By Bianca Carreiro, Legislative Advocate/Intern
You know those butterflies you get in your stomach when you’re about to do something for the first time? Like the first time you dived into a swimming pool. You stand there paralyzed, on the diving board. You are so close to jumping in. For some of us, fear steps in. Fear stops us in our tracks before we can dive. For others, we jump and fall smoothly into the water. When our heads are finally above water, we can breathe. For about 30 seconds, we stopped breathing, either because we were too scared to jump, or we faced our fears and immersed ourselves in the unknown.
That’s kind of what it’s like when you speak to a state legislator for the first time.On February 27th, 2014, I attended the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless’ Legislative Action Day. I had no intentions of speaking with my state legislators; I felt that I did my duty as I was a part of the planning committee for the event. As I was passing out folders for constituents to hand to their legislators, I kept noticing that no one picked up the folders for my state legislators. I became nervous. Why wasn’t anyone representing my community of 40,000? Where were the constituents from Attleboro? Who was going to stand up for the homeless community in my district? Then came the daunting realization: I had to represent my community.
With encouragement from the Coalition’s own, Exa Mendez, I visited my state legislators. I gathered the information packets compiled with information about different bills regarding homelessness and planned what I was going to say. I was ready to enter that office with a fight! After walking around the State House for a bit, I finally found Representative Heroux’s office. I stood outside the door for a few minutes to gain focus, but most importantly, to remind myself that I wasn’t doing this for myself; I was doing this for the thousands of unaccompanied homeless youth in the Commonwealth, along with the thousands of homeless families. There was no one from my district to advocate for homeless community in Attleboro; therefore, it had to be me.
Finally, after composing myself, I entered Representative Heroux’s office. His legislative aide greeted me. She told me that unfortunately, Representative Heroux was in session so I couldn’t speak to him directly. A wave of disappointment swept over me. The legislative aide encouraged me to speak to her about any concerns that I had. Although I couldn’t speak with the representative directly, she assured me that she would pass my concerns to him.
I began voicing my concerns about homelessness to the legislative aide. Before I knew it, I was in the office for about thirty minutes discussing the implications of youth homelessness. I never realized how much knowledge I had about the subject. Luckily for me, the legislative aide was incredibly receptive and understood my concerns. After I left the office, all the butterflies that I once had, flew out of me. I was, and continue to be, incredibly proud to represent my district as a constituent.
If you have any concerns about visiting your state legislators, don’t. There is no reason to be afraid. They are only people, just like you and me. For added encouragement, think about all the lives you can impact if you voiced your opinion. Our voices have the power to change the lives of thousands! All it takes is a little dose of empowerment. Speaking to your state legislator is like diving into a pool, but instead of a pool, you are throwing yourself amid the political process. With your voice, you can make a bill into a law.
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