Bird-dog: (verb) search out or pursue with dogged determination.
Contact with elected officials at town hall meetings cannot be overvalued. Handfuls of bird-doggers attend meetings around the country and change the course of history everyday. Never heard of bird-dogging? Bird-dogging is a strategy used by activists who seek out elected officials, pin them down with specific questions or information, and retrieve their views. It has nothing to do with your sweet dog Max or your amazing parrot Tweety Bird and everything to do with activism in action! You simply show up at an event hosted by an elected official to raise awareness about your issue. You ask them about their commitment on the issue, and ask them a question they might not want to answer in order to get them on the record and to educate others at the event.
In the U.S., congressional representatives are home for most of February and will likely be holding meetings or events during the month. Check out this spreadsheet to see where and what they will be doing.
Once you find out where an elected official is going to hold their event follow these simple bird-dogging tips adapted from the Friends Committee on National Legislation.
- Arrive early.
- Have your questions ready. Brief, fact-based, and direct is best.
- Ask your questions early in the event.
- Position yourself in the official’s path. Ask your question or make your statement as you reach out to shake their hand.
- Bring other people with you and spread out. This improves odds that more than one of you get to speak.
- Know your representative’s position. Start your question in a way that show’s you know something about them (“You have said you’d like to increase clinical care services for people with disabilities….”)
- Be calm and reasonable. Maintain a respectful tone.
- Take notes. Track their responses.
- Be prepared to speak with the media. Journalists attend these events and may want to speak with you.
- Be creative and improvise when necessary.
- Share what you have learned. Post on social media. Write a press release.
Recently, Scott Simpson (a person living with ME) engaged in bird-dogging when he and other activists showed up at Canadian Health Minister Jane Philpott’s meet-and-greet event. The result? He got to speak with her face-to-face about issues important to the ME community during the event, set up a future meeting with her to continue the conversation, and got press coverage! Read the article about their bird-dogging success here.
Need an Idea for Bird-Dogging?
Many people with ME across the United States depend on Medicare, Medicaid, or some form of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for healthcare. Find a town hall event on this list and demand that any ACA replacement cover more people with less out-of-pocket costs. Make these demands directly and publicly to your elected officials via bird-dogging.
Housing Works is mobilizing trainings for people who want to fight for health care. Interested in receiving bird-dog training? If you can gather 15-20 people between Feb 6 and Feb 20 for 90 minutes, Housing Works will send organizers (or help yours) to train your group on how to speak truth to power and protect (to the best of our ability) the ACA, Medicaid, and Medicare. They can also do webinars for your group for bird-dog trainings and conference calls, but they are prioritizing in-person organizing. Just like with town hall meetings, nothing tops the efficacy of in-person! Please contact Paul Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Need ME Bird-Dogging Talking Points?
The #MEAction Fact Sheet with sources is nearly ready! If you plan to attend an event, please email info@meaction for the updated Fact Sheet that you can give your congressperson.
- Comparisons: ME strikes up to 1-2.5 million Americans. And people with ME score more poorly on quality of life surveys than patients with multiple sclerosis, stroke, diabetes, renal failure, lung disease, heart failure and various cancers.
- The cause is unknown, there is no cure, and there is not even one FDA-approved treatment. Recovery is rare.
- Compared with other diseases with similar impact and prevalence, ME receives the fewest research dollars from the federal government.
- In 2016, the NIH spent about $2 per patient per year.
- Americans with ME face a severe crisis in clinical care. There are fewer than 20 ME expert clinicians in the United States to support the estimated 1 – 2.5 million Americans with this disease.
- In your district, there are an estimated XXXX number of people with ME. Look up the number of people with ME in your representative’s district using this prevalence spreadsheet. (If you need help with this, email email@example.com).
- The direct and indirect economic costs of ME to the United States has been estimated at between 17 and 24 billion dollars annually, yet the National Institute of Health has never invested more than $7 million per year on ME research. This makes no economic sense.
- Likelihood of success: Researchers for ME have estimated that this disease can be solved in 5-10 years if adequate funding is provided.
ME activists need to be dogged about letting their representatives know that this disease needs urgent, serious attention.