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With the 2012 election season heating up, recovery community organizations and allies are mobilizing their members and local residents to exercise our civic rights and responsibilities, and we’ve been reminded of how important it is to be engaged in our nation’s civic life.

In the U.S. Congress and numerous state houses, there are calls to drug test people who receive unemployment benefits, housing and other support. These proposed policies are misguided, ineffective and would waste precious taxpayer resources. We know what works to promote and sustain addiction recovery is access to services and support, not erecting more barriers. Suspicionless drug testing is expensive and ineffective because it merely aims to identify individuals without getting them the help they need. 

For the more than 20 million Americans in recovery, our families, friends and allies, we need to speak out publicly about the issues that matter to us most and engage policy makers and the media in them. 

Faces & Voices of Recovery has developed two tools that you can use to do just that.

The 2012 Recovery Voices Count Guide to Non-Partisan Civic Engagement has everything you need to run a civic engagement campaign that will register and educate voters, and encourage individuals to vote on November 6. Recovery community organizations and allies have registered tens of thousands of voters who’ve turned up to the polls since the campaign was launched in 2008.

You can find out how to educate candidates for public office on the issues that matter to us by using this year’s candidate questions to get them on the record. 

One question is, “Twenty million Americans are in recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs, yet many still find it difficult to get an education, a good job, a driver’s license or to vote due to discriminatory state and federal policies and laws. Do you support or oppose the repeal of these laws, which basically prevent people who have paid their debt to society from contributing to their families and communities in a positive way?”

We encourage you to organize or attend an event in your community this election cycle. In 2010, Friends of Recovery Vermont hosted a Gubernatorial Candidates Forum at the Burlington, VT, recovery community center. Broadcast live on Vermont Public Radio, the candidates went on record about issues that were important to their community. 

The Community Listening Forum is another tool. Modified town hall meetings put experts front and center. People in recovery, family members and allies speak out about their experiences and needs to a formal listening panel composed of policymakers, program administrators and elected officials. Their testimony, as recovery experts, informs other meeting participants, media and listening panel about what’s working and what’s not, and ways in which to build recovery-oriented and supportive communities.

We’ve partnered with 34 local, state and regional recovery organizations in four states to host Community Listening Forums and have produced a free, easy-to-use toolkit so other organizations can hold forums of their own. At the February 2011 Community Listening Forum in Portland, Oregon, we witnessed speakers who were excited to get involved in the public dialogue and have their voices heard. They learned that their stories have power, and by coming together with a common message and voice, they can make a difference. Following up on the forum, the group organized an effort to send more than 1,300 postcards and hundreds of emails to state legislators about funding priorities. They went to the state capitol to share their success stories and explain what a difference treatment and recovery support services made in their lives. When Oregon’s budget was announced, community-based treatment didn’t lose one dollar from the previous budget cycle. The state’s recovery community continues to build on this momentum.

The recovery community has made tremendous progress in building an organized and unified voice in the 10 years since Faces & Voices of Recovery was founded. With the support of hundreds of recovery community organizations about the country, join us in making Recovery Voices Count in 2012. 

Eric McDaniel is Program Coordinator for Faces & Voices of Recovery in Washington, DC. Patty Katz is the founder of the Hands Across the Bridge Project and a Faces & Voices of Recovery board member. They are both in long-term recovery. For more information, please visit

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