Creating close relationships with your elected officials and sharing your story with them are two of the most effective ways to influence legislative thinking around eczema. Personal visits, letters and telephone calls are all solid options for helping to develop these personal connections with legislators.
We asked two seasoned NEA advocates for their advice on communicating with elected officials.
1. Start small.
Having young children with eczema gives parents an opportunity to educate daycare providers and teachers about the disease. “Start small in your local community,” recommended Amber Jewett, an eczema advocate living in Carthage, Missouri. Jewett hands out NEA brochures and the Tools for Schools publication to her children’s educators and school nurses.
2. Promote awareness.
Some states like Georgia, Tennessee and Illinois officially recognize Eczema Awareness Month (EAM) in October. “If Eczema Awareness Month isn’t already set up in your state, that’s an easy one,” Jewett said. “You can send a quick email to your state representatives, and then do a follow-up call or email.”
NEA will support these efforts with coaching and the EAM Resolution.
Read about Abigail Llewellyn’s experience getting EAM declared in Louisiana.
3. Craft your ask.
“The first step is to identify your story,” said Cara Ellis, an eczema advocate living in Nashville, Tennessee. “No one can tell your story better than you.” To make your personal experience more meaningful to legislators, tie your story into a current regulatory issue and ask them to take a stand.
To get started on your NEA advocacy journey, learn about NEA’s legislative priorities and positions. And then look up the contact information for your senators and representatives.
4. Pick up the phone.
When you call into your elected official’s office, you will speak to one of their aides. It’s important to be polite and concise. Give the office staff member your name and your zip code so they can verify that you are a constituent. Then, let them know why you’re calling and what you’re asking for.
Ellis started her advocacy efforts by making phone calls to state legislators addressing issues impacting eczema care. “That gave me a little practice before getting face-to-face with elected officials,” she said.
“When we make phone calls, those are documented, and once enough calls or emails have been received on a particular issue, then our legislators are required to do something — whether it’s to begin researching it or to return that call.”
5. Request a meeting.
“Having some sort of face-to-face communication with your elected official or their staff adds more power to your story,” Ellis said. “It’s very easy to request and secure a meeting with your state officials, and then you can work up to your federal officials.” The AADA recommends sending a formal invitation to your lawmaker’s scheduler at least three to four weeks before your proposed meeting.
6. Make a connection.
“Any personal tie-ins are good,” Jewett said. For example, some of her friends had campaigned for her district’s U.S. Representative. Jewett made sure to mention their names when she met with him on Capitol Hill. “That helped build a personal connection,” she said.
7. Don’t give up!
Keep reaching out to your representatives. “So many times, my phone calls have gone unreturned,” Ellis said. “But I will not allow that to deter me from continuing to share my story, because if we stay silent, nothing will change.”