By Donna Cardillo, RN, MA
Years ago I attended a legislative day sponsored by my state nurses association. I sat in on a session of the house and met my local assemblyperson. I learned about state government and how bills are passed. I realized that day where the real power lies — in the legislature. I also realized that, as a nurse, I have the power to influence the process.
Every nurse can and should learn the ABCs of politics and power as a first step to personal and professional empowerment. Here are several ways to let your voice be heard, get more involved, and make a positive impact.
Develop relationships with your legislators: Contact your assemblyperson, congressperson, and senator by phone or e-mail. Introduce yourself as a nurse in their district and offer to be a resource on nursing and healthcare issues. Mention areas of concern, such as the nursing shortage, universal healthcare coverage, and stem cell research. Find your representatives on your state government page or at http://thomas.loc.gov.
Start a letter-writing campaign: Ask colleagues to e-mail or write letters to legislators about important issues. Lawmakers pay attention when they receive letters from RNs. Since many people shy away from writing because they’re unsure of what to say, give them talking points and a sample letter. Check with your professional associations for talking points, sample letters, and information about letter-writing campaigns already underway. Although it’s less than ideal for multiple people to send form letters, they are better than nothing. Encourage people to change the words of the sample letter you supply without changing the core message.
Work on a campaign: There is plenty of work to be done behind the scenes of local, state, and national campaigns. Consider donating money to a candidate who you endorse and/or volunteering in your local campaign office, making phone calls, or whatever is needed. It is a great learning experience, and you’ll make valuable contacts while directly contributing to the potential success of a candidate you endorse. Also donate time or money to your professional associations’ Political Action Committee (PAC), which works to support candidates.
Join a legislative committee: It’s a great way to learn more and to get involved as little or as much as you wish. Once you join — the American Nurses Association has a legislative committee, and so does every specialty and state nurses association — you’ll work on identifying issues important to nursing and healthcare, get involved in lobbying campaigns, and have an opportunity to meet and develop relationships with legislators. It’s a great way to step out of your comfort zone.
Join the political club that best suits you and your interests. These organizations exist to develop and actively support candidates for elected office, provide a forum for discussion of political issues, and encourage fellowship among politically like-minded individuals. It’s a great networking venue and a wonderful way to gain some visibility for nursing while letting our voice be heard.
Stay abreast of pending legislation: Laws are passed that affect you, your license and practice, insurance coverage, and healthcare delivery in general. Go to http://thomas.loc.gov and use the search term “nurse”; you’ll be amazed at all of the bills currently pending that relate directly or indirectly to nursing.
Participate in the Nurse in Washington Internship : This annual event, sponsored by The Nursing Organizations Alliance, involves three intensive days of education in our nation’s capitol. A nurse needs only to sign up to attend and pay the requisite fee. Scholarships are available.
Join the Nightingale Policy Group: This virtual organization (no dues required, www.policynurses.org) offers a forum for networking, mentoring, advocacy, and education of nurses involved in public policy and those aspiring to that role.
Vote: Women and minorities fought long and hard for the right to vote. Still, many of us take that right for granted and can’t be bothered. Saying, “I don’t like any of the candidates” or “My vote won’t make a difference” shows apathy. Whether male or female, take some time to study the candidates and make an informed choice. Every candidate has a website that lists his or her position on key issues. And since every professional association endorses candidates that support that association’s agenda, find out who your professional association is endorsing and why. Not registered to vote? Contact your county Board of Elections.
Start small and local or jump in with both feet on a national level. Every step you take toward political awareness and activism benefits the entire profession. It is also one more way to impact the greater good and advocate for better healthcare for all.
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