Two people meet in an art gallery, both with a shared zeal for better treatment of elders and people with disabilities. After learning about a problematic bill on a Zoom call with other disability advocates, they united with others and mounted a whirlwind activism effort . . . and succeeded in stopping a bill that seemed certain to pass.
How did you get interested in CDAN?
Karen: Such are the twists and turns of chance! Ronita and I share a passion for the rights of elders and people with disabilities. We have both been caregivers for our mothers, and that certainly opened our eyes. Ronita invited me to join her at the Cross-Disability Advocacy Network (CDAN) Zoom meeting, where it just happened that Conrad Reynoldson was outlining his opposition to an extension of the assisted suicide bill ESHB 1141.
You, Ronita Boullt, Conrad Reynoldson, and others in CDAN had a success in the legislature this year. What was that?
Karen: We helped stop ESHB 1141. That bill would remove protections in place in current Physician-Assisted Suicide law in Washington. It would make it too easy for people to choose death by physician-assisted suicide after a grim diagnosis.
Caregivers who have accompanied a loved one through the rigors of difficult diseases, multiple emergency room visits, stays in rehabilitation units after hospitalization, medication side effects, and a myriad of other challenges know that sometimes a longer life depends on whether a patient has a bulldog-like medical advocate(s) willing and able to provide a fighting spirit of hope, while also navigating a gauntlet of appointments and second or third opinions.
However, not everyone has a strong medical advocate. Even in the throes of disease, they have to be their own. EHB 1141 makes it is too easy for them to give up hope.
Ronita and myself are opposed, and passionately articulated our own reasons. Before we knew it, we were preparing to testify, with help from DRW and some others in CDAN, in front of the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee.
How did CDAN help you accomplish your goal?
Karen: CDAN and its support for our advocacy was critical! CDAN members had a range of views on HB 1141 – not everyone agreed with our perspective. But, we all were in agreement that it was important for the Legislature to hear from people with disabilities about the impact the bill will have. From CDAN, we received pointers on layering testimony so that the most important points could be covered in one minute – if that’s all one had. (And it was.) Conrad’s shepherding of the cause throughout was critical to the effort.
How did you become involved in 1141?
Karen: Ronita invited me to a CDAN meeting; it sounded interesting though I knew little about CDAN. Even though it was my first meeting, when Conrad outlined his opposition to HB 1141, there was an instant alchemy – a galvanization – among Conrad, myself, Ronita, and some other members. We committed to testifying that night; we were just beginning a see-saw ride of advocacy. During the meeting, I asked if anyone wished to write an op-ed opinion piece together for submission to newspapers. Ronita, Conrad, and I wrote the op-ed and I emailed it to various editors and even talked to an editor in another part of the state. The editor told me that 99% of the op-eds run in that paper were either penned by local readers or by nationally syndicated columnists. Another editor e-mailed me that his paper was routinely snowed under by op-ed submissions.
The op-ed was circulated twice: first when we thought the committee would be voting two days after the testimony; and then again, when they didn’t and the vote was delayed. One local editor did run an op-ed in opposition to 1141, but it wasn’t ours! Maybe the editor was swayed to publish one opposition piece because he had received ours as well; and maybe the piece that was published helped sway public opinion.
I understand that you were involved in HB 1141 last session. Could you tell me a little about that?
Ronita: After Karen and I shared our testimonies before the Senate committee opposing HB 1141 – this was on a Wednesday – we were notified that the committee would be voting on 1141 the coming Friday at 8:30am. However, to our surprise, though the committee voted on various bills, HB 1141 was not one of them. We wondered about that. Were any political shenanigans taking place? As it turned out, the bill was voted out – with many committee members expressing their serious misgivings and the bill moved another step closer toward passage. Time was running out to stop it!
How did you take action?
Ronita: We learned that we needed to contact the legislators via phone to express our concerns about this bill passing and the harm it would have on our most vulnerable, underserved communities.
I heard there were eight legislators in particular that should be contacted about the bill. I was successful in contacting at least six of them by speaking with their legislative assistants. I shared my experience both as a caregiver to my mom and as a disability advocate. I provided follow-up emails to each of the committee legislatures as well, about my concerns and experiences. This was the week after we had given testimony and the last weekend before the bill would have its final opportunity to come up for a floor vote.
How would you describe your experience doing legislative advocacy?
Ronita: Karen and I did a recap the following Sunday after making a last-ditch effort to contact state legislators by phone and email. We talked about how exhilarating it was to use our voices and share our “lived experience” as caregivers, to our parents and others, in navigating a healthcare system that is unequitable and biased against certain groups of people. We also discussed the need for our voices to be heard as advocates to change systems.
And, as we were talking, I received an email that HB1141 did not make it to the floor for a final vote. That meant that our efforts in opposing this bill – as well as those of Conrad Reynoldson, some in CDAN, DRW, and many others – were successful in this legislative session!