While getting involved in our Byzantine democratic process can seem overwhelming, it’s important to remember that our elected representatives work for us. From calling your senator to visiting with your state representative to sending a tweet, there are a myriad of ways to make sure your voice is heard. Below are a few tips and tricks to use when advocating for causes you believe in and making advocacy a bit less intimidating.
1. Be Prepared
The more you know the better. Like most things in life, when meeting with an elected official or staffer, it’s better to be overprepared. It’s important to know not only what you’re asking for – support or opposition to potential legislation, more funds for a community initiative or a pothole that needs fixing – but about the official’s priorities and recent actions. Elected officials often have favorite projects or are passionate about a few key policies. Knowing details about what they care most about or what they are currently working on can be helpful when framing your ask, especially if you’re asking them to build upon previous support for similar issues.
It is also key to bring materials to leave behind with an office. After your discussion, you want to make sure that they have all the relevant information at their fingertips as they work through their decision-making process. Legislative staff meet with constituents all the time, and you want to ensure that your cause doesn’t get lost in the shuffle or forgotten.
2. Be True to Your Story
Regardless of how much data you have to back up your advocacy, what will resonate most is your personal story. Whether you’re advocating for more school funding or greater access to healthcare, make the connection from the abstract policy to the direct impact it has or would have on your life. These moments are what stick with legislators and their staff when they’re creating or amending policy. Your real experiences matter. Think before your meeting about how you want to share your story and how your experience can best give color to the policies for which you are advocating.
3. Follow Up
Building a relationship with staffers is so important to making sure your voice is heard. Send thank you notes to everyone you met with to show appreciation for their time. Staffers and elected officials are busy and managing many different policy priorities, and a thank you note shows that you are understanding of their busy schedules.
Keep in touch with relevant policymakers you met with by sharing updates on policies you’ve advocated for. You don’t want to just be in touch when you need or want something. The stronger relationships you have with the office, the easier it will be to meet with decision makers and meaningfully advocate for the causes you care about.
After several days of walking the halls and meeting with policymakers to ensure patient access to healthcare, Kathryn Burke and Brandon Stephenson are still looking good at the State Capitol.