Joe LaMountain knows the benefits of getting people motivated and involved. In his latest venture on Capitol Hill, hes spearheading an effort to garner support for Congress to appropriate $1 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to invest in a national COPD action plan in the Chronic Disease Division. To make that happen requires a chorus of voices.
Its very basic, LaMountain said. Were trying to get folks affected by COPD to become more engaged in telling their personal stories to elected officials. As is often the case in government, it boils down to the squeaky wheel getting the grease. If a patient community sits quietly on the sidelines and waits for their turn, their turn may never come.
The federal government has campaigns to address and eliminate many diseases: diabetes, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and more. Operation 435: Raising the Voice of the COPD Community in Washington, DC COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S., but there is no national coordinated public health campaign that addresses early diagnosis, prevention, treatment, and management.
Alpha-1 Foundation and COPD Foundation co-founder John Walsh has made this a top priority. Were working on a plan to get advocates to take action in all 435 congressional districts to put COPD on the public health radar screen with the CDC, Walsh said. We want Congress to dedicate specific CDC funds to develop a national COPD action plan.
Operation 435, as the plan is called, is still in its earliest stages. The first priority was to push for designated CDC Chronic Disease Division funding, through encouraging members of Congress to support this request with the Appropriations Committees in the House and the Senate. The next phase will concentrate on building Congressional membership in the COPD Congressional Caucus by scheduling meetings between COPD patients and their representatives in their home districts. This will serve to solidify congressional support. Further down the road, a petition drive will be initiated with the goal of collecting 25,000 signatures in support of new legislation aimed at addressing COPD. All of this will be followed up by a year-end report to assess progress and keep members informed, engaged, and empowered.
LaMountain has already been active in getting people affected by COPDpatients, family members, caregivers, and othersto sign onto letters and petitions and to make calls to Congressional offices. Hes been active in generating grassroots engagement in communities across the country.
The campaign is predicated on getting people involved and knowing how things get done in Washington. LaMountain is a perfect fit for that role. Hes been a political organizer for non-profit healthcare groups for nearly 20 years, and spent seven years leading a campaign for the American Diabetes Association. He also teaches a course in grassroots communication at Georgetown University.
People are very jaded and cynical about politics, he said. They think that all the big-money lobbyists are the only ones getting results. Its just not true. Ive gone to Capitol Hill and spoken to congressional staff members. They tell me quite candidly that if a representative hears from one constituent on a particular issue, its usually enough to generate interest. And if two or three people send letters, thats a lot. I think that people dont understand the value and the power that their voices have when they speak out on this or any issue.
An allocation of $1 million to the CDC may not seem like a large sum. Walsh and LaMountain view it as an opening salvo in the push to get COPD onto center stage in the national consciousness.
Ive also been working with Miriam ODay, the COPD Foundations Senior Director for Public Policy, LaMountain said. Ive known her for years. What she does and what I do are linked. You could say its an inside/outside strategy.
As a COPD Foundation representative on Capitol Hill, Miriam can influence public policy from an interior position. You can also bring exterior forces to bear. Thats what I do. If I get a letter signed by a number of constituents, Miriam can make sure that letter gets onto the desk of the right person. In effect, she works the internal levers, I work the external ones. When these two strategies are working well, it can be a very effective way to impact public policy.
For instance, LaMountain has been working with Pamela Roffo, a concerned citizen in Dayton, New Jersey, who wants to be involved in making a difference. She asked what she could do to help, and LaMountain told her that it would be helpful to write a letter and get it signed by 25 constituents. When the letter is signed, ODay can alert the relevant staff members and ask them to give priority to the letter.
The value of grassroots communication is hardwired in me, LaMountain said. But its not that way for most people. My mission is to convince people that they can and must be involved if they care about an issue.