossibly hard days. But we carried on because we couldn’t give up on our babies. We didn’t have a choice, and we had to keep going. In a way, we have learned persistence in a more intimate manner than most people, and we carry it in everything we do. Take a breath, and then get back up. You got this.”

Share your story. Politics is intensely personal – because the policy that comes from it shapes our lives. Your story matters. Share it.

And … maybe bring cake to your next meeting.

Let’s get to work.

Actions for the Week of January 18, 2022

Voting Rights: Never, Ever, Ever Give Up

Highlighting Elena and the Little Lobbyists feels appropriate this week, because everyone said saving the ACA was impossible. Which it was.

Until it wasn’t.

Don’t listen to the pundits tell you what’s impossible. And especially don’t listen to Republicans saying your efforts don’t matter. They’d love nothing more than for you to be demoralized. Take charge of what you can control: yourself.

So today, get out there and call your Senators and tell them that if they so much as quoted Martin Luther King Jr. yesterday they’d better vote to protect your freedom to vote.

And a note on timing: We’ve seen some delays due to a positive COVID test and a winter storm in DC. So debate starts today and the vote will happen later this week. That means we have time. We need to keep up the pressure over the next few days.

Call your Senators. Republicans too!

Script: Hi, my name is ___ and I’m a constituent at ___. I’m calling to ask the Senator to protect my freedom to vote by supporting the voting rights legislation, the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Protecting my freedom to vote should not be partisan – it’s protected in the Constitution! I’m asking the Senator to consider his/her oath to our country – and his/her legacy, and vote for this legislation.

Join Activate America and Write Postcards to Wisconsin (Or PA – or Both)!

Activate America provides voter addresses and scripts to volunteers to send handwritten postcards to voters. Studies have shown postcards can impact behavior. One study found that unregistered individuals who were sent voter registration forms were 20% more likely to return the forms when they were sent a follow-up reminder postcard.

Activate America offers post-carding year-round, either focused on amplifying important messages (like the many good things in the Infrastructure and Jobs Act) or focusing on key election goals and deadlines (like registering to vote or deadlines to vote-by-mail).

Their Wisconsin project just launched last week, and encourages Wisconsin voters to request a vote by mail ballot. They’ve also got a project writing postcards to Pennsylvania to

From their website (https://www.activateamerica.vote/postcards):

We are partnering with in-state activists in Wisconsin to help likely Democratic voters sign up to vote-by-mail. As you know, limiting or excluding voting-by-mail is a favorite Republican voter-suppression strategy, so it is great to have this opportunity to strike back.

We are also writing to likely Democrats in Pennsylvania to let them know Democrats delivered on their promises with the Infrastructure and Jobs Act. We need to get this message out. Many voters do not pay attention to their elected officials’ voting records. 

Please send cards as you complete them in the next 2-3 weeks.

Head to their website (https://www.activateamerica.vote/postcards) to sign up for postcards. They ask that you request at least 25 addresses.

Join Vote Riders For A Voter ID Strategy Session on January 20:

VoteRiders (https://www.voteriders.org/about/) focuses on Voter ID issues – supporting organizations, local volunteers, and communities involved in voter ID education and assistance efforts.

They provide information about voter ID requirements for every voter in every state, via a toll-free Voter ID Helpline (844-338-8743), online resources, educational wallet cards and on-the-ground teams. Voters can also connect with a VoteRiders team member through their Chatbot, Helpline, and website to ask questions and receive free assistance.

But that’s not all – VoteRiders also works directly with voters, both virtually and in-person, to ensure they have the ID they need to cast a ballot that counts. They provide personalized assistance for voters, including: 

  • Covering the cost of required documents (like birth certificates or Social Security cards) and ID
  • Arranging and paying for transportation to their local ID-issuing office
  • Answering questions about their state’s voter ID laws
  • Providing pro bono legal assistance with certain document issues
  • Supplying voters with photocopies of their ID for requesting an absentee ballot and/or voting by mail

That’s a lot of good, important work – especially when we’re seeing huge numbers of mail-in ballots in Texas being rejected because of ID issues under the state’s new voting restrictions.

Want to get involved? There are lots of ways to do so – and you can learn more about them this week. They’re kicking off their 2022 volunteer program with a special briefing on Thursday, January 20th at 7 pm ET (4 pm PT)! Some special guests will be joining to celebrate accomplishments and dig into strategy for building on our momentum at this critical moment as we head towards the Midterms. 

Don’t miss this opportunity to reset, re-energize and hit the ground running in 2022!

Join Indivisible’s Give No Ground Project

Again: never, ever, ever give up. That means that – even if the 2022 midterms are going to be tough, we can’t throw in the towel before the races even begin!

Indivisible has targeted seven races in their new Give No Ground project. From their website: Give No Ground is built to defend essential Democratic seats in target states and districts across the country. Give No Ground will respond rapidly to the evolving electoral landscape, and ensure resources go where they’re needed most. We’re going to mobilize the Indivisible network to become a force in this election, and we’ll be using some exciting tools and strategies to do it.

  • Tools. Through Give No Ground, volunteers everywhere will be able to impact these races by calling, texting, and writing postcards to essential voters. We’re taking an all-of-the-above strategy to get out the vote. 
  • Get-Out-the-Vote Event Support. Indivisible groups in target districts will get national support for election events like canvass launches and other GOTV events. 
  • Grassroots-Driven Strategy. We’re establishing national working groups for Give No Ground targets and giving local Indivisibles across the country opportunities to adopt-a-district to ensure Democrats have all the grassroots muscle they need. 

Winning won’t be easy; losing is not an option. If we want to build lasting change that will outlive Republican obstruction and rollbacks, we have no greater priority than holding and strengthening our Democratic majorities in 2022. 

For now, you can just sign up and take a “pledge” to support the races; in doing so, you indicate how you’d like to volunteer – whether that’s textbanking, calling voters, voter registration, or using creative talents. Indivisible will then be reaching out with volunteer opportunities. Check it out and sign up here: https://www.givenoground.org/?fbclid=IwAR0j_F0eDMWZq25C7O1fu8VHMJxwEfqKn7vkZx-FU5Bw7YqMWSqPlCT1JBM

Letter From a Birmingham Jail:

It’s been a long time since I’ve read the full six-page, single-spaced Letter From a Birmingham Jail. I did so yesterday, and its relevance is obvious.

It will take you a moment or two to read it, or to read it again. It will be worth it. Here it is, in full: Letter From a Birmingham Jail

WHEW! GO TEAM!

P.S.: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.

If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!

P.P.S.: If you want to help support this work you can do so via Patreon at
https://www.patreon.com/smalldeedsdone or via paypal at https://www.paypal.me/smalldeeds
My deepest gratitude in advance.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every email! We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.

Have a thought? A small deed to suggest? Share it here!

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