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The Marble Halls of Power

Monday January 11, 2016

The first time I wandered the halls of Congress, I didn’t pass through any metal detectors, I was not wanded, and I was not given a pat down. President Kennedy was still alive, the Beatles were singing I Want To Hold Your Hand, my favorite TV show was Lassie and a girl in my geometry class had a bit part in the Alfred Hitchcock movie, The Birds.  It was 1963 and I was still a naive young lad. When I walked through the Capitol Building, I believed my teachers when they said everyone has an equal voice and your elected officials are there for you. When I saw men (at that time, it was mostly men—not much has changed) in suits with briefcases, I believed them to be carrying out their sacred duty to do what is best for the country.

Fast forward fifty-two years and my how times have changed. I’m older now and a little more jaded and cynical. I can’t believe that shutting down the government or the sequester was good for the USA. Partisan squabbling often seems to be more about ego than legitimate policy differences. Scandals proliferate. I could go on and on. Liberal or conservative, each of us can come up with dozens of examples of poor behavior on the part of our elected officials.

United States Capitol West Front Edit2

Then, a funny thing happened on my journey with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). Last spring, I had the opportunity to attend a two day workshop in Washington, D.C. with the Parkinson’s Action Network—an advocacy group representing the entire Parkinson’s community. The workshop was focused on preparing us for the third day—a visit to the Hill. Two hundred and fifty people from across America came together to lend a unified voice promoting federal support for neurological research, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the FDA and the DoD Parkinson’s research program. [Traumatic Brain Injury—TBI—is closely associated with PD.]

Four of us from Idaho met with our Representatives (Raul Labrador and Mike Simpson) and our Senators (Mike Crapo and Jim Risch). Unbelievable—they actually met with us! And they listened. We had a chance to tell our story and make our case. It doesn’t mean they voted the way we wanted, but they and their staff made time for us. My faith in government is at least partially restored.

I also discovered the difference between an advocacy group and a lobbyist. In a word: money. Those of us with the Parkinson’s Action Network paid our own way—airplane flight, hotel, and meals—some with the assistance of small scholarships. Lobbyists, on the other hand, frequently have deep pockets and platinum credit cards. We had to use logic and reason—we didn’t have thousands of dollars (or more, much more) to give to political campaigns. Nevertheless, our voice was heard.

A parting thought: I know why they’re called the marble halls of power. Even the bathroom fixtures are made of marble.

 

A.C. Woolnough spent 37 years in public education as teacher and principal in California, Idaho and Alaska. Diagnosed with PD in 2014, he is a member of the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation People with Parkinson’s Advisory Council, a PDF Research Advocate and an assistant state director for Parkinson’s Action Network.

Originally published in the November 2015 The River Journal 

A.C. WoolnoughA.C. Woolnough
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