Finding Inspiration In Today's Political Climate

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Finding Inspiration In Today's Political Climate

October 2018

By Annie Henson (@anniethenson)
Center for Health and Social Policy Ambassador

@anniethensonDawning my lanyard and comfy walking shoes, I took to the streets of downtown Austin in September for the eighth annual 2018 Texas Tribune Festival, also known to fans as TribFest. TribFest is three packed days of listening to and learning from top state and national policymakers and problem-solvers tackling the capital-B Big issues of today and tomorrow. It's literally paradise for every wonk, and wonk-in-training, and I took advantage of it being held in the Texas capital city, my current hometown.

I’m a dual Master candidate for Public Health and Public Policy at The University of Texas at Austin. Staying atop the news, particularly as it relates to my interests in women’s health and health equity, can be draining and defeating. The headlines, podcasts, and tweets can bog me down with the growing list of problems we’re up against (read: insurance, access, obesity and famine). The tone of TribFest was a welcome relief from this maelstrom.

Strolling around downtown between panels (and rain-showers), there was a pervasive energy. It was a buzz that happens when things are getting done; not so different than when that first cup of coffee hits in the morning. TribFest wasn’t about listing out the woes and worries of the current week, it was about dissecting those issues and implementing change.

Just walking into my first event, entitled “Women at #TribFest18”, I could feel that this weekend was not going to be what I had expected. Where I expected to hear hot takes and talking heads from afar, in reality, there was insightful discussion and personal conversation. The interactive lunch gave me a chance to engage with and listen to women whose names I’ve only seen in headlines and on bumper stickers. Conversing with women who have trekked far down the career paths I’m just starting out on was humbling and motivating. Surrounded by these women as peers, with common interests and concerns, made me feel confident that even if the work before me is hard, its work worth taking on.  

During the festival, I had the chance to sit just feet from one woman who has done the hard work, impossibly hard work, Kathleen Sebelius, former Secretary of Health and Human Services (2009-2014) and former governor of Kansas (2003-2009). She spoke to the room about the Affordable Care Act, which she oversaw the passage of under the Obama Administration. Sebelius sits at the corner of Public Health and Public Policy, where I want to be. So, I was particularly interested in how she navigated the messiness of both those fields. Listening to her describe the past and present state of the ACA was clear and raw. She spoke to the perseverance and ingenuity of getting such a large program standing, and what has happened to it since. It could have been a disheartening hour. Instead, I felt revved up and ready to act; caffeine kicking in.  

Especially in these times, when issues are inflated, and the two sides are caricatured, I’m so grateful for the opportunity to share space with the people who are getting things done.

Thank you TribFest, for giving me the energy to not only make it through mid-terms, but to continue down my path, and one day be somebody who can tackle the capital-B Big issues.


Annie Henson is in the second year of a dual-master degree program, pursuing a Master of Public Affairs at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and a Master of Public Health at the UT Health Science Center - Austin Regional Campus and 2018 CHASP Ambassador. Annie is particularly interested in expanding her understanding of the systems that impact health disparities, especially in regard to nutrition and women's health. She hopes to leverage the set of skills granted through the dual-degree program to work at the intersection of social policy and program implementation. She is also very interested in program evaluation within the philanthropic sector or in support of public/private partnerships.

More about the Center for Health and Social Policy Ambassador Program.

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The views, information, or opinions expressed by blog contributors are solely those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Center for Health and Social Policy, the LBJ School of Public Affairs, or The University of Texas at Austin or affiliated employees.