Thursday, March 31, 2016

25 Years of Impact: Raising Our Voices on Capitol Hill

Our Greater Northwest delegation
Six volunteers from the Greater Northwest Chapter were among the more than 350 MS activists who attended the Society’s 25th Annual Public Policy Conference in Washington, DC this month.

Together, we had the opportunity to celebrate our advocacy accomplishments over the last two-plus decades, including increased access to healthcare, hundreds of millions of dollars invested in MS research, and guaranteed civil rights for people with disabilities. We also learned about current priorities in preparation for meetings with members of Congress—our chance to share our personal stories and to urge support for policies that will address the needs of people affected by multiple sclerosis.

MS activist, Gayle Rundstrom, shares her reflections:
Bill & Anne from Montana ready to visit with their legislators
It was a long flight from Washington State to Washington, DC, which was made even tougher by the daylight savings time change! The conference kicked off on Monday morning with a session for District Activist Leaders—volunteers who are leading the way in their community by building relationships with elected officials in their legislative districts. We discussed our key responsibilities, current policy priorities, and developed our personal stories to tell our legislators.

In the afternoon, you couldn’t help but be excited by walking into the ballroom and seeing 350 people all supporting MS issues! There was energy everywhere! We heard a presentation on the political climate by Charlie Cook, who has served as a political analyst for major news networks. There was also recognition of 2015 elected officials of the year and Volunteer Hall of Fame inductees, including our own Doug Toelle from Alaska! The evening wrapped up with a reception and opportunities to network with MS activists from around the country.

En route to a legislative meeting
Gayle & Jessica arrive at Capitol Hill

On Tuesday, we focused on learning about our priority issues. We started out with a panel discussion about the Advancing Research for Neurological Diseases Act. This legislation, which will help us better understand the size and demographics of the MS population, has already passed the House as part of the 21st Century Cures Act, but still needs to pass the Senate. A second panel discussion was on NIH and CDMRP research funding. This is a big deal because NIH funding, in particular, has not increased in the past 10 years, not even keeping up with inflation. We need both NIH and CDMRP funding to support important medical research for MS and other diseases. Other conference sessions featured top researchers and experts from around the country, and included discussions of the complexities surrounding access to affordable MS medications.

After all of this preparation, we geared up to meet with our legislators. On Wednesday, we traveled together to Capitol Hill and asked our members of Congress to support our issues. It was so wonderful to see people with orange scarves, ties, and socks, walking the halls of Congress and on the streets outside. Our smiles and hand waves were invigorating! There was a lot of energy and enthusiasm, and it was powerful day advocating for people with MS.

Meeting with Senator Cantwell (center) from Washington State
Congratulations to our activists for a great trip and for their successful meetings with members of Congress from Alaska, Montana, and Washington State. Our MS activists at home made a difference, too, by sending thousands of Action Alert messages to their elected officials in support of the issues Gayle mentioned above. Together, we are helping shape federal policies and programs to better meet the needs of people living with MS.

Make sure you’re getting the latest updates and information on opportunities to take action by signing up for our MS Activist Network.

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