Columnist Lindsay Sabadosa: Listening and learning, then speaking truth to power

  • Lindsay Sabadosa. FILE PHOTO

Published: 2/15/2019 8:12:04 AM

The best part of being a state representative is talking to people or rather listening to people. In a world where communication is rapid and getting in sound bites is put at a premium, it’s easy to forget that half of a conversation is listening, both to ensure that the person speaking is heard and to be able to provide a germane response. I once read that it’s important when you ask someone a question to give them at least five seconds to answer, and, as I move through life, I find that to be true. I have recently been in situations where someone asks, “What would you like to tell the state rep?” and it takes several seconds before anyone speaks. Getting comfortable with awkward pauses has been an important part of this job because what follows — the words, the ideas, the concerns — is always worthwhile.

In the last week, I attended a local support group for families whose loved ones suffer from mental health and/or substance use issues. After I gave a quick Statehouse update, the facilitator asked the participants, “And what would you like to share?” It took a few seconds, but slowly people started to talk, and another clear truth emerged: The people who live in our community, the ones who do the hard work of taking care of their families every day while attempting to find some sort of work-life balance, are real-life superheroes. Our neighbors, when we take the time to listen to their stories, are indeed some of the most amazing people you will ever meet.

After the recent elections, there has been a lot of fanfare about many of the newly elected officials on all levels of government. Like many, I breathe a sigh of relief every time I hear a person who holds office speaking truth to power; it is needed in a world where the voices of regular people are not always brought into our government buildings and reflected in our laws and policy.

Still, your elected officials are public servants who simply have the inordinate privilege of bringing your voice into the halls of government and advocating on your behalf. When we celebrate the (s)heroes of our community, let’s hold up the parents who advocate daily so their child has better access to health care, the high school students who organize town halls so students can share their concerns with their state-level elected officials, or the middle schoolers who advocate to ensure menstrual products are available in their school.

At the Statehouse, the very first time you speak on the House floor is a momentous occasion. For that one speech, not only do you get to speak, but everyone is required to listen. The Speaker comes to the rostrum to preside, and your colleagues are asked to be silent. If you have observed the House floor, you know that listening during proceedings is rare, so to have a moment when your colleagues are required to listen is precious.

On Jan. 30, I gave my first speech on the floor of the House, and I talked about this district. To be clear, I also brought up Medicare for All and the lack of public transportation in western Massachusetts (twice), but, in large part, my speech was about what I have heard because you have given me the privilege of listening.

I spoke about an amendment to the Rules in the House that would have made committee votes a matter of public records, allowed legislators 24 hours to read a redrafted bill before voting on it, and permitted the public — and all legislators — to view testimony and documents submitted to a committee. This is something that happens on other levels of government, but not in the Massachusetts Statehouse, and this would have allowed people to better understand what happens to policy and bills that they care about. I believe in that amendment (which, sadly, did not pass), but the best part of giving my first speech was sharing the voices of so many of you who reached out about the importance of transparency and your desire to understand how the Statehouse works.

I am grateful to represent a district where people are willing to speak up and share their life experiences. What you say gives me the ability to speak truth to power, and together we can work to shift that power back to the people.  

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