From Rural Living to Capitol Hill: My Experience at Jewish Disability Advocacy Day

March 12, 2020
Ivy Seligman

Spotsylvania, Virginia, United States

Class of 2023

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I had been in the car on my phone for almost two hours when I looked up to see one of the most historic buildings in Washington, DC—the Capitol. I was in awe. While I visited there many times before (I used to live in Potomac, Maryland, a DC suburb), now that I lived in a rural county in Virginia, I felt a wave of energy and confidence returning to me as I approached the home of the U.S. Congress. I was ready to discuss and advocate for important disability issues, such as the stigma associated with disabilities and even things like accessibility at sleepaway camps.

Prior to my day on Capitol Hill, I participated in a program at the JCC of Greater Washington, where I listened to amazing and inspiring speakers. I felt honored to be representing rural America where I am one of the few Jews in my area. I came into that evening focused on one goal: to discuss and talk about rural voters and transportation for the disabled. Most people wouldn’t even think about public transportation in cities; however, in my area, there aren’t even paved roads, let alone public bus routes! I also was there to represent BBYO teens, and I was grateful to participate in this opportunity.

The next morning, I was fueled with enthusiasm as I headed to Capitol Hill. I’d been planning my speech for months. I walked into the Rayburn building ready to hear new perspectives. There were several Senators there, including David Rose, Tammy Duckworth, and Jamie Raskin, as well as other panelists who were talking about what we could do to get involved in our local communities.  I had a chance to stop by Nancy Pelosi’s office, and took a picture in the same hallways as our nation’s lawmakers. I even stopped by Representative Abigail Spanberger’s office, who represents my Spotsylvania/Orange district in Virginia. After lunch, we walked into the Arizona and Connecticut offices we were assigned to, in order to lobby the issues.  

We lobbied two legislative assistants about two different disability bills. One was about the ABLE age adjustment act. ABLE accounts, which are like savings accounts, aid people who develop disabilities later in life, such as multiple sclerosis or spinal injuries where assistive technology or education can be provided. What made the biggest impression on me is the message that the disability community is the only community you can join at any time. Millions of Americans are diagnosed every year with a disability. The other bill we lobbied for focused on providing better care for people with disabilities. This is essential to our society since everyone has a right to top-notch medical care.  

A highlight of my experience was how helpful and relatable the legislative assistants we met with were. They talked about how I could better prepare myself for a career in politics, and I even got to ask questions and discuss life outside of politics. Even in these divisive times, both assistants were kind and offered helpful advice to me when I emailed them my gratitude for the experience. They treated me with respect despite my youthful age. I saw women and men walking around that day on the Hill appearing as if they were on a mission to accomplish something important and I desperately wanted to be part of that mission. I am thankful to JDAD for making me feel so powerful and important, even if it was just for one day. For once, I wasn’t “that girl” from a town whose name you can’t pronounce—I was lobbying for a cause I was truly passionate about and never felt so proud to put my name tag on that day.

I will never forget February 4th as the day that made my purpose come clear and my future aspirations boundless. As the city skyline of DC disappeared from my view and I drove past the cornfields and farms closer to home, my JDAD lobbying experience never left my mind. When I look outside my window today in Spotsylvania, Virginia, and see the beautiful sunrise, I also see endless possibilities and a limitless future.

Ivy Seligman is a BBG from Northern Region East: Northern Virginia Council. She is an active member of her school's debate team and loves reality TV.

All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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