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SfN Hill Day 2019!

Amanda Labuza

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Amanda Labuza

This time last week I was lying on my bed begging my feet to stop hurting. I don’t have a fitbit, I had heard my group over 8,000 steps before lunch. Even the comfortable flats are no match for walking all over the U.S. Capitol for SfN’s annual Hill Day. But it was well worth the pain.

In case you missed our more than 250 #SfNHillDay posts (some of which were mine and they were great!) March 7th was the Hill Day. It is a day when SfN members from around the world come to the U.S. Capitol and advocate for neuroscience. Hundreds more participate from home through contacting their representative’s offices, local advocacy programs, etc. This year our message to Congress included asking for a $2 billion increase to the NIH budget, the release of $500 million to the BRAIN Initiative, $900 billion to NSF, a maintenance of regular order (government talk for passing budgets on time), and asking them to join the Neuroscience Caucus in the House or the NIH Caucus in the Senate.

Ready for some impressive numbers? A total of 48 society members attended Hill Day in Washington, D.C. this year visited 83 Congressional Offices, 2 Congressional Committees, and dropped off materials at an additional 17 offices. I didn’t even know we could meet with committees. While most meetings were held with the very powerful and important staff members, SfN got to meet with 15 members of Congress directly! Society members came to represent 25 states and 5 countries including Mexico. Together the #NeuroAdvocates of Hill Day visited 20% of Congress in one day! I told you the numbers were impressive!

Personally, this was my third year attending. I arrived Wednesday night to receive training with the 48 other SfN members who had volunteered this year and learned not only what we would be asking from Congress, but tips on effective ways to advocate. They even provided a list of ways to avoid trick questions. I met the other members of my group I’d be advocating with and rehearsed elevator pitches that were jargon free. I was prepared as I could be for what Thursday would bring.

The next morning, I woke up before the sun so we could depart from our hotel, be on the Hill, and through security before 8:30AM. While I heard Diane Lipscombe and Rep. Earl Blumenauer gave an amazing introduction, I’ll have to rewatch it because my group had to leave early for our first of 7 meetings planned that day.

Throughout the day we met with legislative aids to discuss the importance of funding basic science, provided anecdotes, and deliver information sheets on the economic benefits NIH provides to the nation and each state. We were lucky to have so many productive and positive meetings.

In between two meetings @clantz noticed Tim Kaine walking by and grabbed a quick picture before shouting “Support NIH!” as he got on the elevator. Thank goodness we had practiced those elevator pitches! Among our 7 meetings, we dropped off 3 additional packets and one drop off even became an impromptu meeting! Suddenly we are in Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton’s office space discussing NIH funding and thanking her aids for her support. It was a whirlwind of events.

By the time our last meeting ended at 3:15 I was exhausted. I found a spot on the floor of the hallway outside some Senators’ offices and started recording notes from all the events of the day. As my group leader was signing thank you notes we noticed the Senator Tom Carper is taking pictures with different groups outside his office. Well we couldn’t let that opportunity pass! We quickly pulled together the last of our information sheets, found a brain pin, pulled ourselves up from the floor, and walked into his office asking for a meeting. While we were in his lobby waiting to hear if they can fit us in, suddenly this tall older gentleman started shaking our hands thanking us from coming. I was in so much shock I forgot to hand him the brain pin! He unfortunately had to go, but we manage to spend 2 minutes with a staff member and quickly tell them to support NIH funding and contact us if we can ever help. This bizarre, last minute, impromptu moment may have been the highlight of my day.

From there I walked to one last office, apologize for not being able to schedule a meeting, and drop off the last packet with my card attached. I was completely exhausted. I somehow made it through dinner, got on a train, traveled home, and finished my day feeling accomplished.

Don’t be fooled though, this wasn’t the end of my work. Follow up is crucial in politics. Some offices were so busy we could only meet for 5 minutes at the end of the day. Sending follow up emails or notes helps them remember who we are. It holds them accountable and ensures the message does get passed from the staff to the Congressmen. No worries, I’ve sent all my follow up emails. But I need to be diligent about it. Congress has already begun working on the budget for fiscal year 2020. There will be many drafts and long debates. I want to ensure that my representatives not only know I want them to support NIH, but I want to provide them with resources to convince others of that as well.

If you’ve read this far, you can help too. It is probably quicker than reading this. Find your representative and their contact information on the SfN Advocacy app and send them emails, calls, tweets. Be diligent. Keep contacting, keep speaking up, and keep fighting.

And a special thanks to @akatz and @mheintz and their whole team for organizing and running such an amazing day!

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