Influencing People Who Shape Public Policy
By Barbara Hildt
Many of us participated in or witnessed the “United We Stand” rally in Ajijic Plaza the day after Trump was made President. Large protests and demonstrations can help to unify people with similar views and can get the media attention to shed some light on issues, but they do little to influence the people who make the laws and shape policies. We need know about and use methods of advocacy that are proven to be most effective.
When I served in the Massachusetts legislature, there were frequently demonstrators in front of the Statehouse. But rarely did I have the time to go out to see what they were for or against. I was too busy in committee hearings and meetings to even have time to leave the building for lunch. Most demonstrators didn´t bother to enter the statehouse to visit the offices of their representatives or senators and drop off information about their concerns.
To advocate effectively to save or modify public policies, it makes sense to do things that enhance your chances of actually influencing the policymakers, without having to curry favor or make campaign contributions. Advocacy is not a single action. It usually requires a series of actions and a willingness to commit to the effort for at least a few months if not years. If you believe your cause is important and just you should consider doing what I taught citizen advocates to do:
1. Be prepared to present important facts orally and in writing. Cite sources and use bullet points.
2. Always communicate respectfully with the policymaker. Call her/his office and ask to speak with a staff person who works on related issues. Identify yourself, share your concern and ask if the policymaker has a position on the issue. Provide your contact info and request a response in a letter or email. The number of names on petitions are noted, but personal phone calls and letters are more influential.
3. Build a coalition of individuals and groups that share your concern and core values. Meet and come to agreement on a strategic advocacy plan.
4. Make an appointment to meet your representative or senator in their district where they have more time to listen to constituents without interruptions.
5. Develop and maintain respectful relations with staff. Without them there is little chance of access to the policymaker or positive responses to requests.
6. Get to know the person you want to influence. What issues does he/she care about most? Relate your issue to his/her concerns if possible.
7. Before you meet with the policymaker, meet with those who will participate and agree on the points you need to make; the questions to be asked; and who will be the primary and secondary spokespersons for your group. Before the meeting starts inquire about how much time you can expect to have with the policymaker.
8. Be prepared with clear, concise factual printed material and at least one powerful illustration of the need for the policy such as a true story about a constituent.
9. Avoid lecturing or making negative remarks about what you regard as the Policy-makers past failings or mistakes. Focus on your hopes for the future. Ask how he/she might be willing to support and help promote your cause.
10. Use your Power of Appreciation. Don´t end the meeting without recognizing and appreciating the policy-maker’s service, citing some specifics. Express gratitude for the opportunity to meet, for their caring concern and willingness to help in any way, such as signing a letter to the president or sponsoring a bill.
This advice is shared in hopes it may be used by readers who want to be effective advocates for protecting the environment, human rights, social justice and peace. Even if we’re not living in the U.S. we can call and write to members of Congress. We can encourage our family and friends to take actions and share these tips with others who want to make a difference.
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