Washington Never Saw It Coming
When it comes to lobbying Congress, there are a lot of strategies thrown around with the intent of maximizing impact. None of them involve 10-year-old passers-by. So even a seasoned Washington veteran could not have planned the conversation I had in NH Senator Kelly Ayotte’s office two weeks ago.
On a Wednesday evening in late February, I arrived in our nation’s capitol for the National Chiropractic Legislative Conference , along with 36 of my friends and doctoral classmates from New York Chiropractic College. Having traveled from snowy upstate New York, our moods were already high not only from the excitement of breaking out of our day-to-day studies but also at the prospect of seeing some sunshine. Our first night consisted of a meet-and-greet with our colleagues from other schools, doctors in the field, and a handful of chiro-friendly legislators, then a well-deserved early bedtime (for me, at least). The next day would begin the focus of our annual trip: meeting with Senators and Representatives across Capitol Hill to seek their support for a handful of important healthcare bills.
My morning started early, with a visit scheduled with NH Senator Kelly Ayotte. Typically, we visited the congressional offices in groups of three to four students, but for this meeting I would be flying solo.
“I’m not supposed to schedule anyone in the morning, but that’s all that’s available. Are you up for it?” Amber Morison, fellow NYCC student and Legislative Representative for our chapter of the Student American Chiropractic Association, had asked me. I love talking, so of course I was.
When I arrived at Senator Ayotte’s office, it was full of people. “The New Hampshire schools are on vacation this week, so everyone is coming down to visit,” an aide explained to me. He introduced me to an office legislative correspondent to talk through my three issues.
I gave my perspective on the greater variety of doctors that could be encouraged to practice in medically under-served areas by including more degrees in the country’s loan repayment incentives. We talked about the actions that Senator Ayotte could take in Senate’s Armed Forces Committee in regards to improving veterans’ access to musculoskeletal care through chiropractors. The aide was attentive and helpful, but had no experience with chiropractic herself. Before we were able to finish, the Dublin, NH Garden Club arrived en masse in the office, and the aide had to briefly excuse herself.
As I waited for a break in the excited visitors, I browsed the NH memorabilia adorning the walls, and ended up reading about a mounted moose head being moved to the office. Suddenly a voice piped up behind me.
“Oscar is pretty awesome isn’t he?”
A visitor half my height detached himself from his preoccupied mom and came over, pointing across the room to the moose in response to my surprised and confused reaction. He proceeded to introduce himself as a 5th grader from not far from my own home. He went on to explain more about the moose, details that I still have no idea where he learned, then asked what I was doing.
As his mother came back to collect him, I told him I was a chiropractic student and he lit up in recognition.
“I love going to the chiropractor,” he explained. His mom chimed in, “You’re going to be one? Oh, that’s great, I don’t know what I would do without mine.”
I was taken completely aback by the gregarious young visitor, and his family’s unexpected and enthusiastic support for me. And as we discussed the contributions of the doctor in their town, who I happened to know, the aide returned, overhearing the exchange.
As the family departed, the tone of my conversation seemed to change. I think that suddenly the aide, and even I myself, remembered the reality of our work. It is not about the political battles, about reputations, about winning, or about suits and folios and resumes. It is about figuring out the best way to make life better for our neighbors.
I finished talking to the aide, answered some more questions to resolve some new curiosity about my work, and then she introduced me to Senator Ayotte. I presented the senator my highlights, putting a face to the information I left with her. It was a great visit to kick off my work at the conference, and set a great tone for the four additional congressional meetings I would have that day.
“You can’t tell anyone about this meeting,” our SACA chapter’s legislative coordinator had instructed me. “Important people will be speaking back at the hotel, and people would be upset for the chapter not to be well-represented there. But since this is a legislative conference, I think we should reach this legislator.”
Well, if you’re reading this, I hope you’re not too important to be a neighbor.