Amplifying the Thunder: Behind the Scenes at Strolling Thunder 2019
By Daniel Hains, Amanda Perez, and Mollyrose Schaffner, ZERO TO THREE Policy Center
On recent visits to Congressional offices, our federal policy team heard staff exclaim, “You’re the people who bring babies to Capitol Hill!” That tells us our strategy is working! For the past three years at Strolling ThunderTM, ZERO TO THREE’s advocacy team has brought a family from every state and the District of Columbia to meet with their Members of Congress on Capitol Hill and share their stories. We do this because we know that when policymakers hear directly from families, it creates a lasting impression and helps to inform their decision making. We also know that when parents see themselves as advocates, they take charge and create change for their families – and others like them.
And that’s where we come in.
We partner with each of the Strolling Thunder families, from the time they submit their interest form to be considered to participate, through the event, and—most importantly—after they get home! While our work requires a certain expertise in policy and advocacy, the truth is that most of the lessons come from direct service with infants, toddlers and their families.
Throughout the lead-up to the event, we support the families in a myriad of ways. We’re advocacy coaches, travel advisors, and their pep squad. Our interactions with families always start from a place of flexibility, as we know that their family and responsibilities back home take priority. This means phone calls with families in Hawaii in the evenings after their babies go to bed, and conversations with East Coast families before they leave for work. It means being open to every question on any topic from travel challenges to questions about legislation and taking the time to problem-solve with families so that solutions work best for them, rather than for us.
We give parents detailed information about the purpose of the event, the power of their stories, and the policies that can answer issues they raise. We help them set limits on what they feel comfortable sharing and what they want to keep private. And finally, we listen carefully, helping them consider how to use their limited time with their Members of Congress to make the greatest impact for babies and families. In short, by being responsive, patient, and accepting, we maintain trusting and open relationships with the families, which is critical to their advocacy success.
But parent advocacy doesn’t stop on Capitol Hill. While we strive to make sure that every family has a great experience while they are in DC, our primary goal is to make sure that every parent feels energized and able to continue to create change back at home.
Our families put it best: “Strolling Thunder empowered me to advocate for my children,” and “Knowing that ‘ordinary’ parents can speak to their leaders makes me want to advocate further.” This year, Destiney Prieto from Arizona said Strolling Thunder “sparked something in me.” Even before she came to DC, Destiney had the passion! The adoring mother of three has seen early intervention at work in her now 11-year-old daughter and 10-month-old twins. She had advocated for her children and what they needed at home. But she did not know the power of her voice in public policy. Now, after returning home from Washington, she hopes to change her career trajectory from customer support to advocacy. Now she wants to make a difference—not just for her children, but all children—during a time when it can be most impactful.
Families are also continuing their advocacy in other ways. For instance, several of our families have reached out to their Senators on the Appropriations Committee to follow up on their meetings from Strolling Thunder and remind them to Think Babies as they make funding decisions for the next fiscal year. We see time and time again that the staffers that met with the families not only remember them but are able to make the association between their stories and the policies and programs they are working to fund. And that’s where it really counts—and what Strolling Thunder is all about.
There are so many ways for parents to become advocates for young children, including joining the Think Babies™ campaign and applying to Strolling Thunder next year! At www.thinkbabies.org, advocates can take action to make sure the potential of every baby is a national priority, including using our Tell Congress tool or by sharing their story with us. Using these tools and other resources designed to help you advocate for the issues that matter to you most, you can make your voice heard at the federal, state, and local levels.