As part of the Texas Medical Association Leadership College this year, I visited the state Capitol to meet some of my local representatives and their staffers.
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I hadn’t been to the Capitol probably since I was at Girls State (a government-in-action learning program for young women) nearly 20 years ago. Not much has changed. The grandeur of the architecture. The billiard-green carpet in the Senate chamber. The unimaginable underrepresentation of women and minorities in the old black-and-white photographs of sessions bygone (but that’s for a different blog post…).
As I was walking up one of the ornately engraved staircases, I commented to my friend about how I almost didn’t feel like I belonged there, like I was a child sneaking into a fancy castle, a place for grown-ups and rich people. And he told me, “This is YOUR house! Just as much as it is anyone else’s.”
How many of us feel like we don’t really belong among “those people?” People who are making decisions that affect health care (and myriad other issues) for everyday Texans? Even as a doctor (perhaps because I am a doctor), I felt horribly out of my element. But the beauty of our democracy is that, at its core, it is still a rule of the people, all people, represented by those we entrust to be our voice in those hallowed chambers.
You. Anyone. You can be that voice. With every word, with every visit, and with every vote.
Every word — did you know that every call you make to a representative is logged? Tabulated? And given to the representative? It is!! If you have an opinion on a current legislative issue, or have an idea of your own, reach out! The representative’s staff read, listen, and often respond to your comments. Representatives are trying to poll their constituents to figure out where they should vote on an issue, and what they should stand for. If they don’t hear from you, they can’t represent your ideas!
Every visit — did you know you can walk into the Capitol and visit any office? Meet with the staff or even the representative? You can!! It’s not just for attorneys, or lobbyists, or rich people. Sit down with the staffers, develop a relationship, be their go-to expert on your field of study or interest. Pro-tip: If you're part of a group with some well-thought-out ideas, you’re more likely to score an appointment with the representative personally (photo-op!) Also, remember that the Texas legislative session takes place for 140 days every odd year (like 2017, 2019). So target those visits during downtime, like in even-numbered years (NOW), when elections are on the horizon. Which brings me to …
Every vote — did you know that your vote counts the same as mine? As much as the governor’s? As much as that guy whose political opinions you despise? It does!! Representatives are there because we voted them there. Love what Rep. Jane Doe did for health care? Convince your friends to reelect her! Did Rep. D. Vader not listen to any of your concerns when you called his office? Vote for someone else and tell your friends why you did. Not on Facebook. In real life.
My visit to the Capitol was an eye-opening opportunity for me to re-engage with the legislative process, one I felt far too removed from for many years. That opportunity is there for you, too. Come walk that staircase with us, in OUR house. We’re ready to go.
Erika Munch, MD, is an obstetrician-gynecologist, reproductive endocrinologist, and infertility specialist in San Antonio.