Legislative Advocacy – Call, Write or Visit Your State Legislator
Calling your legislator is a good way to advocate for something that is important to you.
Before you call:
- Write down the main points you want to tell them.
- Practice what you are going to say. Keep it short, try to keep it to 3 or 4 minutes.
- Be ready to answer questions or give more information if they ask for it.
During the call:
Ask to speak to the legislator. If he or she is not available leave a brief message and request a return call from the legislator. Sometimes the legislator’s staff will call you back and that is good too.
Identify yourself as someone who lives in the legislator’s district.
- Tell them who you are and that you live in the district they serve
- Tell them the problem
- Tell them why you are concerned
- Give your idea to fix the problem you are concerned about or if you are talking about a specific piece of legislation tell them why you like it or don’t like it.
If you are calling about legislation tell them the number and the title of the bill.
Remember to always be polite.
If you don’t know the answer to their question it is okay to say you don’t know but you will find out and get back to them. Make sure to follow-up if you say you will get back to them.
Thank them for taking the time to talk with you.
If you get a voicemail, leave a message and ask for a return call.
Sample Script for Calling
“Hello Senator or Assembly Member (last name). My name is (first and last name) and I live in your district in (city). I am calling today to ask for your support on (give the number and name of the bill if you are calling about a bill). This bill is important to me because (tell them why it is important). Please take my name and phone number. I am happy to answer any questions you might have about this important issue. Thank you for your time.”
Writing a Letter to you legislator is a good way to advocate for something that is important to you.
There are four things you should have in your letter:
- Tell them who you are and that you live in the district they serve (you can tell them what city or town)
- Tell them the reason you are writing to them – the problem you want to address or the issue you are supporting.
- Tell them why it is important to you. This is where you should tell your personal story.
- Close the letter by giving them your solution to the problem and thanking them for their time and consideration.
The Honorable [Legislator’s Name]
Dear [Senator XXX or Assembly Member XXX] always use their last name,
My name is (your name) and I live in (city). I am a constituent of yours and I am writing to ask for your support on SB 123. It is a bill to make sure all the buses in our city are wheelchair accessible. I get up every morning Monday – Friday at 5:30 am to catch 2 buses so I can get to work by 8:30 am. I use a wheelchair and some of the buses are not wheelchair accessible. If a bus that in not wheelchair accessible comes and I can’t get on it I have to wait for the next bus. If I miss a bus that can make me late for work. like my job a lot and I worked really hard to get it. I don’t want to lose my job because I can’t get to work on time.
The bus service is very important to me and I rely on it to get to work. Please vote yes on SB 123 Accessible Buses so I can ride all of the buses in our city and get to work on time. If you have any questions, please contact me at (give your name and phone number or email address) and I will be happy to answer any questions for you. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Things to consider when you write your letter – What makes a good story?
- It is about you or someone close to you.
- It is on topic—it is linked to Medicaid, SSI, or another lifeline program.
- It is short and clear but includes messages about how the programs are important to you and what would happen if the program was cut.
- It helps the person better understand the issue.
Visiting Your Legislators
Calling your legislator is a good way to advocate for something that is important to you.
A face-to-face visit with your legislator is a great opportunity for you to discuss issues that are important to you. Your legislators all have district offices as well as their Capitol office that you can visit. In California you can find out who your legislators are and where their offices are by entering your address here http://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov. Then you will have the contact information to make an appointment.
First, Make an Appointment
If you decide to visit their district office call the district office number and ask to schedule an appointment with your legislator. It is best if you can give a quick reason for the visit. For example: “I would like to schedule an appointment with Senator B so I can talk to him about public transportation” or if you have specific legislation you want to discuss you could say “I want to schedule an appointment with Senator B to talk about senate bill 123, Public Transportation”.
Have your calendar ready so you know what times and days will work for you.
They may tell you the legislator is not available but one of his/her staff would be happy to meet with you. That is okay too.
Before the Visit
- Write down the things you want to talk about.
- Practice what you are going to say and try to keep it to 5 minutes.
- If you are going in a group decide who is going to talk about which issues.
- Prepare any materials you want to leave with the legislator.
- Know where you are going and how long it will take to get to their office.
During the Visit
- Dress neatly because you are going to an important meeting.
- Be prompt even a couple minutes early is okay.
- Introduce yourself and tell them where you are from. If you are in a group, others should do the same
- Explain why you are there and make sure you stick to the facts and the reason you are there.
- If you are there about a specific bill make sure you mention the name and number of the bill.
- Be prepared to answer questions the legislator may have.
- When you leave, thank them for their time and leave your contact information in case they have questions later.
- Be polite and courteous.
After the Visit
- Send a letter or email to thank them for taking the time to meet with you.
- The letter should include the reason for the visit and why the issue is important to you.
- Restate your contact information and your willingness to answer questions.
Social Media Advocacy – Twitter and Facebook
Both Twitter and Facebook are powerful tools to advocate for what you believe in and to connect with other advocates. This guide will teach you the basics of how to use both platforms as well as specific ways to use each to increase your impact.
The Basics of Twitter and Facebook
Build and maintain your network:
- Find people and organizations doing advocacy work that you admire and follow or friend them, or like their Facebook pages.
- Find your representatives and elected officials and follow or friend them, or like their Facebook pages.
- Post regularly to let your followers and friends know that your interest in advocacy is ongoing.
- Reply and comment on posts and tweets that you are interested in.
Get the word out
- Share credible, timely information from trusted sources with your friends and followers.
- Encourage your network to engage offline by sharing information about call-in, email, or letter writing campaigns, or any upcoming in person rallies.
- Remember your online presence reflects who you are offline. Building a reputation as a well-informed advocate takes good judgement and time.
- There can be a lot of false information online, so if you are unsure of a source it is better not to share!
Advanced Twitter Advocacy:
To demonstrate key concepts of social media advocacy we will use the following fictional bill as our case study:
AB999 is a proposed measure banning all sofas. If passed the bill requires every household in America to immediately remove any sofa from their house. Your representative, Jane Doe is waffling. You take to social media to convince her that she must vote no on AB999.
Hashtags– any series of words or letters immediately following the # symbol – are easily searchable on Twitter. This makes them a wonderful way for people advocating for the same cause to find one another, as well as a great way for advocates to demonstrate the amount of interest in a topic.
- Before you tweet search fellow advocates to see if a hashtag exists about the cause you are tweeting in favor of or against.
- For our case study we have seen several of our favorite twitter advocates and organizations talking about AB999 using the hashtag #SaveTheSofas
Liking and Retweeting
Liking a tweet is a good way to let the person or organization who composed the tweet know that you agree with and appreciate what they are saying. To like a tweet click on the small heart at the bottom of the tweet.
Retweeting is a way to amplify the impact of any tweet. They also help strengthen bonds within your network. For example, if many people in your network are already tweeting about AB999, sharing their statements with your followers is a great way to let the original tweeter know you like their ideas while at the same time telling your followers that this is also how you feel.
Interacting with your Representatives – How to @
If used correctly Twitter is a powerful tool that allows direct access to your lawmakers. Many lawmakers run their own accounts meaning that you can use the platform to speak directly to them.
- Be specific – lawmakers are involved in many pieces of legislation at one time, tell them which topic you are advocating for. If possible use the specific bill number and ALWAYS specify the subject.
- To communicate directly to your representative, you must first find their Twitter handle. Either search Twitter or visit their webpage for this information. This is important because if your tweet includes their twitter handle they will receive a notification that they have been mentioned.
For example, Representative Jane Doe’s twitter handle is @RepJDoe. If your tweet includes @RepJDoe she will be notified of your tweet. If your tweet has her name, she will only find it if she searches her name – hopefully your representative is too busy for this!
As with any other form of communication with your representatives, give them a reason to listen. Tell them how this law impacts you, and what they can do to help.
Threading Tweets – when 280 characters isn’t enough
Twitter has a 280 character limit which is great because it keeps us focused on the most important elements of our message. Sometimes, when dealing with complex advocacy topics, we need to tell a longer story. This is where threading comes in. Threading is when you link a series of tweets together in one long chain. Threading is a powerful tool for sharing personal stories of the impact a proposed law will have on you, your loved ones, or your community.
How to thread tweets:
- Click the Tweet button to draft a new Tweet.
- To add another Tweet(s), click the highlighted plus icon, the blue circle with the white plus sign in it at the lower right of the Twitter composition screen (the icon will highlight once you have entered in text).
Note: If you go over the character limit, the text that is over the limit will be highlighted for easier editing before you post.
- To delete any of your Tweets, click the delete button
- When you have finished adding all the Tweets you’d like included in your thread, click the Tweet all button to post.
Putting it all together - Sample Tweet
Hello @repJDoe I live in your district, please vote no on AB999 outlawing sofas, the proposed law will hurt the disability community by making our living rooms uncomfortable and drab #SaveTheSofas
Why it works:
- You have @’ed your representative. She will be notified the second your tweet is posted.
- You have named the bill and subject that you are interested in, told your representative what you would like her to do, and how your community would be impacted should the law pass.
- You have used a trending hashtag; other advocates will be able to find and share your message.
Advanced Facebook Advocacy:
Commenting on Representative’s and organization’s posts
Commenting on your representative’s or favorite organization’s Facebook posts allows you to be part of the advocacy conversation.
- Representatives and organizations want to hear from you, the people they serve, but remember, these posts are moderated by people just like you. Always try to be a good citizen of the internet and be as polite as possible.
- As with any other form of communication, give them a reason to listen. Tell them how the law, issue, or idea impacts you, and what they can do to help.
Facebook events let you invite anyone in your network to join you either online or in person. They can be used to plan rallies, meetups for people interested in advocating together, and many other purposes.
Creating or joining groups
Facebook groups are a way for people with similar interests to join together and share ideas and information.
- Ways to Engage Your Members of Congress, http://www.thearc.org/what-we-do/grassroots-advocacy/how-to-engage-congress
- Preparing for Meeting with Your Members of Congress, http://www.thearc.org/document.doc?id=5660