I experienced a miracle today. I woke up in my warm, dry home, flipped a switch and the room filled with soft, warm, glorious light. I turned a spigot and fresh, clean, cold water flowed from my tap. I take these things for granted because I have had them all my life. Another miracle that I take for granted, like electricity and clean water, is our democratic form of government. And, like my lights and my water, I rarely give government a second thought. That is, until it stops working. I have been thinking about government a lot lately.
“The Government” has always seemed like an invisible force beyond my ability to control or affect, and I don’t like being at the mercy of something I can’t control. But, because of my involvement with MCCOY’s Public Policy and Advocacy Committee, directed by Mindi Goodpaster, I am learning how advocacy can affect outcomes in the democratic process. I have watched others advocate for themselves, and have done it myself by sending emails and letters, making phone calls, and testifying at the Indiana Senate and House of Representatives. And, my friends, you, too, can become an advocate for what you believe in.
Recently I was proud to watch as members of MCCOY’s Youth Advocacy Committee testified to the Indiana House of Representatives Education Committee regarding HB 1423, “Anti-Bullying”. The students were bright, articulate, organized and impressive as they spoke, and the effect they had on the committee was obvious. Our side carried the day. The bill passed through the House and is now waiting to be heard by the Senate. These young citizens, Caleb Rohadfox, a senior at Decatur Central, Justin Winterrowd, a senior at Ben Davis, Ali Tahir, a senior from Zionsville High School and Shanze Tahir, also a senior at Zionsville High School, testified fearlessly, had their opinions heard, and positively influenced an issue that just last year did not even make it to the floor. Two of MCCOY’s AmeriCorps Vista interns, Danielle Guerin and Anne West, work with the Y.A.C., but Anne told me that the Y.A.C. students did all of the prep work for their testimony on their own. When I think of the enthusiasm and energy these young citizens showed that day I feel more optimistic about the future of our country.
So what about you? Have you ever felt frustrated with the way your government works, or fails to work? What have you done about it? Would you like to do something about it if you could? It is easier than you might think to have a voice in your government. The first step is to find out who is the legislator for your district. Here’s how I did it: type “Indiana General Assembly” into a search engine, then click on the tab that says “Who is your Legislator”. You will be directed to the Indiana General Assembly District Lookup Service. You will then need to fill in the blank with your address, city, and zip code, then you will get a list of your state and federal legislators and their contact information. Or you can call 1-317-232-9400 for the Indiana State Senate, or 1-317-232-9600 for the House, and ask the operator for your state legislator’s information. The next step is up to you. Write an email or a letter, or pick up the phone and make a call. Personally, I like to write out a formal letter, because that helps me organize my thoughts. Then I copy and paste the text of the letter into an email, then send the email, then mail the letter. If it is an issue I feel strongly about, I will call my legislator and speak to someone directly. Always stay respectful, and keep to one topic. If there is more than one topic on my mind, I write a second (or third) letter. I don’t know if any of my efforts will ever have a positive result, but that does not really matter. What does matter is that I have done something to express my thoughts, and that my ideas reached my legislator. One state representative I spoke to told me that he considers one email, letter, or phone call to represent similar sentiments of 2,000 other people about any particular issue. Your congress person, local, state, or federal, want to hear from you.