On Wednesday, March 22nd, I and 14 other Minnesotans attending the Disability Policy Seminar made the rounds to the D.C. offices of Minnesota’s eight U.S. House members and two U.S. Senators.  Going from one congressional office to the next, I was reminded of your impact as grassroots advocates.

Our morning began with “Breakfast with Al.”  Each Wednesday, Senator Al Franken greets visitors from our state, serves Mahnomen porridge made with wild rice from Minnesota’s White Earth Reservation, and gives an update on the week in Congress.  We had already sent Sen. Franken’s staff stories about the benefits of the Affordable Care and Medicaid.  I remembered that before the seminar, his St. Paul office said he would use one of those stories in speeches on the Senate floor or in remarks at committee hearings.  After breakfast, several in our group met with his aide who covers disability issues and presented more powerful testimonies that built on ones you had given us.  “I was touched by their stories,” the aide said to me in a follow-up e-mail.

We also presented written stories to Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s aide on disability issues; she stressed how important they were to the Senator’s work.  “No matter what issue we’re working on here,” she said, “the Senator continually asks, ‘Where is the human side?  Give me stories.’ ”  Kim Keprios and Barb Kleist, advocates from The Arc Greater Twin Cities, then told how Medicaid makes life possible in the community for their brothers who have disabilities; J.D. Modrynski, a staff member from Lakeville-based Kota Connections, shared Medicaid successes stories from people he serves.

Later, six of us met for 30 minutes with Rep. Tom Emmer’s legislative director.  For two-thirds of that meeting, J.D. and his colleague, Chelsie Gibbs, talked in detail about the lifeline that Medicaid provides for people they serve, and parent Abdi Hussein explained how Medicaid’s supports make it possible to raise his son with autism at home.  The staff member listened intently, and his reactions suggested to me that we were sharing information and experiences that he hadn’t heard before.

Last Friday, the U.S. House leadership pulled their harmful health care bill because it didn’t have the votes to pass.  The next day at a St. Paul town hall meeting, Rep. Betty McCollum, Minnesota’s Fourth District Representative, cited the value of your grassroots engagement.  “The credit for this victory belongs to you — to the citizens…millions and millions of citizens,” she said.  “…Their engagement, their mobilization, and their determination created an avalanche of opposition to [the] health care bill.”  Keep those stories, phone calls, and e-mails coming!

Mike Gude, The Arc Minnesota Communications Director