Amy Johnson, now age 18, of Kansas City, Missouri, is the American Diabetes Association's 2010 National Youth Advocate — which has got to be very exciting for any young person. She's spending this year traveling around the country giving talks to encourage youth and adults alike "to get involved in the fight against diabetes." The ADA even set up a blog for her.
I asked Amy to talk about what we all can and should do to be better advocates for diabetes. She gives some impassioned advice, of which my favorite quote (not necessarily representative) is the title of this post.
A Guest Post by Amy Johnson, ADA National Youth Advocate
Control. It's what I struggle with daily as a person with diabetes to keep my once finely tuned blood sugars within a 'normal' range. Although my normal will probably never be what it was before I was diagnosed at the age of 12, I focus now on regulating what I can to achieve the best possible control. If anything, dealing with diabetes has empowered me and I try and use my voice daily to tell others how they can make a difference.
Utilizing your voice — releasing that innermost passion you have — is something that can be done any time of the year, without any special title or privilege, and by anyone with a cause. Being an advocate for diabetes is a personal calling of mine and of many, who want to preserve their rights, campaign for increased diabetes-related allocations, and simply improve the daily struggles of those living with and affected by diabetes.
Fortunate as I may be to have landed the position as the American Diabetes Association's 2010 National Youth Advocate, the true seeds of change are planted by those who make advocating for diabetes as daily an occurrence as bolusing for breakfast. The American Diabetes Association chose me as the National Youth Advocate is to meet with policy makers, promote increased funding for diabetes research and prevention, and reach out to young people and adults to encourage them to become involved in the fight to Stop Diabetes. Be it through advocating for menu labeling in school cafeterias, writing heartfelt and determined letters to the editor of your local newspaper, or even 'outing' yourself as a person with diabetes as you wear your pump proudly by your side, the job of an advocate is something that only requires a progressive heart and a strong belief in one's power to create change.
That said, those who create the most change in our country today are the people who consistently knock, even pound, at the doors of our representatives. To make your efforts visiting legislators effective, you must be prepared.
Know your objectives and why you're fighting so hard. That burning desire you have inside to fight for diabetes research funds or a vote on an important bill needs to surface and be effectively conveyed to your congressperson. So, bring your notes and resources. Have your 'ask,' or what you want to accomplish in the meeting (be it the start of a working relationship, a vote, etc.) at the ready. Give the congressperson and/or staff members resources to contact you and find out more about your cause. Bring a picture of yourself (or your child) pre and post diagnosis to show how much better you look when your diabetes is under control. Remind everyone that you're fighting to stay healthy and happy.
Realize that many times the congressperson will not be meeting directly with you. The staff and legislative aides are extremely important and often times the legislator gives great weight to the notes they take and the results of their meetings, as if the congressperson had personally met with you.
If you really want to take your visit to the next step and make the greatest impression possible, know that the squeaky wheel gets the grease! Those who consistently fight and pound at the door (not literally!) of their senators and representatives are those who make their voices heard and get the change they desire.
You can tell your story, so you can make a difference.