I’m afraid of a lot of things and for a lot of my life, I’ve been able to avoid the things that scare me. And I think a lot of us can agreed it’s not a healthy way to live. Being in my comfort zone is my happy place and I enjoy finding the avenues I thrive in to focus on — again, not healthy. So when my friend asked me to sign up for Day at the Capitol with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), I said, “okay…sure…” and silently began to panic.
Day at the Capitol is a day where you go and chat with your senators and representatives as constituents about important issues. I am not one to talk politics. I get nervous that I’m sounding ignorant, uneducated, and privileged. However, I knew participating in this day would be a great experience, mean a lot to my friend, and help me understand the issues I knew I was passionate about.
As the day approached, I was riddled with nerves. I made it very clear I didn’t want to speak during the day. I just wanted to be another body in the room and observe, learn, and be a sponge. Then, I learned I was the only person signed up from my area. So I was going to be the only true constituent for my representative and senator…great.
I started mentally preparing myself to at least do the introductions and the ask. I would say “Hello, senator so-and-so, I live in your district, and we would like to talk to you about this, that, and the other thing.” then other people would speak on the topics, and I would finish it up by saying “thank you again for your time, can we count on your support for this, that, and the other thing?” And in my brain, one said yes and the other said no. Prepped for all possibilities.
Now, if you’re like me, no matter what people tell you, you’re going to be anxious. I talked the day over with all of my friends who have participated in the event before and never truly felt confident or reassured. They would say the following:
“Casie, you know this stuff, you’re passionate about this stuff, you’re going to do great.”
“Casie, they have the morning dedicated to training you on the topics we’ll be talking about, don’t worry. You’ll have everything you need.”
“Casie, you won’t be alone in this, you have a group. It’ll be just fine.”
“Casie, it’s okay if you say you don’t know an answer to their questions. We can follow up later.”
It didn’t matter, I was nervous. I wanted to do a good job and wanted to get through the day without crying (I know, I’m so dramatic).
So February 27 arrived. It was an icy, Minnesota morning and I slowly made my way to the capitol. Because of the weather, the morning presentation had to be shortened so we could make the rest of the days plans on time. During the morning presentation, I was probably concentrating harder than I ever had before. I was trying to memorize the talking points and the responses for tough questions.
Then, I blinked and I was sitting in the office of our first Senator meeting of the day. We discussed wanting to change the tobacco sales age to 21, adding e-cigarettes to the clean indoor air act, and developing a cessation plan. We explained how people are less likely to get addicted to tobacco products if they don’t use until the age of 21 and how e-cigarettes are not currently included in Minnesota’s Clean Indoor Air Act.
And you know what happened? I talked.
I talked to my senator about these topics with my group. I shared personal stories of friends who were having babies and how I hoped they could grow up with clean indoor air or not having the pressures at their high school of smoking e-cigs or using tobacco products in general. Or how my grandpa had lung cancer because he started smoking at such a young age. I answered tough questions that I had learned about that morning. I spoke.
I started my day terrified, insecure, and completely prepared to do the bare minimum. I thought advocacy was a chore, that I had nothing to say and had no stories to share.
I thought I wasn’t the right person to advocate and that advocacy just wasn’t my thing.
Ending the day feeling empowered, heard, and accomplished was something I didn’t expect. I was able to go to my friend, who desperately wanted me to have a good experience, and say “I ACTUALLY TALKED!” and see her face go from mildly concerned, to complete joy (seriously, all of my friends were incredibly concerned for me that day and I so appreciate all of them).
I faced a fear and I grew from it (who knew that would happen?). I left that day feeling confident and accomplished. I left knowing I did my part. Whatever my senators and representatives choose to support, I was able to tell them what I thought and what I wanted.
From a girl who is intimidated by politics and advocating for myself and the people I love, this was an experience I will never forget. I am so thankful to the people who encouraged me, took the time to reassure me, and to the ones who sat and listened to me. I know it’s not an easy task to deal with a scared Casie, so you all deserve the biggest, heaviest gold medals.
And if you’re passionate about something and have an opportunity to go to your representatives and senators to talk about it, do it. Take the time to let your voice be heard.
P.P.S. What do we think of me continuing to face my fears and write about it?