A couple of weeks ago, I went to the Senate. Not at the Federal level – the state level. In Virginia, the House of Delegates and the state Senate share an office building across the street from the State Capitol in Richmond. I shook hands with one delegate, and met the staff of several other senators and delegates. Exciting, yet disturbing…glad I did it, and yet somewhat disappointed – all at the same time.
It was Autism Advocacy Day. Several agencies banded together to form one alliance worthy of respect for a day of raising awareness and making change. I was late registering, so I headed downtown not really knowing if I would be able to join the effort. That part – showing up – turned out to be too easy. I went through the metal detector, texted a leader until I found the group, arriving in time to join a subgroup assigned to 5 pre-made appointments with delegates and senators.
The first senator could not keep her appointment, so we met with her assistant. This pattern continued throughout the day, with one exception. One. One delegate was able to sit and talk to 8 of us about our concerns for 15 minutes. Another representative who could not break free to meet with us – he was in the news the next day for making a scene out in the public. Par for his course, unfortunately.
Several autism-related bills were on the slate to be voted on in the next session (this was the last week the legislators would be together before going home until spring). Some of us were “self-advocates,” meaning we were on the spectrum; others were agency representatives or parents of autistic children. All combined, I think we had about 80 of us in small groups, mostly waiting in hallways as the work of Virginia legislation took place around us. Small halls, small elevator doors, shared administrative assistants, and very full calendars make this building a beehive.
One of my emotions that day was thankfulness – so glad that I was not in an elected position. How do they do it? Like the parable of the unjust judge in the scriptures – some people won’t stop knocking on the door. We were not the only people in suits and ties waiting for a moment, for a handshake, or for a promise. I’m too much of a people pleaser. I can see myself saying all day long, “Oh, yes, I’ll take care of that for you,” whether I have the ability to do so or not. If we are honest, these legislators only have so much power; they have multiple forces working against them, no matter their political bent. They work in a system that depends on majorities – even when the majority is not thinking about the better good – regardless of what that might be.
I was also torn about some of the specific voting positions for which we were supposed to be “lobbying.” Should policemen and policewomen screen for mental illness before detaining someone from harming himself or from harming others? Tough call. Should “separate spaces” be established in every school for children with ASD? I would think mainstreaming would usually be better, but I’m not a teacher in the trenches worrying about my own personal safety as well as the safety of the students. These are thorny issues, and I was uncomfortable using a script written by someone else who has elaborated his or her position. I avoided those topics – they were well covered by others who were with me. I focused on a health insurance availability issue that I had dealt with recently.
All in all, I’m glad I “represented.” Although I have political opinions, this is the closest I have ever been to the process. Am I going to get more involved? Depends on the parking! The Mini was comfortable in its “compact only” space at the Capitol parking garage with all the other representatives’ vehicles, but that fee was worse than highway robbery! I guess that’s called “congested city street robbery.” The fact that a government building is guilty of such robbery does not surprise me. LOL – Keep shiftin’!