Monday, November 10, 2008

How to be an effective Advocate 101. Part 1


Easy, 1st. of 3 steps: Place a Phone Call

When time is short, the best way to communicate with your legislator is by telephone. Your call will take just a minute and could change the way your lawmaker will vote on an issue. You will probably speak with an aide rather than the lawmaker, but your call is still important. Here are several tips to help maximize the effectiveness of your telephone call.

A. Call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for your House Member or Senator. The operator will connect you.

B. Identify yourself as a constituent: Lawmakers are most concerned and interested in the thoughts and opinions of their constituents - people who live and vote in their state or district.

C. Be brief and clear: Always limit your call to one subject. Be specific. State why you are calling and the action you would like the lawmaker to take. Give a bill number if possible.

D. Be courteous and ask for a response: Regardless of your lawmaker's position on an issue, always be respectful. If the lawmaker does not support your bill or otherwise agree with you, let her/him know you're disappointed. If the office does not know where the lawmaker stands on a specific bill or issue, be sure to ask for a written response once they have had a chance to review the legislation or ask for a time when you should phone again to find out the lawmaker's decision on the bill or issue.

E. Don,t be disappointed: If you do not get to talk to him/her directly, talking to their aides is the same thing, the aides do the foot work and keep the Senator / Congressperson advised as to what their constituents are saying.

F. Find your Senators.

G.Find your Representatives.

You,ll be surprise at how eager they are to hear what you have to say. Be sure to thank them for their time.

Remember to write down the names of your contact persons they will come in handy later.

A little more work, 2nd. of 3 steps: Write a letter.

Letters and hand-crafted emails have an important impact on lawmakers. They often calculate that each letter received from one constituent represents a similar view of at least 100 others. When time is short, send your letter by email or fax. Postal letters to Members of Congress are heavily scanned and often take several weeks to reach an actual congressional office in Washington, DC.

Personally written letters to lawmakers allow you to present your position without interruption. To maximize your letter's impact, it should be short, to the point and on only one topic. Be sure to include how the issue affects you and/or your community. If you are responding to an action alert that provides a sample letter, be sure to put the message in your own words and personalize it.
Here are a few more tips to refer to when drafting your letters:

A. Address Your Lawmakers Appropriately: Use "The Honorable," followed by
her/his name, and begin the letter "Dear Senator" or "Dear Representative."

The Honorable _________
U.S. Senate
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable_________
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington,DC 20515

B. Be Brief, Specific and Courteous: Keep your letter to no more than one page and one subject. State the purpose in the opening paragraph, particularly the action you would like to see taken. If your letter pertains to a specific bill, identify it accordingly. Always be courteous - even if you respectfully disagree with your lawmaker's position.

C. Ask for a Reply: Always close your letter by asking for a written response stating the lawmaker's position on the issue.

D. Fax and Email: There are a few additional guidelines to follow when faxing or emailing. Always include your address so your lawmaker knows you are a constituent. If faxing, be sure to include the fax number on your letter. You can find your lawmaker's web site at or Look for the "Contact Me" or "Write Me" link - most lawmakers use an email form for constituent communications.

Many replies will come form aides, once again they are important their letters always reflex the views of the lawmakers the work for.

Again keep notes you'll need them should you decided to take step 3.

Very rewarding work, 3rd. of 3 steps. Personal visits.

You as a constituent are your Lawmakers' Boss. they want to here from you. use your influence; you don't have to be an expert or a professional lobbyist.

By far the most effective way to articulate your views to your elected officials and positively affect the outcome of legislation is though face-to-face meetings. Most legislators and their staff welcome the opportunity to meet with their constituents. Even though it will it take longer than five minutes to schedule, sit down and speak with your lawmaker, the payoff for the environment can be very high. It's also much easier than you might think. Here are some suggestions for meeting with your lawmakers:

A. Attend a Lawmaker's Town Meeting: Your local newspaper should list where and when your lawmaker is hosting a town meeting. Be prepared to ask a simple, concise question. Ask family members and friends to join you. These meetings are generally quite informal
and small, so they are great places to get to know your lawmaker personally and ask your question in a public forum. To keep up-to-date with when your lawmaker
will be in your district/state and where she/he will make appearances, call your lawmaker's office and ask to be placed on the town meeting information or invitation list.

B. Schedule an Appointment with the Lawmaker's Office: Scheduling a formal face-to-face meeting is the most effective way to communicate with your lawmaker. You should start making arrangements about 4 weeks before an anticipated visit to DC this will help assure the times work with your schedule. Most meetings last 10 to 30 minutes.
To schedule an appointment, call and write your lawmaker's office, ask for the "scheduler" and set up a meeting. Ask for a confirmation letter to be sent to you.

Whether the meeting is to be at the legislator's local office or in Washington, DC, always identify yourself as a constituent. Oftentimes, the legislator cannot meet you but her/his staff can; meetings with staff are just as important. Congressional staffers are very busy. If you leave a voice mail for the scheduler and she/he does not return your call, try again in about two days. Polite persistence pays off

When meeting with a lawmaker or staffer, always come prepared with a specific request for action - an "ask" - for the lawmaker to take. After clearly stating your position, ask for the lawmaker's position on the issue or legislation. Politely press for a commitment.
If the legislator is not able to state her/his position at the time of the meeting, ask when you should follow up (usually within a week of the visit) and how (by phone or email) to inquire about any action taken.

Be sure to discuss how the legislation will directly affect you. Personal stories carry weight. If possible, demonstrate widespread support by mentioning others in the community - organizations, officials, etc - who agree with your position.

Always be polite, positive, and professional. Start off your meeting by thanking the lawmaker or staffer for meeting with you and for any past helpful support. Close the meeting with a "thank you" as well, regardless of whether or not the lawmaker will do what you want her/him to do. Do not refer to any lawmakers by their last names only.
Always bring written material- an information packet - to give to the lawmaker or staffer. If you would like help with putting together an information packet, feel free to contact me, I will try to help with environmental issues you want to present.

Follow up your visit with a personal letter thanking the lawmaker or staffer for her/his time. This is another opportunity to make your point. If the Congressional office made a commitment, remind them of this in your letter.

I have lobbied in DC. I can tell you it is a very rewarding experience. This is something you can do just by taking a few hours out of a DC. vacation that will really enrich your trip.

Many more ways you can become an environmental warrior to come.

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