On July 11th, 2012, between 11am and 1pm, Sidney Katz, Gary Rubin, Gillian Speiser and Kirsten Schenk from the NAMPWD, attended the Governmental Affairs Ambassador Program (GAAP) training at The New Jersey State Arc in Middlesex county. The self-advocates were joined by other NJ self-advocates to discuss ways in which each person could individually impact their local and state legislature. The participants were knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the potential to affect change within their local government.
The GAAP training initiated with an open discussion regarding the way in which policies and laws are created and then passed. The veteran self-advocates, Sid and Gary, were eager to share their knowledge regarding the legislative process with the group of ambassadors. The training then commenced into the identification of each ambassador’s local representative and ways in which the DD community could achieve their goal of direct action, via meeting with the decision makers.
After the overview, the ambassadors were taught the path to direct action and participation in policy making. The main points touched on in the training were the paths towards direct action. Systematic, political, legal and media outlets were all highlighted as powerful processes in which our voices can be heard. Ambassadors openly discussed the ways in which media has been used in the past to leverage responses from politicians. The ambassadors noticed the effectiveness of the media in implementing political change and enthusiastically shared ideas as to how the community can capture the media’s attention in the future.
Likewise, the training deconstructed the “do’s and don’ts” of writing a letter to your representative. The training covered the necessity of using effective language and properly structuring the letter to ensure that the demands of all constituents are heard. Ambassadors offered tips from their experiences writing to their representatives and communicated the necessity of writing to our representatives in the legislative process.
The training concluded with lunch in which ambassadors informally chatted about their concerns for the upcoming elections, as well as the challenges they’ve faced in contacting their representatives. The room in which the conference was held was filled with an aura of unity in affecting change within the government. The biggest take away from the GAAP conference? Our voices can be heard, and our unity only strengthens our voice in affecting change.