I know a lot of people say they don’t like to “talk politics.” I was once one of them. I was informed, I cared, and I voted, but talking about politics just seemed too icky.
So I surprised myself a little when I decided to begin visibly and vocally engaging in politics. Aside from a term on middle school student council (one year as president, thankyouverymuch), it wasn’t something I saw in my future. I’m a graphic designer who loves helping people communicate but doesn’t particularly like conflict. I design, teach, and try to help create a more beautiful world, work which has always fulfilled me.
Until, suddenly, it didn’t seem like enough. A little over a year ago, the political powers-that-be began to overtly threaten my disabled son Simon’s health care, education, and civil rights. Our country had changed in a scary way. I lost the privilege of sitting on the sidelines believing everything would be “okay.” A privilege I’m sorry to say I’d taken for granted the previous 8 years.
I do have some prior experience diving headfirst into dark water, ever since a doctor told me there was something “very wrong” with my baby's brain. Any parent of a medically complex child could tell you some variation of the same story: their baby was sick and the pediatrician couldn’t help, so they sought out specialist after expert specialist. Farther and deeper they searched until they found someone with answers. Perhaps, like me, they even found themselves plunging into previously unfathomable depths (shout out to NIH Undiagnosed Diseases Network!). But ultimately, on this voyage we each discover that there’s no one better than ourselves to navigate these unchartered waters with our children.
One day you realize the expert you’ve been waiting for is you.
You read the wonky medical journals and memorize the vocabulary. You even train the residents about your child's conditions (OMG so YOUNG!). You learn how to separate fact from BS and you refine your advocacy – polite but very firm – until you have just enough fire glinting in your eyes for folks to know not to cross you. You will get what your child needs whatever it takes.
It turns out those skills are exactly what you need to be an effective political activist.
Instead of medical journals, you read equally wonky policy articles and memorize some new vocabulary (bad news: still lots of acronyms, good news: less Latin!). You train staffers (OMG why are they all so young?), separate fact from BS, and advocate with the same firm, fiery, politeness. You will get what your child needs whatever it takes.
It also turns out that both physicians and politicians are just people you need to communicate with.
Sometimes the communication is icky. Some people can’t, or won’t, help you. Some will lie to you. Others will tell you like it is, but admit they don’t actually care much.
But, sometimes, it isn’t.
Sometimes, people will listen, tell you like it is, care, and help you. You’ll see the fire in your eyes reflected in their own. You’ll learn they’ve been fighting for you all along and it’s stories like yours that inspire them.
Our stories are powerful. These are our truths which we hold to be self-evident. The love of a parent for a child; of an American for justice, freedom, and equality. It’s not a perfect union, but a work in progress we must all participate in.
Sometimes, people cry with you. The first Senator I visited, Debbie Stabenow from Michigan, had tears in her eyes as she took my hand to tell me she was so happy to meet us, but so sorry we were there because our government is threatening our vulnerable children.
Sometimes, people race to be at your side, the way Senator Wyden ran to meet us the cold, rainy night of the “People’s Filibuster” of the GOP Tax Bill.
Sometimes, people give you hope. I’ll never forget shaking Senator McCain’s hand and thanking him for his vote against the repeal of our health care. His face was bruised from battling cancer but his gaze was strong and steady as he told us he cared about us. He said he prays for our families every day, and we pray for him and his.
Sometimes, people embrace you. Senators Schumer, Casey, Booker, Warren, Duckworth, Harris, Bennet, Cortez Masto, Hirono, Murray, Reed, Kaine, Murphy, Hassan (whose own son has cerebral palsy just like mine), Warner, Van Hollen, Cardin, Schatz, Baldwin, Gillibrand...have literally embraced our kids. (If you noticed a blue tint… well, friends, unfortunately that’s just how it is right now. Though not from lack of effort on our part, I promise. Yes, we will keep trying.) These legislators fight for our “Little Lobbyists” because as constituents they are their children, too.
Sometimes, people empower you. Leader Pelosi has invited me and many other parents to tell our stories at her press conferences. She carried our children’s names with her into the House of Representatives. My family’s story is now part of the permanent Congressional record. She even warned her colleagues not to “trip on Simon’s wheelchair” as they try to get between a special needs mother and the care her child requires. That’s on the record, too.
Leader Pelosi needed no explanation, premise, or pitch when it came to protecting our kids. She’s championed our children with complex medical needs and disabilities in every way she can. She’s a mother and a grandmother. To me, she demonstrates the impact of women in office -- they understand and vote for what our families need. Leader Pelosi knows our children and they know her, not as a political powerhouse, just as one more badass mama who loves them and protects them.
So, to all my fellow badass mamas (and papas) of kids with complex medical needs and disabilities who are already fighting and wondering what more they can possibly do, I see you. I know you’re the captain of a ship on choppy seas, made worse by the tempest our government’s created. It is terrifying to think of weathering this storm alone. So don’t.
There’s a light in this lighthouse and people who will row to shore with you. Just one year ago, we came together as Little Lobbyists, and we’re continuing to grow our fleet. Families like ours are all over this country – connecting, calling, writing, showing up. We learn, share, and communicate with each other and our legislators so our children will have the more just and beautiful future they deserve.
You already have all the skills you need. You’re the one we’ve been waiting for. Join us.
There are many ways to support Little Lobbyists and get involved!
If you are the parent or guardian of a child with complex medical needs and/or disabilities, share your story with us here. If you would like to learn more and stay in touch, connect with us here. If you would like to donate to help us continue our work, please click here.