MORE HILLS TO EXPLORE
by Melanie Brunson

In February, a number of ACB members traveled to Washington, D.C. for ACBís annual legislative seminar. As usual, this event concluded with a visit to Capitol Hill, where participants discussed our legislative agenda with members of Congress or their staffers. We are always tempted to evaluate the success of such events based upon the comments of participants at the time, and their reactions to the reception they receive in Congressional offices. Although these measures of success are certainly useful, it seems to me that theyíre not the best measure of our legislative success. Why? Because this session of Congress is just beginning. There is still a great deal of business for folks in our nationís capital to do, and still a huge number of other groups for them to meet with. What will ultimately determine whether this yearís legislative advocacy efforts are successful is not the number of meetings weíve had here in Washington, but whether, as a result of contact with ACB members, members of Congress take actions that advance our agenda. I am very pleased to report that some have already done so. Since our legislative seminar, the number of co-sponsors for H.R. 734, the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, has increased significantly. However, more are needed if we actually want to get the bill passed by Congress.

Therefore, our work is just beginning. If we want to call this year successful, we need to stay in touch with those legislators and staffers we met with in February, until they take a position on the issues we presented to them. In short, Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. is not the only hill people must explore. There are Congressional offices in communities all over this country, communities where ACB members and readers of "The Braille Forum" live. Staffers in those offices should know who those ACB members and friends are, and should be familiar with the legislative issues of concern to the organization they belong to.

Even if you didnít attend the meetings in Washington, D.C., you can contact your representativeís local office and encourage the representative to co-sponsor legislation. If youíve never actually spoken to the local office staff, a phone call will suffice. Then, you might want to set up a meeting. If youíre able to attend a town hall meeting where the representative speaks and answers questions, thatís even better. Many members hold such events in their home districts regularly. There are other ways to get in touch with them as well, but the bottom line is that you donít have to be in Washington in order to influence what Congress does.

Thomas P. "Tip" OíNeill, who was the speaker of the House for many years, is remembered for his assertion that, ďAll politics is local.Ē This is a truer observation than many around the Washington scene would like you to think. Members of Congress want to hear from their constituents. ACB needs them to hear from their constituents, especially those who care about the quality of life for people around this country who are blind or visually impaired.

If you have already established contact with your Congressional office, thank you, and keep it up. If you have not yet done so, please make that call, send that e-mail, or just drop by the local office. If you need information about what to say, we can help. There is information about pending legislation on both our telephone system and our web site, under the heading Washington Connection. If thatís not enough, call the office. We can send you copies of the information that was distributed at this yearís legislative seminar, and you can get a wealth of information from Eric Bridges, ACBís director of advocacy and governmental affairs.

If we are to advance our legislative agenda, we need your help. Visiting Capitol Hill in Washington on one day a year is not enough. Letís explore those other avenues all around the country by which we can influence the legislative process, and letís visit them too, and keep doing so until they lead to action back on that hill in Washington that advances our agenda.


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