My experience at the MCH Annual Conference
By Brenda Sanchez Murillo (HECUA Intern)
Kirsten (Media & Development Associate) and I cruised down to Rochester Monday night while listening to our favorite jams. Listening to music typically tends to make me feel familiar and comfortable, and I was pretty nervous for the conference. I had never been to a conference before, therefore never have worked at a conference. But there I was, an intern excited to be there, yet fearful of not knowing what to do. My job was to help folks at the voter engagement table. Our table had all kinds of voter engagement supplies such as “I will vote” stickers, voter registration forms- including Spanish, Somali and Hmong and window stickers. However one of the most important items was the voucher form for residential facilities. This is the form that staff uses to vouch for someone experiencing homelessness. I had a couple of folks take some forms, which was exciting! I did however get some questions that I did not know how to respond. I had some folks ask me about technicalities regarding the form, and I found myself not being the expert. Additionally, I had someone ask me “why would we ask someone to vote who doesn’t trust the system, and understandably should not?” My response was simply validating their concern, but how do you respond to that? You can’t force folks to vote, and that person had a good point. How do you encourage someone to vote who doesn’t believe the system benefits them? I didn’t want to to tell this person to encourage their clients with what felt like hopeless optimism. This encounter however made me think more about how a dialogue could have taken place. What things could I have said? What could have I done? More importantly, what if I was having this conversation with someone who has been disenfranchised? I think if you don’t build a relationship with people, that could be a barrier. But how do you validate their stories while trying to change that narrative? It was a challenge that I will try to learn how to navigate.
I also had fun telling people to call Governor Mark Dayton to raise cash assistance for MFIP. I think folks enjoyed getting the stickers as well to thank them for their contribution. I think it helped that Senta, our Executive Director, called the Governor during her presentation. When she did it, it didn’t sound so scary since you simply left a message. I’m not sure how many people called, but I know there were hundreds of calls based on how many stickers were gone.
I learned there that reaching out to your elected officials doesn’t have to be so a long, complicated and terrifying process. Growing up my family was not engaged in politics or with Government. To be fair, not everyone in my family has the right to vote. That disconnection, I think, made me think that elected officials are unreachable, as in if someone wants to connect with them, they are never available. And now while I can’t guarantee that we’ll be heard, at least I know now that making that connection can be simply be picking up the phone and leaving a message.
The fear has gone away more, but I wonder how many folks are not civically engaged because they felt the same way.
In addition to my tabling, I also had the opportunity to go to whatever workshop I thought would be interesting. I was too tired on Tuesday to mentally check in for a workshop, but on Wednesday I went to St. Stephens presentation of “Home Sweet Home.” Most of the actors were/are folks who experience homelessness.By sharing their stories, I learned that you can tell a story and have the message come across nicely about homeless because as the audience, we are taught to listen, and for the most part are taught to like the characters. I wish that everyone could watch this play and see what it is that folks have experienced. They were a very engaging group.
Overall, after all the hard work, I think I that through meeting new people, learning about different organizations and the different things that folks do to combat homeless, and most importantly, the stories that are realities, led me thinking to a lot of questions. I hope that this curiosity of trying to learn more about the issue, sparks ideas into my head about solutions we can come across.