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Advocacy 101

Why Advocate?

Advocacy at the core of the work of IJPC. As we try to confront unjust local, national and global systems, we recognize that legislation is often needed to change in order to be more equitable and just for all. Advocacy is necessary to convince your elected officials that their constituents are concerned about a particular issue. Members of Congress (MoCs) are often concerned about reelection so they often will do what it takes to confirm their reelection and your vote. They certainly view a coalition as more valuable than individual opinion, so allying with a larger group like the IJPC and including a reference to our group in your individual advocacy efforts will strengthen the claim in the mind of your representative.

Initial Steps

  • Research the issue that you are concerned about and the legislative process. Do not solely rely upon articles or statements by groups that solely confirm your position, as this can make an MoC believe that you are too biased for a reasonable discussion. Arming yourself with as much information as possible will serve to demonstrate to the MoC that you are knowledgeable of the subject and influence their opinion about who cares about this issue.
    • Here is a link that can provide you with some basic information on how the US government is organized so that you can know who to advocate to.
    • Here is another link that shows some avenues of contacting elected officials at all levels. Note that you are more likely to have a greater impact on an MoC at a local level, but by partnering with larger organizations or larger campaigns, you can broadcast your message on a wider platform.
  • Familiarize yourself with your MoC and their staff. Relegate yourself to your local MoC because they will only be concerned with constituents that are from their direct voting block. This will also serve to give you familiarity with where and when MoC’s will be at town halls and other face to face opportunities, which are generally considered to be the most influential. When you are ready to deliver your statements on the subject, ensure that your statements are both informative and concise/digestible.
  • KIC (Keep It Civil). Congress members will not stand for bullying or hectoring, as this serves to further alienate your group from positivity, which is something that MoC crave. Remember that reelection is always at the forefront of their mind, so they will be happy to engage with you in ways that suggest to the public that they are open minded. Be firm in your approach, but polite.
  • Listen respectfully and understand the position of your MoC. It is impossible to change someone’s mind if you do not understand their thinking.

Forms of advocacy

Email, Letters, Calls

  • Personal statements are far more likely to be considered by an MoC. Avoid the usage of form letters and personalize your message while including your postal address and how this issue impacts you and your community.
  • In your letter, be concise, informative and request specific action. Research the topic thoroughly and demonstrate this in your letter through referencing current issues, such as bills that will come and statistics on the issue.
    • It is also important to be aware of how your legislator has voted in the past, use a website like VoteSmart to figure out their voting record. Simply search the name of the representative you are interested in, and it will provide you with a history of their voting patterns.
  • There is strength in numbers. Multiple letters, emails or calls delivered in conjunction with one another demonstrates that there are several individuals who are concerned about the issue and the degree of your concern.
  • Make it clear that you expect direct action to be taken on the issue, and do not remain satisfied with any vague answers from staffers.
  • Here is a template for how your letter should be addressed (courtesy of Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty):
    • State Senator
      The Honorable (full name)
      Texas State Senate
      P.O. Box 12068, Capitol Station
      Austin, TX 78711
    • State Representative
      The Honorable (full name)
      Texas House of Representatives
      P.O. Box 2910 Austin, TX 78768
  • Express your thanks with the official for their consideration in reading your letter and replying.
  • As in the start of a new administration, offices are flooded with constituents’ concerns, some have taken to sending postcards over letters since they do not need to be opened as well as have the ability to include a striking visual image.
  • If calling, know that whether you call your local office of their state capitol or Washington DC office, tallies on calls that are supportive or against certain bills or actions are passed onto the main office.
  • If calling, be succinct and courteous – provide your name, that you are a constituent, your zip code and your ask, i.e. “I would like Senator _____ to support Bill ###, as it is in the best interest of the state of Ohio that our immigration system is fair and compassionate.”  If the aide communicates with you more and you have more of a dialogue, you can share additional facts or reasons that you may have.
  • Feel free to call to say “thank you” as well! If a representative says something or votes in a way that you think furthers an issue you care about, let them know that! Elected officials often receive the most outreach by people who are in opposition.

In-person (Town Halls/Personal Meetings)

  • Face to face meetings are generally considered to be the most important. MoC value groups of constituents over individual opinions. Even if your MoC is “secure,” they will still value the minority opinion enough to hear you out.
    • Note: understand the positions your MoC takes on issues before you meet with them. You just might find out that they already support your position! Information about your MoC’s voting record can be found at VoteSmart.
  • For personal meetings, make sure that you and your members have dedicated time to practice your pitch and feel confident when walking into the meeting.
  • Use your practice sessions to further research your topic before your in-person meeting. An educated, confident opinion will have a better chance of being respected by your MoC.
  • Create a fact sheet and other handouts that will summarize your points in order to give to the official. Being concise here is key.
  • While in your interview, be polite, organized and tailor your message to be targeted and concise. This includes offering standards of direct action that your legislator can take.
  • If many people would like to attend this meeting, designate a few “speakers”.  The MoC will appreciate seeing that many people care about this issue but a fewer amount of speakers will be a more effective use of their time.

Social Media

  • Note that Facebook comments and isolated tweets generally do not serve to influence the belief of your MoC but can still have the effect of visibility, if they become popular.
  • The platform of social media can still be vastly influential to broadcast your message, provided that it comes across as one that is representative of a significant voting block or advocacy group.
  • With the advent of social media, it is now easier to reach out to like-minded individuals who share your goals than ever before. Utilize the power of social media to search for advocacy groups or events such as peaceful demonstrations that will broadcast your message.

 

What Next?

  • Volunteer. Partnering yourself with a local organization of like-minded individuals can give you a greater chance of influencing legislators. It will also serve to bring fulfillment to yourself in knowing that your actions are making a difference. This also includes joining local rallies and coalitions in order to make your voices heard. Here are some ways to get involved with our programs.
  • Visibility. Consider writing a letter to the editor of a local newspaper in order to have your position broadcast on a public channel. Attendance of telephone drives, peaceful demonstrations, and other events supported by local chapters of organizations near you will also allow you to promote awareness of these issues.
  • Focus locally. Get involved with local government by attending city council meetings and civic associations to impact change in your city from the ground up.
  • Educate yourself. Continue to read blogs, books and articles about community organizing and social movements.

 

Important Links