This is also more difficult one, but something every citizen should do! You can visit them to discuss a specific topic that you have expertise in or are passionate about. Or you can target a specific piece of legislation that they are a sponsor or co-sponsor of (or that they should be). The key about these visits is that you don’t need to be an expert in anything to go. Sharing your personal story on why this issue is important and why the legislator should support it or not is very meaningful. Or you can join a advocacy or lobby day with another organization if you’re not ready to break out on your own. The American Heart Association lobby day in Annapolis is February 2 (sign up here).
- Decide on your issue and who your target legislator is. You should be a constituent of theirs. Do they work on a particular issue that you’re interested in? Are they on a committee that is reviewing legislation that is important to you and you want them to vote a certain way?
- Call their office and set up an appointment with the scheduler. It is likely that you will meet with a staffer if you’re aiming for a Congressperson or Senator. State and local legislators may meet with you in person unless they are in session. Staffers are great as they are doing a ton of the work and research. Make sure you ask to meet with the staffer who works on your issue (environment, health, transportation, etc).
- Prepare and practice your main points and remarks. Bring notes with you or bring materials in a folder that you think the legislator and their staff will find useful about the issue. Bring 2-3 copies. Make sure your information is accurate, but make it meaningful!
- If you’re asked a question, answer the best you can. It’s totally ok to say, “I don’t know, but I will find out and get back to you.”
Sometimes we need to put our money where our mouth is. Maybe this is through writing a check to a local charity or maybe even including a favorite charity in your will/estate planning. Sometimes there are things that need to get done that need a bigger platform and it may be worth it to donate a few extra $$ to help a cause that is important to you. You alone probably can’t put up a bulletin board in a strategic location or run an entire strategic messaging campaign, but your $25 donation can help that become a reality for another organization that you believe in. Organizations can’t use federal dollars or grant funding (usually) for lobbying activities, so they rely on donations from their supporters.
Donating money is not for everyone and is certainly not mandatory to be a great advocate. Donating your time though on the ground work (going to rallys, door knocking), writing emails, making phone calls….these are all time consuming activities that won’t get done if we don’t do them ourselves.
This challenge is for the entire weekend (and will likely take a longer to perfect over time).
What is an elevator speech? Imagine you enter an elevator and find yourself on your way to the 11th floor with Congressman Smith. She says, “Why is your issue important and what should I do about it?” You now have about 15 seconds to fulfill that ask!
Clearly you can’t provide specific details and a long-winded emotional statement, so be prepared with 1-2 sentences that encapsulates what, why, and how. What the issue is, why it’s important, and how the policy maker can act upon the issue. Take this weekend to craft it, practice it, and then be prepared to use it in public!
Can you rattle off your state representatives without prompting? Do you know your legislative district? What about your Congressional reps? You should! If you don’t, find them here. Write down all the names on a card and carry it in your wallet until you’re sure they are committed to memory. Do you know what area your legislative district encompasses? Your representative may have to consider issues in 3-4 different counties, not just where you live.
Beyond knowing these policymakers, there are city and county council representatives, comptrollers, judges, etc, that you should get to know along the way. These are positions that are generally elected by the general public, but we tend to know less about. Don’t try to learn all this overnight (unless you are motivated to do so)! Give yourself a mandate to do it, and by our next elections, you’ll know every name on your voting ballot. Knowing who represents us on the issues makes us better advocates.
Attend a rally or policy-related meeting. Check our Facebook page for regular updates. Here’s a few:
Sunday, January 15 from 2-3:30 “Maryland Rally to Save Healthcare”–Hosted by Senator Chris Van Hollen
Tuesday, January 17 from 7-10PM “Protecting the Affordable Care Act: What Marylanders Stand to Lose Under Repeal“–Hosted by Senator Ben Cardin
Monday, January 23 from 7-9PM “Rally for Earned Sick Days”–Hosted by Working Matters coalition
Thursday, February 9 from 5-7PM “Public Health in Annapolis Night”–Hosted by MdPHA, MdEHN, MD Healthcare for All