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Step 8: Advocate

Advocacy is an important activity to bring about changes in the attitudes and mentality of people from every sector of the community. Once different generations, religions, business are united and are working towards one goal it is much easier for laws to be changed or issues to be addressed. While advocacy is important, especially for Millennials, it requires courage to have a vision, a belief that things can get better, and determination to see an important issue or campaign all the way through.

 

Do’s and Don’t of Advocacy

 

Advocacy Do’s: 

  • Know the issue you are advocating for backward and forwards. Give personal examples of how the issue will affect you or your community. 

  • Find ways to talk to legislative staffers, they may be the closest person to the legislator and can be helpful with crafting bills.

  • Form early relationships with like-minded organizations and individuals.

  • Always, always share your story of how you got to care so deeply about the issue you are advocating for.

  • Be honest. If you don’t know something, don’t make it up.

  • Keep any and all office visits, phone calls, meetings with legislators short and to the point.

  • Stay active in the fights and be specific about what it is that you want from advocating.

  • Be patient: change takes time.

 

Advocacy Don’ts:

  • Don’t ever, ever give up.

  • Ignore certain policymakers because they don’t belong to your political party, everyone has an important voice and power.

  • Send any type of form letters: these may get thrown out or not taken seriously, make it personal!

  • Make any type of threats or mean comments about legislation or legislators

  • Don’t be shy to talk to a pro-bono lawyer or get help on what you can legally say or not say. Ask for help!

  • Wait too long to talk to legislators or their staff when the action is happening: the early bird does get the worm in politics.

  • Think your voice doesn’t count because you are a Millennial. It does, and it will.

 

B. Choose Your Battles

  

Choosing your battles in advocacy is crucial to making sure that you can sustain your cause or issue. Choosing an issue that is important for long-term change and isn’t polarizing for legislators is key also key in choosing an advocacy campaign. Millennials are the most diverse generation in history so there will be tons of issues that are important to you in your lifetime, but choosing one or two that you can make your life’s work is important at the beginning of your time as an advocate. Universal issues like education, healthcare, environment and immigration popular, but rotate in levels of importance or priority (for example when in 2010 budget cuts where happening to community colleges and universities all over the country, Millennials rose up to fight back against them, and can still continue to fight for education for many years to come, regardless of the bill’s outcome).

 

C. Sustaining Advocacy

 

In able to sustain yourself as an advocate, you have to be able to truly care about an issue, regardless if it is a big presidential election year, or a small local school board bond issue. Make sure that there are clear goals and metrics on what is an advocacy win to help guide your advocacy work.

 

 

a. Create an Advocacy Plan

The first step in advocacy is to sit down with your team and hash out a plan to get your campus and/or community mobilized around your issue. An advocacy plan can be as simple as a laundry list. Once you have your goals determined, create your needs assessment list. Then break down your needs into smaller tasks. This makes the strategy simple and easy to comprehend, and this is also an easy way to divide up tasks. Once you get started you will discover you can make a change and run a large advocacy campaign with just a team on five to 10 people.

 

Whenever you are introducing your issue, provide a page of additional information for people to look over and refer to. If you are collecting signatures on a petition, carry supplementary documents with you and keep them readily available. Make the information sheet easy to read. Bullet points work well; never hand out a full sheet of text. Incorporate important statistics to supplement your argument.

 

b. Identify Your Friends

In order to advocate effectively, it is important to know who you can work with on the issue, who you can persuade to support you, and who won’t support you. Start by looking at past voting records. If your issue has been up for debate or vote before, you’ll be able to see how your representatives voted on it and get transcripts of speeches they gave on your issue. Next, look at bills your official sponsored. Many bills never make it to a vote, but if you can find bills on your issue that your official has sponsored, you can determine their stance. If you can’t tell what their position is, or once you have, talk to them. Start with your friends, who can help persuade undecideds to support your position.

 

Not all elected officials are going to see issues the same way. Once you know how they stand on your issue or issues closely related to it, you can formulate a persuasive argument based on their party and ideological lines. Many issues have arguments from both sides of the aisle, so be creative.

 

D. How to Advocate

 

There are many ways to advocate for your position. Holding events and rallies, as in Step Seven, are a good way to call attention to your issue and advocate for your position. Other good advocacy tools include circulating petitions, emailing your peers, and contacting your elected officials.

 

Petitions are a very effective way to publicize an issue and get people to rally around it. After your team decides on an issue, draft a petition. Circulate it around college campuses and other areas where there is a high density of 18-30-year-olds. Also circulate your petition online. Petitions should be short and to the point, otherwise, no one will take the time to read it. Put the title of the petition at the top of the page along with a short description of the issue and the stance that you are taking. Make the petition straightforward and easy to understand. Collect signatures in support of your position and then send the results to your elected official (but remember to keep a copy!).

 

Get your peers active around your issue by sending out an email. Use different listservs to recruit new people to your cause. Remember to keep emails action-oriented and include action links to your online petition.

 

Beyond sending signed petitions to your elected officials, direct email and mail are effective ways to make your voice heard. Every letter sent to a legislator’s office gets recorded and 100 letters on the same issue make a powerful statement. When writing your letters remember to keep them short and to the point, but include enough information to demonstrate your knowledge of the issue at hand.

 

An even more effective way to make your issue known to your elected officials is by phone. When calling elected officials to express your opinion, stay focused, collected, and to the point. Know what you are going to say beforehand and what facts you are going to use. Many officials have an opinion line for you to call. Although you may not speak to an official directly, phone calls are documented in all government offices. Encourage your friends to call too. One phone call may not make a difference, but 20 can.

 

Meeting with local elected officials in person is the most effective way to ensure your voice is heard. It is hard to ignore or undermine the dedication of three people sitting in the waiting room of an office. Here are some tips to keep in mind when meeting with your elected officials:

  • Make sure you have the right person. Certain issues are handled at municipal, county, state, or federal levels. Do some research and make sure you are talking to the person who actually has jurisdiction over your issue.

  • Always make an appointment. Call the official’s office and ask when they are available to meet with constituents. If they have open office hours, go during those times; otherwise, schedule a time that works for you. Do not show up without calling first. It is rude and will waste your time if the person you want to meet with is busy or not there.

  • Be respectful and professional. Dress nicely, have your thoughts well prepared, and give them materials to look over while you are talking.

  • Bring a few colleagues. You will probably feel more comfortable if you bring a few colleagues for moral support, but do not bring more than 2-4 people.

  • Ask questions. What do we need to get this bill enacted? How can we change people’s minds? What can we do to help you in your efforts to pass this legislation?

  • Show them what you have done. Did you register 5,000 voters or get 200 signatures? Show them the flyers you distributed, the info sheets your team made, copies of the petitions you circulated, and reports of the voters you registered. Showing the proof of past accomplishments adds to your credibility.

  • Tell them what you can offer. How are you planning on furthering the cause by working within your campus or community?

  • Ask for input. Engage with your representative in a conversation on your issue. Ask them for their thoughts and stories. Avoid lecturing them and be respectful of their opinions.

  • Be persistent. If you do not get answers to all your questions, come back a second, third, or even fourth time. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, so keep squeaking.

  • Do not be upset if you meet with a staffer. Staffers are often the ones who make the decisions, write the bills, and get co-sponsors. Make friends with them and let them know you are on their side.

  • Just show up! To get something done, you and your peers must show up.