Civic Engagement, DC Style

By Gwyn Herbein

 

When the conversation turns to politics, many people tune out. After all, the topic usually brings out strong opinions and divisions, even among the best of friends. From partisan bickering in Congress to a long and heated presidential race, it’s easy to understand why many people steer away from addresssing politics these days. Yet, for political organizations trying to spread a message or view, many can benefit from the political action of the community, including its chiropractors. From community engagement to organizations that advocate for the chiropractic profession to local committees that work to improve the community, there are plenty of ways for Chiropractic to benefit the larger population. And for those who do get involved, the results can be rewarding, both personally and professionally. The future of Chiropractic depends on the voices of those who dedicate their time and energy to politics, are armed with passion for what they do and are brimming with new ideas. Meet three chiropractors who simultaneously advocate for Chiropractic and better their communities through politics.

Robert Hayden, D.C.

Hayden runs the Iris City Chiropractic Center in Griffin, Ga. Prior to studying Chiropractic, he was in critical care nursing for 20 years, during which time he was politically active at the district, state and national levels. As a chiropractor, his interest now lies in professional associations. “I honestly cannot imagine being in a profession and not participating in professional association work,” he says. The reason is simple—being active in making decisions trumps having others make them for you. “I want to be at the table, or at least in the room, when discussions are taking place about the direction of a profession,” he explains. “I have too much at stake to not be part of the discussion.” 

While a student at Life University, Hayden joined both of the University’s student associations in order to gain as much information as he could about the inner workings of the profession. “I encourage other students to do the same,” he says. “It’s inexpensive for students, so there’s no excuse. You get information from both [groups], and you can decide where you fit best.” One of the organizations was more philosophy driven, while the other was very research-oriented, and Hayden felt more at home with the latter group. He subsequently became active in the Georgia Chiropractic Association (GCA), even traveling to Washington, D.C., for a national leadership conference where he and his fellow students were fully engaged with lobbying senators on behalf of the profession. That experience proved life changing, and Hayden is now a delegate for the state of Georgia to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) and vice-chairman of the GCA. The ACA fights for the right of all chiropractors to practice to the full extent of their scope under state law, and Hayden describes the GCA as “carrying the water for all chiropractors,” regardless of whether or not they are GCA members. 

Hayden has seen the power of participation firsthand. Along with colleagues at the Georgia Council of Chiropractic, Hayden accomplished the first revision of the state’s Chiropractic Practice Act since 1921. The groups came together to form a coalition to present a united front to the state legislature. After a three-year, head-to-head fight with representatives of traditional medicine, the GCA was ultimately victorious. “Revising the language [of the practice act] was a tremendous step,” says Hayden. “It was updated to more closely fit 21st century Chiropractic.” In addition to the immediate benefits for his profession, Hayden also notes that the experience broke a tradition of infighting between Chiropractic’s professional associations and also fostered a spirit of cooperation with organizations like the Medical Association of Georgia.

While the GCA is proud of its successes, it continues to face a problem common to many volunteer-run organizations: getting others involved. The GCA does outreach for students, and students can also become members and attend conferences on a space-available basis; Hayden recommends getting involved before graduation. As the second-oldest chiropractic association in the world, the GCA will celebrate its 100th anniversary in October. 

Hayden admits that juggling his various responsibilities can be difficult at times, but a passion for involvement is part of his nature. “I was a three-term president [of the GCA], and I will take on whatever role that I can to best serve the association,” he promises. “I will be there as long as I have a pulse.” With volunteers like Hayden fighting the good fight, Chiropractic will be a force to be reckoned with for generations to come.

Robert Braile, D.C.

Braile can trace his political involvement back to his days as a student at New York Chiropractic College. “Since then, it has always been a matter of not being able to just sit back and watch things happen,” he says. “There is some inside burning desire that says, ‘If I don’t step up, bad things happen.’” Armed with a desire to promote the principle of Chiropractic to the suffering world, Braile found a political home as the president of the Georgia Council of Chiropractic (GCC).

The GCC’s mission is to promote the ideals of Chiropractic’s founder and defender, Dr. B.J. Palmer, and founder of Life University, Dr. Sid E. Williams, by recognizing the legal right of DCs to practice in accordance with state law. Braile also describes the GCC as an organization that works with DCs to “enhance their practices, thus enhancing the outreach they have and our profession has as a whole.” To accomplish this, the GCC remains actively involved in legislation and government relations. In 2011, the GCC became the first organization in the history of Chiropractic to get a sitting governor to issue a proclamation about subluxation when Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed the “Subluxation Awareness Month” proclamation. 

While the GCC has been successful in several areas, Braile believes the biggest challenge facing the organization is instilling a sense of urgency in the average DC. “Most chiropractors are focused on their offices and try to stay out of politics,” he says. “They do not see that our profession is standing on the precipice. The principle can either flourish or die in our profession in the near future.” To that end, the goals of the GCC are not only political, but educational as well. “We want to get the public thinking about what life can be like without nerve system interference from subluxation. We want our doctors to be amazingly successful by serving the needs of the public with the unique offering that only Chiropractic can offer to a sick and suffering world,” says Braile. Most importantly, “We want our organization to serve as a shining example for other groups in Chiropractic.” This means focusing on efforts to prevent drugs from entering the profession, an issue that Braile feels very strongly about. 

In addition to his work with the GCC, Braile runs Braile Chiropractic in Marietta, Ga. He is also a well-known lecturer and the founder and CEO of Now You Know, Inc., an Internet company that spreads the word about Chiropractic using online channels. While Braile isn’t sure he has mastered the art of work-life balance, he understands the necessity of sacrifice to achieve his goals. “I believe that anyone who is ‘all in’ committed to a purpose and a principle understands the sacrifice that is made,” he says. He also likes to remember something that Dr. Williams, whom he describes as one of the greatest political minds he has ever met, said to him. “He said, ‘Do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, whether you like it or not,’” remembers Braile. Wise words for anyone striving to be a leader.

Cris Eaton-Welsh, D.C.

Kennesaw, Ga., resident Eaton-Welsh grew up with a positive example of the importance of remaining connected to and active in the community. Because her family owned a business in downtown Kennesaw, her father always encouraged her to know what was going on that could affect their property and their business. The need to get involved hit home for her in 2009, when the city was involved in a multimillion-dollar racial discrimination lawsuit. “At first I thought it wasn’t that bad,” she says, “but after investigating, I realized that it was. That wasn’t the Kennesaw I knew and loved, and I didn’t want my children to think that people here were like that.” 

Eaton-Welsh jumped headfirst into Kennesaw city government, winning 72 percent of the vote to fill the unexpired term of a city councilman involved in the lawsuit. Two years later, she ran for re-election on a platform of fiscal responsibility and economic development and won more than 79 percent of the vote. During her tenure, she has been instrumental in revitalizing downtown Kennesaw—a priority she inherited from her father. “Everything that will be built will look like it was built in the 1800s,” she says of the projects, which seek to honor the city’s past while also pushing it into the future. Being able to see her city change for the better keeps Eaton-Welsh motivated. “I look at the local level as the absolute purest form of government, where you can actually get things done,” she says. An avid runner, Eaton-Welsh has also been instrumental in working with the Cobb Chamber Health Committee on the Fit City Kennesaw initiative, a citywide initiative that encourages residents to embrace a healthier lifestyle. It focuses on promoting nutrition and exercise, and offers programs, events and activities throughout the year like road races and farmers markets. As a result of her efforts and that of the rest of Kennesaw’s government, the city was recently named one of the top 10 places to raise a family by Family Circle magazine.

Much of Eaton-Welsh’s success can be attributed to her experience as a local business owner. Eaton Chiropractic, which she runs with her father, has been a fixture in Kennesaw for almost 20 years. Finding compromise between business and politics is what she describes as the missing link in pushing Kennesaw forward. “They don’t work at the same pace,” she says of the two entities. “They miss the relationships and the intimacies. It’s not always about ordinances and procedures.” 

Eaton-Welsh has experience on both sides of the fence. She graduated from Kennesaw State with a degree in accounting and worked for a commercial developer before attending Life University. As a political science major, she liked the behind-the-scenes aspects of politics. “I never intended to be out here,” she says. But at LIFE, she served as class president for four years. “If anything, [that experience] steered me away from politics,” she says. “You end up getting burned out.” As a chiropractor and a politician, Eaton-Welsh stresses the need for balance and boundaries. With her practice only half a block from City Hall, she worries about her business becoming “City Hall Two,” she says, a concern she also had when her father was involved in local politics. In order to focus on the job at hand, she depends on her staff to keep her focused. “I walk in, and I hand my [receptionist] my cellphones,” she says. Anyone who wants to discuss city business with her can do so between noon and 2 p.m. or after 6 p.m.

Eaton-Welsh loves what she does, but being with her family takes precedence, and she has decided that she is not looking to continue a career in politics once her four-year term expires.  “I am going to go back to hanging out with my daughters,” she says.