Let me take a moment, as we end the year, to share what I learned from traveling 11,000 miles of highway through 24 states on a bus tour telling my story and amplifying the stories of others who depend on their health care coverage.
To recap, I’ve been a digital consultant in Democratic and non-profit circles for over a decade. My firm has been around since 2010, and I moved out to Las Vegas at the beginning of 2017.
That spring I went overnight from a person who thinks about health issues once a year at my annual checkup to a stage 4 cancer patient fighting not to die. A year ago, I wrote about this for C&E.
The Affordable Care Act was saving my life. But the House of Representatives voted to take away my health insurance a day after my first day of chemo. I took that very personally and spent all year going through treatment and speaking out publicly against repeal efforts when my health allowed.
But my treatment story had a happy ending: after multiple attempts, we stopped repeal, and I was declared in remission earlier this year. So far I continue to stay in remission and be in good health, and I hope to stay that way.
Last year, I took it slower in terms of work—those of us that are consultants have some choice in terms of our work schedule, what projects we take and whether we work 9-to-5 or odder hours. So I was able to work around my treatment schedule and hold on.
But for 2018 I had my strength back. Fueled by the burning desire to make a difference, I did several events in Nevada and then set out on the road to speak out for those who couldn’t.
That trip drove home for me that everybody has a story about health care—whether it’s their own, or the story of somebody they love. Our system is pretty broken, and the effects of that reach out to everyone. But not everyone feels comfortable speaking out.
For the dozens of events we held, I reached out through national non-profit organizations to find local stories. I did some online research, to find people in various cities that had already shared their personal stories through the news media.
But some of our best speakers were referred through personal friends and had never shared their story publicly before. If you’re looking for local experts, you might have the best luck asking a friend with a large network rather than going to the usual sources.
Every story has value. Make sure that you’re capturing photos, videos, etc., so you can share afterwards, whether or not the press covers the event itself. Honor the storytellers that way, and the sacrifice they’re making of their privacy, overcoming their discomfort of public speaking, and the time and trouble it takes to literally show up.
Remember to share the mic. As a communications person or a media consultant or whatever, your job is to allow others to shine, to use their lived experience to create the change they seek. Remember, this is about them—not you.
Don’t be a drive-by consultant, which means using peoples’ stories, then moving on and not looking back. If you help somebody find a spotlight, you then have a responsibility to help them deal with the consequences, if any, of becoming a semi-public figure. If you put somebody in a TV commercial or controversial online ad, help them deal with any press that might come out of that. And if they go viral, help them through what happens after, when their 15 minutes is over, but they’re still facing whatever issues made them speak out in the first place.
The lessons of 2017 and 2018 are that real people and real stories are the most impactful for campaigns. We will see more of this. But for 2019 and 2020 we have to remember to take care of the people that help us, too.
Laura Packard (@lpackard) is a partner at PowerThru Consulting, a Democratic digital strategy and web development firm, and national health care activist.