Walking into the Colorado State Capitol building feels like entering the living center of the state. The feeling is electric and exciting. I first experienced this while attending the Colorado Public Health Association’s 2023 annual Public Health Advocacy Day there. The CPHA Policy Committee organized the event to give public health professionals, students, and community members the chance to meet local legislators and learn about policy and advocacy.
CPHA President Wivine Ngongo kicked off the event calling for a moment of appreciation and introspection for public health professionals and others who worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic. Sitting in the audience with other public health students there was a sense of camaraderie and I felt proud to be a part of it. Following Ngongo, Dean Jonathan Samet of the Colorado School of Public Health urged us to consider the public health implications of climate change, and stressed the importance of advocating for policy changes that reflect the critical health impacts of environmental pollution. We also heard from Colorado Representative Jenny Willford, who spoke about the close-hitting consequences of climate change and the pain she felt when air pollution levels made it unsafe for her young son to play outside. Her powerful anecdote was followed by a presentation from Jon Goldin-Dubois of Western Resource Advocates about the regional impacts of environmental pollution.
Goldin-Dubois spoke about Colorado's history of air pollution and some of the contributing factors. In one example, he explained how emissions from personal vehicles with combustion engines may be reduced in the future by implementing policies that prioritize and incentivize the use of electric vehicles. Many in attendance seemed excited to start making impactful changes based on the information presented by Goldin-Dubois and the other speakers. Megan Kemp, of Healthy Air & Water Colorado, led an advocacy workshop on how to jump in and get started. In addition to going over different types of engagement, Kemp encouraged people to create an advocacy “elevator pitch” for issues that are the most important to them. Keeping a go-to statement in your back pocket, she told us, can make it easier to navigate interactions with local legislators, when being clear and to- the-point is a must. After the presentations and scheduled event wrapped up, attendees were encouraged to stick around and speak to local officials or listen to legislative proceedings. Some of my classmates and I went up to the balcony overlooking the house of representatives. We watched as different bills were debated and ruled upon. Getting that close to the legal process, and hearing from policy leaders at the event made it clear just how human our system is and how impactful those of us in public health can be.
This story was originally written for RISE Magazine, a publication of the Emerging Leaders Committee in the Colorado Public Health Association.