It’s that time of the year again! Nope, not March Madness, state basketball tournaments or the NFL draft predictions. Its that time of the year when Advocates and lobbyists across the country ascend on Washington DC and try to make sure that their needs are addressed in the upcoming appropriations for the budget. I was once again privileged to join about 200 advocates for fragile X on Capital Hill to have meetings with staffers for our state representatives in the Senate and the House of Representatives. This year, many of the 200 were self-advocates and siblings who have the greatest impact on the staffers on Capital Hill with whom the majority of the meetings are held.

This year was my fourth year of going to Washington DC and advocating for the needs of fragile X and the greater special needs community. For several years we have lobbied for the ABLE Act, which would allow families to save money for their loved ones with disabilities without penalty and threat of losing their funding. Last year the Able Act was passed and was signed into law. Fragile X was not the only group to lobby for this legislation. Almost all the disability rights groups have been lobbying for the same legislation for almost eight years. When it passed with overwhelming support, it showed that both republicans and democrats can work together and that when enough voices rise up, Washington listens.

In December, before the Senate voted on the Able Act, our senator from South Dakota, Senator Thune, mentioned my wife Jammie, our son Tyler and myself on the Senate floor speech in favor of passing the bill. Our congresswomen, Kristi Noem, messaged me on Facebook when she went to cast her vote in favor of the Able Act in the House of Representatives and again once it passed. The reason for the mention in the senator’s speech and the congresswoman’s messages is not because we stop by once a year. Its because through out the year we also send thank you cards, make phone calls, and continue our relationship with our representatives and their staff. Is the political process perfect? Absolutely not. But, does it work? Yes, but only if you are willing to be involved.

Unlike many who believe the people in Washington are only there for themselves, I do not buy it. The hours they keep, the travel back and forth, and the constant being under a microscope is not something I think anyone would want unless they wanted to make a difference. Is there at times corruption? Sure, but that’s in any field. The problem is not in Washington DC, the problem is in lack of involvement by we the people. Our government is set up for the people but many choose not to be involved. I see so many complain on social media about politicians and many of those same people have never once been to a political event. They never once have written a letter to their representative. They never once have made a phone call in favor or against a particular issue. They just complain but make no effort to make real change.

My encouragement to you is to get involved in the issues you find to be important. Build a healthy relationship with your legislators and the staff in their office, not only nationally but also locally and at the state level. It’s not about one side of the aisle or the other, it’s about being involved. It’s about using your voice to make a difference for others that may not have the ability to share theirs. It’s about not complaining and starting to get involved. Choose to advocate. You will be frustrated at times but in the end, you will be able to say that at least you had your voice heard and made an attempt. In the end that’s all you can do…do something.

Tim Geels – SVP of Organizational Development