Get it… because we heal… and we are HEALS… no, it’s ok, backing up.
This is long. Really long. #sorrynotsorry #Ijustliketowritealot #myschoolpapersarealwaystoolong
Almost a year ago, I applied to a scholars program that is a collaboration between MSU, National Association of Social Workers (NASW), Council of Social Work Education (CSWE, the accrediting body for social work curriculum), and 7 other universities around the country. HEALS stands for Health, Education, Advocacy, and Leadership Scholars. Along with a helpful scholarship, the 8 participants from MSU were 6 MSW students and 2 BSW students who were focusing on social work in health care, and us MSW students also had to be on the schools’ Social Work in Healthcare certificate track.
Being in this group has added an extra layer of experience and practice to my MSW education, and I am SO grateful I am able to be part of this program. Fun story, I was like dying sick of the flu when the application was due and totally forgot about the deadline, I emailed the professor in charge with a copy of my doctor’s note and asked for 24 hours to complete it, and she said yes (now after taking a class with her and interacting with her at HEALS meetings, I am way less surprised she said yes because she’s pretty laid back). I panic-emailed my supervisors and a professor for letters of reference, rambled off an essay that referenced a story from M*A*S*H (I think Michelle edited it for me), and just a few weeks later, I was in! Whew.
So along with being chosen for field placements that require some previous professional experience and developing skills in health care settings, we’ve been meeting for networking groups, reading extra articles etc, and learning some additional skills. The major goal of the HEALS program is the trip to Washington DC. Our trip was scheduled for March, that way we would be going after the winners of the 2016 elections would be in office. I posted a lot of pictures on Facebook and a little bit of commentary of what we were doing, so I’ll just give a quick summary of our activities and a few pictures.
Before the trip, we had several webinars with the NASW and CSWE to prepare for advocacy meetings in DC, covered some topics that were likely to come up in meetings, some general expectations, etc. In my group, I was responsible for contacting Senator Stabenow’s office and setting up a meeting. This turned out to be no problem at all and I probably had the easiest experience, ha. Within two days, a friendly staffer had confirmed a meeting with me and a few others from our group for one of the days we’d be in DC. Another person was in charge of Senator Peter’s office, and another for Rep Bishop, and a couple others visited their rep from their home district around Saginaw. Spoiler, we didn’t get to meet with Peter’s office, or Bishops, because they are both grumpy men? Don’t want to interact with their constituents? Are ignoring their oath? Instruct their staff not to do meetings? Who knows. BUT one of my group members ended up being ON THE SAME PLANE as Peters on the way to DC, in the seat RIGHT BEHIND HIM, and successfully spent the hour+ flight pestering him, politely, with handouts of our info, business cards, and requests to meet with his office, despite him reportedly trying to ignore her by staring at his phone and his body guard repeatedly trying to ignore her (good job Chelsea!).
We had a travel stipend as part of our scholarship and we had two nights in the hotel paid for, so we decided to arrive really early on Monday so we could sightsee.
Monday, 2:50am, aka sometime before the buttcrack of dawn: I rolled out of bed already in the clothes I was going to travel in, threw my packed suitcase in the car, and took the 4am Michigan Flyer bus to the Detroit airport (gotta get my Delta miles, yo).
I arrived around 9am and met up with classmates arriving around the same time. We did the hotel thing and set off. Thankfully I knew from my two brief previous trips that the National Mall is unexpectedly huge and boring, so I was prepared to head straight to the National Art Gallery. Arted, had lunch with some of my group, met up with the rest to frolic around Georgetown. Saw cute old buildings, had some wine, headed back to the hotel where our MSU group had dinner together and talked about last minute things for our advocacy events the next couple of days. We also bumped into some of the other 40-some scholars around the hotel and creeped on them via the packets of bios we had been emailed :p
Tuesday 5:50am: Omg I’m so tired but I said I would run the Mall and dangit Imma do it. 5 miles, one round trip to the Washington Monunument, and almost an hour later, I’ve completed one of the busiest Strava routes in the country. Please let there be breakfast.
Spent the whole day at the NASW national headquarters. Lots of info talks, lots of presentations, lots of networking, meeting various lobbyists and legislative people, some more prep for the second day’s advocacy efforts.
Tuesday evening: The mom of one of my classmates is an oncology pharm rep and was in DC for work during the same week. She offered to take us out to dinner on her company’s tab. Uhhh yes please. We had drinks at the hotel and then went to BLT Steakhouse. Apparently this is Michelle Obama’s favorite restaurant in DC. My dinner stipend would not have bought a single entrée. I’m pretty sure the final tab could have paid my monthly mortgage twice. It was ridiculous and delicious and over the top, but it was a fun experience but will definitely never be the norm for my dining habits!
Wednesday 6am or something ugh I want to sleep forever in this hotel bed. I dragged myself out for a 30 minute run/walk around the cute neighborhood behind the hotel. The MSU group would be leaving on various flights that evening so most of us checked out and left our luggage at the hotel.
Met for a few short things at NASW then walked down the street to The Hill, which is apparently how you’re allowed to refer to it if you’ve actually done something in the buildings.
Did you know it’s actually really easy to meet with your legislator’s office??? We had spent weeks on webinars and emails and meetings planning our talking points. You can seriously just walk through the metal detector, follow the directory to the office you’re looking for, and say “hey I want to talk about this thing, is there anyone available?” If a staffer is available, they’ll meet with you; if not, the desk staff will take whatever info you want to leave behind and give you the business card of the staffer who will be reviewing it. Since we had a scheduled meeting, we were able to sit down with Lorenzo in Stabenow’s office. Stabenow is also an MSW and is usually very much on the liberal side of things, so we felt like we didn’t even really need to be there much because she was already supporting what we came to talk about, but it was great to discuss it with Lorenzo.
We had gotten the run around from Peter’s office, so left our handouts of info we’d like them to review and got business cards to follow up. We wandered to Elizabeth Warren’s and Bernie Sander’s offices for fun, where we tried to chase Bernie down a hallway before he disappeared into a side door (we may have stood outside that door for 20 minutes in case he needed more coffee or something…)
Then – this is where it gets even more awesome and I’m totally aware I’m writing a novel – my little group of 4 of us (the other MSU students were across the way in the House offices building) decided to go to the Capitol itself. We went back to Peter’s office to get passes in (you have to get passes from your legislator’s office to get into the Capitol building), and walked around all the road blocks to the visitor entrance. I was a little surprised when I saw all the security because the office buildings were so easy to get into, but I guess there’s also lots of art etc in the Capitol building. I mean, the House and Senate chambers are in there too, but if someone wanted to do any damage it would be way easier to get closer to their offices (shrug. I feel like this in an obvious observation and not aiding and abetting in any way!). Ok ready for more awesome: we already knew the Affordable Care Act was in the House getting all marked up that week, which was great timing for the trip. But we also knew that Wednesday March 8 was International Women’s Day, and an Action Day from the Women’s March leaders with an instruction to wear red to support women’s rights. So that’s why we are all in red for our pictures, and there were SO MANY PEOPLE IN RED. We had ALSO heard that the Democratic legislators were planning on staging a walk-out at noon in support of the day. We watched the House for about 20 minutes, it was not that exciting, only about 50 people there, until one of the lady Reps approached the podium and began speaking about women’s day. We scampered out, de-securitied (it takes almost as long to get out as getting in), and skedaddled around the back of the building where protest crowds and media were gathering. It was about 65 degrees, beautiful blue skies, a crowd of several hundred people in red with more funny women’s rights signs, and then down the stairs of the Capitol building walk about 2 dozen people, mostly women legislators in red, and some men in various red ties or shirts, to the set up of media microphones. It was MAGICAL. I guess it was technically democratic and stuff, but it was mostly magic, and a really powerful moment. It was even better than the Women’s March.
We were able to watch the speeches for about 30 minutes before we needed to be over the House office buildings for a final group lunch with all the HEALS scholars. This is where we took all the pictures around a House podium that happened to be in the conference room 😉 This is also where we heard the second story of heroic efforts by our group:
Because no one was able to get a meeting with Rep Bishop’s office, they expected to wait in the office for a while and leave info if no staff were able to meet. Instead of that, they found Bishop in the hallway, and CORNERED HIM IN AN ELEVATOR. He was reportedly almost as avoidy as Peters, but there’s no way to look away when someone is talking to you in an elevator, so they were able to successfully go through some talking points and even took a picture with him. They walked with him to his office and were able to hand over the remainder of their info and do the business card swap. He tried/tricked them into being invited to a committee meeting, but when they attempted to go, there was too much security to get in, and they are pretty sure that’s what he used to shake them off. Sneaky.
OK almost done, for real. After lunch and some debriefing, discussions of what we wanted to do when we returned home to keep some momentum going (I’m email buddies with ol’ Lorenzo from Stabenow’s office now), people started to disperse for flights home. I chose a late evening flight for the same reason as arriving early, so those of us with time Ubered over to the White House!
It was another great moment to be able to visit the White House, see where so much history has also happened, and see the landmarks around the city, regardless of who happens to be in the White House sometimes. Some of the office aides we had talked to had acknowledged that DC has felt different since November, and one visible way to see this is the extra barriers set up around the White House. If you’ve been there, or have seen other people’s pictures, you’ll see that usually people can take pictures right by the fence. Currently, there are waist-high barriers and fences about two car-lengths in front of the main fence, with some carts, cars, and armed police/Secret Service. There weren’t so many to be frightening, but enough to be like “this is weird and probably not normal?” We were still able to take pictures, then wandered to some tourist stores and a coffeeshop. Sadly, our time was coming to an end, and we were all exhausted – remember this was Wednesday afternoon and this had all happened since only Monday morning!
I had the same flight as a classmate, so we went to the airport together to have dinner, and then we bonded when I apparently napped on her shoulder during the entire flight 🙂
Overall, obviously this was an amazing experience. Takeaways: keep chatting up Lorenzo to give them on-the-ground updates of issues we discussed, plan some extra time anytime I’m in DC to go to the Senate/Rep office buildings for future meetings, next time visit the African American or American Indian museum, and whoever is in Lansing after graduation is going to get together to set up meetings with the State legislators as well. I’m technically on the micro track (clinical level), but I’ve often been interested in the macro-level skills and admin projects that social workers are often involved in, so even in my career in the near future as a clinical level social worker, I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to keep up some of these efforts to feel like I’m truly part of a process and a difference.