Extensive Outreach is Key to Representing a Community in the US Senate

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse Advocates for Every Voter, Including Those with Disabilities

Since being sworn into the US Senate in 2007, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has made it his mission to speak for every US citizen he represents from his home state of Rhode Island, regardless of their race, gender, political affiliations, or disabilities. His frequent trips around his home state bring him face to face with the people he has been sworn to represent, something he says is a humbling and necessary part of being in a public office.

In the US Senate, Whitehouse is a member of multiple committees that have focuses that span from budget and finance to the environment and law. He is particularly passionate about issues that directly impact the people he has come to know through his extensive outreach in Rhode Island, including the climate crisis that will hit his small, coastal state particularly hard and the trail of dark money and transparency in donors that make passing necessary climate change legislation so difficult.

But does he truly try to represent all members of his state, able bodied or not? Outreach is only as effective as the people that a politician frequently meets, and one of the main critiques of political outreach is that it only draws in a small percentage of the population, often leaving citizens with disabilities sidelined by people with louder voices or better mobility.

For Whitehouse, he has always been particularly sensitive towards the community of citizens with disabilities that he represents in Congress, often including voices with disabilities in his staff on Capitol Hill and in his extensive outreach when traveling around the state of Rhode Island. He brushes off the idea that his outreach is only limited to the white, affluent community, saying that being a politician draws people of many diverse backgrounds to walk or wheel up to him in public areas and express their interests or concerns, whether he be in a grocery store or restaurant.

But for Whitehouse to truly represent all the citizens of his state, accessibility is an important factor in the townhalls and meetings he frequents to gain different perspectives.

When asked how he is mindful of the disabled people he represents, Whitehouse pointed to the many outreach events he has hosted over the years that are free and accessible for all voters to come and attend. In the case that a person is unable attend due to mobility issues, Whitehouse has frequently taken telephone calls, Zoom calls, or visited his voters to ensure that the legislation he endorses as a Senator is reflective of the majority of his constituents. This system of outreach by members of the US Congress has been particularly potent during the COVID-19 pandemic, where in-person outreach events were impossible to arrange due to public health guidelines. As a result, virtual meetings have drawn in a more diverse and representative crowd.

Whitehouse shows that extensive outreach is an important part of public office, so long as it is accessible by all the citizens of the state, not just the community of able-bodied citizens.

Written by Ryan Trombly

Ryan Trombly was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy when she was eighteen months old. The disability causes right-side hemiparesis that affects the entire right side of her body, weakening her muscles and limiting her mobility in everyday activities. Despite this, Ryan has strived to live a normal, independent life without any barriers and hopes to use her voice to advocate for the disabled community.

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