10 Tips to being a better advocate
1. Do it. That’s the first thing. Just like voting, you have a voice and you should use it. Nothing I say here should act as discouragement in any way. You want to write the president? Write the president! You want to contact Speaker Ryan? Contact Speaker Ryan. No one can listen to what you don’t say, no one can read what you don’t write.
That being said, the following 9 tips are to help you make the most of your limited time.
2. National policy is important. You should follow it and encourage the representatives of your districts to vote your way. But local elections are won and lost by very small margins and one voice makes a much larger difference at that level. Follow municipal policy and try to influence local decisions. If a city ordinance cannot be passed (because of county or state sovereignty issues or for political reasons) then move up the scope of your campaign.
3. If national is the way to go, remember your state senators and representatives maintain local offices. Some people will tell you to contact these offices instead. I say contact them in addition to. More precisely, the local office is your default contact. CC the national office.
4. Know who your representatives are. That’s a no-brainer, so let me take this advice up a notch. Know which committees your rep serves on. Are any of these committees important to the cause you’re advocating for?
5. Connected to the above: know which committees are the gatekeepers for the policies you care about. Who chairs them? Who is the lead opposition? You should be contacting them as well. It is a double-win if your local rep is either of these two people. You should be writing them all the time.
6. You can write leading national figures if you would like, but if Speaker Ryan is not your elected official, you’re probably wasting your time writing him. Ryan isn’t going after your vote, so he doesn’t really need to care about your opinion. At the national level, Speaker Ryan does need to gauge the feelings of his fellow Republicans. So change their minds.
7. Following the above, when you write your reps, let them know you’re a voter and that you’re active in your community. Then share with them the story of why you care about this issue; bonus point if you are personally and directly affected by the issue at hand. They have thousands of people shouting statistics and ideology at them all the time. Personal stories matter. This is true…and maybe even more true if your rep agrees with your position. They are always looking for local, personal stories to hold up to justify positions they already hold for mathematical or ideological reasons. Be their pathos.
8. Don’t forget the CC field. It’s sort of a lost art, but if you’re writing an actual letter and not an email, then remember to add a cc: after your sig (like in olden days!) and include other pro- and/or con- groups that are involved in the fight. Not like a snotty “And I’m going to the press. Nyah!” sort of thing. But rather in a “I’m an informed person on this issue and I’m not alone.” Obviously do this is you are writing an email. (But don’t overdo it. If you have a personal contact at these organizations, then it’s good to name drop. Don’t litter your CC field with a bunch of “info@…” emails. You’ll just look like a crazy person.)
9. Following on the above, join organizations that are fighting your fight and don’t forget to join any professional groups that pertain to you. Those groups hire lobbyists, they organize Hill Days, they follow legislation and will update you on a bill’s progress. You’ll learn a lot and you’ll be part of an organized effort. Your voice matters, but so does your $$$. Besides, getting personally in front of a rep is often more impactful than a series of letters. (Although letters are awesome, keep writing).
10. Finally, get in front of your rep, following on the above. If they are holding town halls, get out to them. Join the local party that most closely aligns with your views and attend their fundraisers. BE A PRECINCT COMMITTEEPERSON. Seriously. It may be crass or sad or whatever, but politicians pay attention to people more when they are both more active and more effective at their advocacy. That’s part of their job.
Criticism, corrections, or additions welcome in the comments.