Croissants, coffee, and Capitol Hill
I could smell croissants and coffee as I walked into Mississippi Morning, a constituent breakfast with my senator. I was nervous, but excited. As I shook hands with the senator, I explained why I had traveled all the way from our shared home state of Mississippi to Washington, DC.
Later that day was my first official congressional meeting. I sat in a glass-walled room on Capitol Hill across from two of my senator’s staffers. One of them I had already met at the breakfast, so that made me feel like I had a friend there. It was a busy day in the senator’s office, and out of the corner of my eye, I could see a lot of people coming in and out: lobbyists, advocates, staffers. But I was on a mission, and not even my nerves could distract me.
I was there to ask my senator to support an initiative close to my heart: The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. I work in public health in Mississippi, focused on sexual and reproductive health for young people in underserved communities. I’ve seen how important it is to have resources for fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic as well as other major diseases like malaria and tuberculosis. Everyone deserves good health care and the opportunity to thrive, from Mississippians to people around the globe.
As I shared my passion for these issues, I wasn’t sure how the staffers would respond. I was delighted that they were fully focused in the meeting and told me that the Senator was indeed very interested in supporting public health both locally and globally. They asked questions and took notes while listening carefully to my responses. I felt that we had a lot in common.
After the meeting came to a close, I realized that my favorite part of the experience was being able to draw a personal connection to the issues and share why I cared. They got to feed off my energy and understand my “why.” I felt that with those two meetings, I built a solid relationship with the senator and his staffers that I can continue to develop in the future.
A lot of times we can psych ourselves out because we think we have to know everything, or be super proficient in policy, or be well-connected, but I think that you just have to start where you are with what you have. You might have knowledge. You might have time. You might have resources. Whatever you have, use it. Just get going from wherever you are.
By the end of my day on Capitol Hill, the croissants were long gone. But I knew…I was just getting started.