Getting to join EEN at the National Public Health Advocacy Week in Washington, D.C. was an absolutely unforgettable experience. As a college student working for EEN remotely, it was a blessing to meet many of EEN’s staff members in person as we talked with our representatives and senators.
Our coalition was focused on the importance of stricter soot pollution safeguards, along with almost 20 EPA pollution-related standards that are anticipated to come up in the next few months. This was especially pressing, since the PM 2.5 (or soot) pollution public comment period ended on March 28, shortly after our lobby. Furthermore, it is anticipated that Congressional Review Acts on certain EPA standards would also come up soon, putting these standards in danger of being rolled back.
"Going to D.C. and getting to actually meet with [representatives] in person both reiterated the importance of talking with our representatives and made me aware of the privilege of being able to do so."
Growing up, I had always heard about the importance of participating in our government by voting and calling our representatives, but going to D.C. and getting to actually meet with them in person both reiterated the importance of talking with our representatives and made me aware of the privilege of being able to do so.
Day 1 (Wednesday, March 22, 2023)
Having never talked with members of Congress before, I was not sure what to expect as we waited in front of Representative Debbie Dingells’s office Wednesday morning. Our Michigan delegation was the largest one with 12 people, and we completely filled the receiving area. Though we initially met with one of Dingell’s staffers, the Representative herself came out to talk with us about what she has done with standards related to the environment and health, such as promoting standards regulating PFAS in water.
After this, we received a call from Representative Haley Stevens’ office. I was surprised by this last-minute invitation, but we were eager to gather the remaining MI delegation and rush over there, divvying up talking points on the fly. The meeting went very well, and Julia Poirier, Stevens’ Legislative Assistant, expressed her thanks for what we were doing since they do not often hear from people supportive of stronger EPA safeguards against pollution. These safeguards are important because soot is linked to health concerns like asthma, dementia, heart disease, preterm births, and low birth weight. I myself was surprised to learn about these negative impacts – especially since in my family we have a history of asthma, dementia, and preterm births – just a couple months ago.
The atmosphere was much more relaxed than I expected, and I was surprised how many people came to talk with members of Congress, as we saw quite a few other groups waiting to talk with their representatives while we were there. It was encouraging to see so many people taking an active part in their government.
"Well-informed staffers ... play a big role in advising their legislator."
I realized that it was naive of me to assume that the members of Congress did all the research behind their voting and bills themselves; well-informed staffers are so important to the legislative process because they play a big role in advising their legislator. This was evident when we met with Senators Stabenow and Gary Peters’ staffers, Christian Graff and Victoria Houston, respectively, who were interested in what we had to say about our campaign for stronger soot pollution safeguards.
Day 2 (Thursday, March 23, 2023)
Jaime Butler, a fellow communications intern at EEN, and I left early Thursday morning along with MI delegation member Catherine Pokropek to see the cherry blossoms in the Tidal Basin. This was a wonderful opportunity, even if it started drizzling, to see the Washington and Jefferson Memorials from afar and to appreciate the beautiful cherry blossoms in full bloom.
Back at the Capitol, we met with Representative Shri Thanedar, who was very aware of soot pollution problems. We also met with Sarah Vroegop, Representative Hillary Scholten’s Legislative Assistant, to close out our visit with the MI congressional delegation. She was eager to hear what we had to say and articulated Scholten’s goals and stance for her term.
"It was encouraging to see others in our delegation speak up more and share about why stricter pollution standards are important to them. I was impressed by how well we learned to work together."
Throughout these two days, I noticed that as I became more familiar with what we were talking about and acclimated to these offices, I started to speak up more and to add to what others were saying. It was also encouraging to see others in our delegation speak up more and share about why stronger pollution safeguards are important to them. I was impressed by how well we learned to work together; by the end of the first day, we were already able to wordlessly gather leave-behind materials from different people to give to the staffers.
It was encouraging to see so many people who cared about soot pollution voice their concerns and to get to do our part as American citizens in talking with our representatives. Through this advocacy week, I was reminded how privileged I am to be able to talk with my representatives and encouraged to keep doing so.