III Part Series: Advocacy
Part I: Relationship Building
Hi, I am Mandy from Gainesville! Advocacy starts for me with a simple introduction. How many of us, when we think of meeting with a legislator, gets a bit anxious or nervous? If we are honest, most of us do. Legislators, whether at the state or federal levels, are no different than you and I at the end of the day. They represent the people – which are us! So how do you build a meaningful and lasting relationship with your state and federal legislators before you need them? Please do not wait until you need them. Simply make a friendly introduction of yourself and advocacy begins.
Attend as many of your legislator’s town hall meetings as possible. Most legislator’s hold public town hall meetings a couple of times a year on the average. Many are now holding virtual town hall meeting as well as traditional public meetings. Before going, notify their office (whether in person, phone call or email) in advance that you will be attending and that you are representing a professional association (i.e. American Association of Diabetes Educator), and you would appreciate the opportunity to briefly introduce yourself to them. For in person town hall meetings, identify one to two questions to ask during meeting. Also, submit a question ahead of time for virtual town hall meetings. There’s nothing wrong with asking challenging questions but since you are trying to build a relationship, I highly suggest that you stay away from emotionally charged questions or “gotcha” type questions.
Attending a fundraising event is another great way to build your relationship with a legislator. Participating in a fundraiser is not as challenging or expensive as one might imagine. Don’t worry – you do not have to be a larger contributor to participate. Learn about upcoming fundraising events is easy as signing up for campaign emails and their newsletters. Settings for fundraising events can include private homes or event venues. Last summer and fall, I had a great time attending several fundraising events for both my US Congressional Representative and my state legislators. I realized after attending one fundraising event held in the backyard of a local home you were able to have a lot of one on one time with several state and federal legislators. I had no idea that I would be able to meet that many legislators in one place. Another event held in a local restaurant was a great opportunity to have discussion with two federal and several local and state legislators. The key is building upon these conversations to strengthen your relationship with the legislators.
One and done is not the case! As in any relationship, ongoing communication is essential. Maintaining communication is not daunting as it may seem. As I previously shared, signing up for newsletters and emails allows you to stay informed about your legislators efforts, what is on their priority list and how to individualize your “ask” around each specific legislator. Additionally, scheduling monthly or quarterly meetings with legislators or their staff is vital to keep particular legislation and issues at the front of their mind. When there is specific legislation that has been introduced, I recommend every four to six weeks for meetings. When legislation is forth coming but not yet introduced, a quarterly meeting would be more appropriate. When it comes to communication, “how” we share our perspective, passion and case is just as important as “what” we say. While I know first-hand that it can be difficult at times to show respect, it is ABSOLUTELY vital to show respect in word and deed regardless of which political party they represent and especially if they differ from your political preference.
No magical wand exists for advocacy. As like most things in life, we learn and sharpen our skills as we practice advocacy. Please join me in advocacy and simply start by you introducing yourself as I did.
Hi, I am Mandy from Gainesville! And I would appreciate a moment of your time to share with you…