I was talking with a scientist friend of mine, and she told me about “Hill Day” and how, during the last in-person, ASCB meeting in Washington, DC, she participated in the visit to Capitol Hill at the end of the meeting. She told me that it was an awesome, even fun event, and that she learned a lot about advocacy and speaking up for science. This December, I’ll be attending my first in-person ASCB meeting. I’m wondering about participating in Hill Day, if it’s going to happen. Most of all, I’m very nervous about talking to politicians. I’m not quite as outgoing as my friend, and I’m afraid that I’ll get tongue-tied or say the wrong thing. Do you know if there will be another Hill Day at the meeting this year? If so, can someone with no experience talking with politicians participate and expect to make a positive impact?
Don’t be fearful of talking with politicians and their staff. As a previous Hill Day participant, Labby can attest to the value and fun associated with spending a day on Capitol Hill talking about science. While sometimes you actually meet the elected members of Congress, most often you’ll be speaking with members of a legislator’s staff, people who are extremely smart and, most often, enthusiastic about hearing from scientists. Labby always found the members of Congress and their staff to be welcoming and extremely curious about the research that ASCB members do. ASCB has a great reputation on Capitol Hill as a key source of information about science policy. But you don’t have to be an expert on science policy. There will be a training session before going to Capitol Hill, and you’ll travel as part of a group of four or five ASCB members going from one member’s office to another. It’s also a great opportunity to get to know other motivated ASCB colleagues you might not have previously met.
Labby strongly feels that being engaged in science advocacy is an important obligation of being a scientist. ASCB scientists must be willing to explain to politicians and the public how funds granted from taxpayers and donors to private foundations have increased our understanding of basic biological mechanisms as well as contributed to prevention and treatment of human disease.
As of right now, ASCB’s Public Policy Committee is planning another Hill Day in conjunction with the annual meeting this year. The important question is whether COVID-19 restrictions on Capitol Hill will make the Hill Day possible. The office buildings on
Capitol Hill are still closed, and there is not yet an indication of when they may reopen. Stay tuned, and watch for announcements from ASCB and signup information sometime this summer.
Another great benefit of attending Hill Day is that it gives you confidence in your ability to interact with politicians and their staff at the local level. However, participating in Hill Day is not required for you to have an impact. One positive aspect Labby has noted about the limitations in travel and the need for social distancing over the past two years is the realization that Washington, DC, is not the only place ASCB science advocates can work. The Advocacy Toolbox (https://www.ascb.org/science-policy-public-outreach/advocacy-policy/science-policy-advocacy-outreach/) section of the ASCB website has an extensive list of ways to advocate for science. The Advocacy Toolbox includes several one-page “Be an Advocate for Science” papers covering a range of topics from arranging a virtual meeting with your representative to attending a Town Hall meeting. If you are more ambitious, the webpage even has instructions on how to start and then sustain a Student Policy and Advocacy Group at your institution.
The Public Policy Committee has recently added additional information to the Advocacy Toolbox focused on ways to do advocacy from home, without going to Washington, DC. Activities addressed include taking advantage of unplanned moments to explain your research, making presentations about your science to local civic organizations, finding opportunities to meet with federal, state, or local government officials, and inviting government officials to tour your lab. Labby strongly urges you to get involved and take advantage of all the opportunities and tools ASCB offers.
If you’re curious but have questions or still need a little push to take that first step, get in touch with Labby’s good friend, Kevin Wilson, ASCB’s Public Policy Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org. He may be able to put you in touch with other people, beyond your friend, who have gone to Hill Day.