Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Activism can change the world

(Jessica Picard/ Daily Collegian)

Last week, I had the pleasure of joining the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) for three days in Washington D.C. at their yearly Public Policy Conference. After two days of panels, speeches and networking, we descended on Capitol Hill to visit with congresspeople and aides.

MS is an autoimmune disease in which your body attacks its own central nervous system. It can lead to blindness, immobility and numbness among a plethora of other symptoms. There is no known cure and for those with progressive MS, no current drug to slow the worsening of the disease. The cause of the illness is unknown.

For the NMSS it was a particularly crucial week to advocate in D.C.; the looming vote on the American Health Care Act was of great importance for every medical society. Almost all of them advocated against it. In the end, the bill failed, a gigantic victory for NMSS, but advocacy never ends. NMSS had three other major requests for elected officials, which are still very much in limbo. The budget for fiscal year 2018 is the next big fight.

During my time in D.C. I only met with one congressperson, Republican representative John Katko from the 24th district of New York, and several aides for others, most of who supported our positions. I was lucky to get the good meetings.

Maybe I personally didn’t swing the vote for the American Health Care Act, the NMSS probably didn’t either, but together we were part of a movement. Thousands of Americans across the country called, visited and wrote to elected officials reminding them how the Affordable Care Act saved their lives, kept them afloat, and gave them medical opportunities they never would have dreamed of. Advocacy organizations and non-profits, like the NMSS, spearheaded efforts to destroy the bill in D.C. by meeting with elected officials and humanizing the abstract idea of health care to those who may have never faced devastating diseases. Friday night, with the bill officially dead, I was able to experience the warmth of knowing I had been one small cog in something great – something unifying. It was truly an incredible and memorable experience.

It’s also an experience few get to have, or probably more accurately, have thought of having. Nonprofits run on volunteers; they always need more.  And, as far as I can tell, almost everyone has some sort of issue they are passionate about. Whether it be animal rights (I ran into some PETA advocates in D.C.) or internet privacy, everyone has their pet issue, or 20 pet issues depending on the person. There is always something that can be done to help; something as simple as calling your local representative or as in-depth of learning about National Institute of Health funding at a conference. Doing either qualifies you as an activist, the Massachusetts Daily Collegian’s theme for this week, but one can be so much more rewarding than the other.

If you have that pet issue you’re really passionate about, get involved. Not everyone is going to get to go to Capitol Hill (I was lucky to score my trip) but state governments across the country can make tremendous changes, good and bad, in people’s lives. Each state has its own senators and representatives who work in a similar fashion to the federal government, only with a governor instead of a president. Advocacy organizations need people for preparing, organizing, and, yes, going on these visits. It could be you.

There is nothing more American than being involved in government. We invented modern democracy by boldly demanding fair representation in government, or else. But representation doesn’t always go far enough. Elected officials, even with their army of aides, can’t know everything; they can’t see every side of an issue, hear every new idea, or memorize the specific needs of every population. Those who get ahead tend to be the ones who get their message in front of the right people over and over again. In our current system, corporations and conglomerates are dominating, but that can change as quickly as it started. Elected officials seeing activists at their office door day after day can change the tide.

I’m graduating in May, many of you are too. Finally, we’ll have our chance to apply all we’ve learned in a professional environment. But, maybe equally as importantly, our chance to apply our knowledge to something we care about – something we want to do or change. Let’s take our chance. Let’s become activists. Let’s change the world.

Evan Gaudette is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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