I have never been the type of person to be on student government or run for positions that required any sort of political understanding. Needless to say my knowledge about what we would be doing at National Lobby Day in Washington D.C. was at a minimum. I was chosen to go and figured that I would take more of a backseat approach, learning what it was like to be involved with ASDA at the national level while watching the experts do the lobbying, but I would do much more than that.
Monday was our first day in D.C., and it was spent entirely at the hotel. We had lectures, meetings, and breakout sessions that were all meant to be informative and help us in our lobbying efforts the next day. The two specific bills that we would be lobbying for were the H.R. 539: Dental Health Act and the H.R. 649: Student Loan Refinancing Act. H.R. 539 would allow programs like the Mission of Mercy (MOM) and Give Kids a Smile access to readily available funds ($15 million) from the CDC that they were previously not able to apply for. H.R. 649 would allow students to refinance their loans in the future if the federal student loan interest rate were to dip below what they had previously borrowed it for.
The morning was a mix of presentations on the details of both of these bills, what to focus on when speaking to legislators, and some presentations by different sponsors. We broke for lunch, where I had the opportunity to sit and eat with students from the University of New York at Buffalo along with the president of the ADA, Dr. Feinberg. Our afternoon session consisted of more presentations, mock meetings with legislators, and concluded with speeches by two dentists (now state representatives) from Texas. With that we broke for the day and were on our own. We met briefly as a group to discuss our tactics when meeting with legislators the following day, and then we were off to dinner.
The next day was an early one, with the buses scheduled to leave at 7:15am and our first meeting at 8:30. We had a busy day planned with seven meetings in all, the last one coming at three in the afternoon. Our first meeting was with Cory Gardner’s office, a senator from Colorado. We spoke with his aid for a bit about the two bills that we were advocating for. He was very receptive to what we had to say and the meeting was more relaxed than I expected, which reminded me of most of my dental school interviews; nervous at first, but merely conversational once I had settled in. We were lucky enough to have Cory Gardner stop in for a few minutes and hear what we had to say, even telling us about his experiences with COMOM. The first meeting of the day went really well, and we were off to a good start in our lobbying efforts.
Since we felt that having all seven of us in each meeting was a bit of overkill, we decided to approach the rest of the meetings as smaller groups, mostly consisting of three or four people. Another reason for this approach was that we were constantly walking the whole day, from house to the senate, senate to the house: it was a workout to say the least. Splitting into groups allowed us more time between meetings to make sure we were not late. We had six meetings scheduled for the rest of the day: a senator from Colorado, two senators from New Mexico, and three representatives from Colorado. Of these six remaining meetings, five of them went really well while one seemed like a complete disaster. All in all it seemed to be a pretty successful day that ended around 3:30 and with us heading straight to the airport from the senate building, back on a plane to Denver a mere 52 hours after we had arrived.
If you’ve read this far and are thinking to yourself, “this sounds like too much work, I’d want to at least do some exploring of D.C.”, you probably aren’t friends with me on ‘Snapchat’. The Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, and the National Museum of American History: these were just a few of the sites we got to see in our limited time in Washington. If you do know me personally then you probably saw most of these as low quality pictures from around D.C., showing just how much fun I got to have along with how much I learned while at National Lobby Day. This is something I hope to convey to you if you haven’t been involved much with ASDA, and it doesn’t have to be at the national level, nor a huge commitment. I encourage you to get involved in local events because they are a great networking experience, informative, and fun! All I know is that I would not have done it any differently and I’m so thankful to have been able to go.