By Suzanne Heckenlaible | Vice president of public affairs, Delta Dental of Iowa
Executive director, Delta Dental of Iowa Foundation

My mom taught me many life lessons (my dad has too, but that is for another day and maybe over a beer). One lesson I learned more than a decade ago was that every voice matters, and this lesson seems timely for me to share as the Iowa legislative session recently started. 

I worked for the March of Dimes as an administrator and lobbyist in Iowa. I was working on a bill and I needed to talk with the Senate president to get him to agree to move a bill forward. He happened to be my local representative and I knew he was having a public legislative forum that weekend. I took my mom shopping that day, so I asked if we could stop at the forum so I could talk with the senator. The forum had already started so we found some seats in the back. There was a heated debate on education going on with several differing opinions in the room.

There was a lull in the debate and the senator looked my way and nodded his head, indicating it was my turn to speak. I was at a complete loss, I had nothing to add. I hadn’t signaled for his attention. I turned to my right and saw that it was my mom who had raised her hand and she was standing up. I thought, "What are you doing? Don’t engage! This is not our issue!"

She calmly stated to the group that she was a retired third-grade teacher of 30 years, and it was important to understand the great loss to our children when we deliberately diminish the intellectual level of the content of literature in our education system. 

She then went on to share an example with one of her favorite books, "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" by Beatrix Potter. The original story tells us that when Peter was trapped in Mr. McGregor's netting, "the bird implored Peter to exert himself." She continued by expressing how the children loved taking the phrase and using it in different contexts. Then she looked around the room with the inimitable piercing gaze that is only possible from an elementary school teacher and stated, "But today the same verse is: 'And the bird said try!' " And she sat down. 

We weren’t there to talk about education. My mom was retired, but she had knowledge to share that ultimately elevated the dialogue of the discussion that day. The lesson learned is that every voice matters, so share your knowledge, have an opinion and listen respectfully or be content to live with the outcome left up to others.

Now that our legislators are back at the Iowa state Capitol, I reflect on that day and offer five ways you can get engaged and use your voice:

  1. Get to know your legislators; at least know who they are by checking out this linkto "Find Your Legislator."
  2. Sign up for their newsletters, which will keep you up to date on key policy issues.
  3. Plan to attend at least one legislative forum in your hometown. You don’t have to speak if you are not comfortable, but listen and learn.  
  4. Get involved and learn more about issues that matter to you through professional/civic associations or nonprofits organizations.
  5. Send an email to your legislator on an issue or a specific bill that you are supportive of or not, share your opinion and if possible share solutions if it is a problem.

We all have different opinions, experiences, expertise and knowledge that should be shared with legislators, respectfully. Unique and diverse voices offering opinions create memorable perspectives and informed legislators. Ultimately, we must live within the laws that are enacted and bear the impact those laws have on our society and our lives, so I implore you to exert your voice today.