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Tips for effective advocacy

The following tips are based on a document prepared by the Washington Office of the Presbyterian Church (USA), which gives permission for its use.

Also visit NETWORK’s website for additional advice on contacting decision-makers.

Advocacy is an appropriate way to witness to the justice message of the Gospel. Everyone who is affected by government action or inaction has a right to be involved -- to present their case to those who make decisions. It is not long before you realize that legislators do not know “everything.” A well-informed advocate plays a role in the legislative process by providing research and presenting important pieces of information.

Too much “advocacy” or “lobbying” carries negative connotations. Advocacy need not be seen negatively.

The important variables are the tactics an advocate employs and his or her motivation; how narrow or broad is the focus and who do you care about? The business lobbyist advocates on behalf of the business profits, while the religious lobbyist advocates on behalf of “the least of these.”

Grassroots advocacy can play a particularly critical role in bringing about the passage of just social legislation. … We must stubbornly and persistently follow the legislative process while we advocate on behalf of the poor.

Know the legislative procedures. [http://thomas.loc.gov/home/lawsmade.toc.html] The process and the rules are critical to understanding procedures. If you are actually going to the capital, you need to have daily calendars of floor action and schedules for committee hearings. Call committee staff for further details.

It is usually not enough to say “it’s good” or “it’s right” or “it’s morally just.” We have to show that the measure will ultimately be “cost effective” (if connected with a program).

Our “clout” comes from respect for our judgment, and our ability to be reasonable, as well as our offering of good, sound research.

Tips for dealing with legislators:

  • You need to know their background, philosophy, and the political climate in the district they represent.
  • Try not to categorize legislators. A legislator who is liberal on issue A, may be conservative on issue B.
  • Do not alienate legislators. Keep your cool - don’t ever threaten. As a multi-issue advocate, you will need that legislator’s vote on another issue. Only single issue groups can afford the luxury of alienation.
  • Be honest. If you every knowingly mislead, you will never be trusted again.
  • Tell both sides of an issue if asked. Be truthful in telling them where they should expect opposition. They will need this information as part of their strategy.
  • Offer to help the sponsor in order to facilitate passage of a good bill. Legislators are overworked and must deal with an incredible number of bills. Willingness to do the ‘legwork’ is usually appreciated.
  • Reward a legislator with praise and thank you letters.
  • Invite legislators to speak to groups for exposure. (During election time, you must not appear partisan.)
  • Be considerate, open-minded and willing to compromise. Above all, maintain a sense of humor.
  • Try to wear business attire to meetings with legislators and their staffs.

How to visit your senator or representative:

A personal visit with your representative or senator, either at home or in your state/federal capital can be anxiety-creating, exciting and rewarding. The following are some steps and tips to make such a visit most effective.

Before your visit:

  • Make an appointment by letter or by phone, for home district office or the capital office.
  • Confirm appointment by phone or mail.
  • Appointments with legislative aides are also valuable.
  • Brief yourself about your legislator: general extent of the district; committee assignments; number of terms served; professional background; voting record on issues of your interest; views stated publicly on issues of your interest.
  • Define the objectives of your visit: Is your objective to get acquainted, express general views, or discuss specific issues?
  • Limit the number of issues to be discussed.
  • Brief yourself on the facts surrounding the issue and your views on it.
  • Briefly outline your comments and/or prepare written summary.
  • Anticipate that the appointment may start late – the legislator may be in session and unavailable. Plan either to wait, meet with staff, make new appointment, or meet with legislator at another meeting.
  • Lengths of meeting may range from 10-15 minutes to an hour.
  • Going as a group has advantages, especially if representing a broad base of people and organizations. Who (if a group) will be spokesperson, introduce group, guide conversation, provide summary of issue concern, etc. Assign specific roles to each participant.

While you are there, introduce yourself, giving BRIEF information on:

  • place of residence
  • length of residence
  • church membership
  • occupation
  • student status
  • volunteer involvements
  • voter/political involvement
  • group you are representing (if any)
  • your experience and expertise relevant to the issue for discussion.

Set climate of visit:

  • Be on time
  • Be positive and friendly - not argumentative
  • Acknowledge areas of agreement
  • Acknowledge areas of appreciation
  • State reason for visit: Be concise and specific
  • State position and recommendation on issue
  • Identify your position or that of group which your represent
  • Leave a written summary of your position (if available), reference material, calling card
  • Ask for related legislative materials; copy of bill, analysis of bill, brochures on Senate or House, etc.

 

During the conversation:

  • Meet and write down names of staff person assigned your issue of concern
  • Don’t let questions or comments derail your purpose
  • Admit you need to think more about a new point raised; ask if they will consider a written response later.
  • Ask specific questions; request specific responses
  • Explore options of attending committee meetings or hearings, visiting galleries, etc.

 

Regarding advocacy - what works? How are you influenced, motivated, changed?

 

What works:

  • Give measurable facts - number of people, dollars of cost, percentage of growth/decline, length of service
  • Give a visual picture or share an experience -- people need to “see” firsthand
  • Give a rational argument
  • Be a “squeaky wheel” – repeat the message

 

After your visit

  • Debrief with members of group or another person about the experience
  • Determine possible next steps
  • Inform others about what you learned.
  • Write a thank you letter to the legislator for visit
  • Summarize the visit, comment on what was said by all parties present
  • Identify follow-up steps committed by legislator and self
  • Respond to points not addressed in visit
  • Reiterate issue, position, and recommendations
  • Express intention to continue dialogue
  • Itemize names, addresses, phone numbers, etc. of all participants in visit.
 

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