Think about this scenario for a minute. Imagine there is a bill that would outlaw anybody under the age of 30 to drive a car. For one reason or another, this bill in your state has gained some traction, and is about to be brought up in a committee. Being 26 years old, if this bill passed, you would no longer have transportation to your job. Ridiculous, right?!
You look up ways to stop this bill from moving forward, and discover your state senator is on the committee about to discuss this bill. Since this person was elected to represent you, they need to hear what you have to say, right? Well how does that work? Can you just walk into their office and demand they stop this bill? Probably not. But there are plenty other ways to get your legislator’s attention, you just need to know where to look. This list will give you a jumpstart on your advocacy efforts, and will hopefully allow you to get your opinion heard!
1. Know Your Legislator’s Background
Most politicians are normal people (despite what the media tells you). They were raised in various areas of the country, have expertise in different topics, and probably have a passion for making your state or the country better for their constituents. These interests and backgrounds certainly play into how your legislator’s may vote on a certain topic. Take the scenario above for example.
Say your legislator studied environmental science in college, and she is a huge advocate for decreasing pollution in cities. Based on what we know, this bill would likely decrease the number of drivers on the road at any given time. Theoretically, this would decrease pollution over 5-10 years. Your legislator is likely a strong supporter of this bill.
But what if this same legislator has also been dealing with poor public transportation systems and infrastructure in major cities in their district? Knowing that, she may be less inclined to support this bill, as that would just make her constituent’s current problems worse.
This is why researching your legislator is SO important. They typically don’t respond to pre-written drafts with generic writing on a certain topic. By relating your opinion to their background, and helping them understand your situation from their perspective, your chances of a positive reaction increases substantially.
2. Ballotpedia is Your Best Friend
Believe it or not, there are people out there that do nothing but research politicians and have information on all elected officials on a convenient website. No that’s not this website (yet), but there are several out there. My personal favorite is Ballotpedia. This website allows you to look up your legislator, find out their background, and the committees and leadership positions they currently hold. SO HELPFUL.
This website is designed much like Wikipedia. It seems to be very well moderated, and provides information in a non-partisan manner. Ballotpedia also gives information on how this legislator voted on key issues. I highly recommend you check it out before talking to your legislator.
3. Politicians are Not Experts on Everything
No matter how much research you do on your legislator, take note that they do not know everything about every issue presented to them. Bear this in mind when writing or speaking to them. The best way to approach this issue is assuming your legislator knows nothing about your issue. In the scenario above, maybe your legislator grew up in downtown New York, and has never driven a car. She probably doesn’t know the impact of having that mode of transportation taken away from you.
In my experience, the best way to gain your legislator’s interest is to talk to them with facts and data, without using jargon, and asking them engaging questions. Questions like, “How often do you drive your car?” can get a response from them that furthers your conversation. Also, present your opinion in a way that earns their respect. Using well documented facts and quotes from experts in your topic can really go a long way. Just make sure YOU know what you’re presenting, because hopefully they will be asking you questions!
4. Countable can Help Develop Your Opinion
I have always been an introvert. Being an only child, my social/public speaking skills are not super sharp. That’s why I take all the help I can get when I need to relay important information in a meaningful way. Countable is great at helping you think about a certain issue, examine it from both sides, and learn how to argue in support/opposition of a bill or ideology.
Since most of you reading this are healthcare providers, or in healthcare, public speaking may not be a natural gift. That’s totally fine! In fact, legislators may like you more for your candid tone, as they hear from a TON of lobbyists and professional speakers all day long. Using Countable can help you figure out what you want to say, how to support your position, and reach a logical decision on whether your legislator should support/oppose a bill.
5. Use Twitter!
This may seem obvious to most of you, but Twitter really is a great tool to learn. You can follow your legislators directly, though federal legislators mostly have an aide control their social media. However, on a state level, most legislators remark on things candidly, just like you or me.
There are also tons of people on Twitter that have the experience and knowledge to help you if you have specific questions. While I’m certainly not an expert (SHAMELESS PLUG INCOMING), you can often find me tweeting about current issues in physical therapy, and engaging in discussion with other leaders in our field.
So that’s it! These quick tips are easy to work on, and can get you a leg up on your competition for your legislator’s attention. It’s a never ending battle with politics, so remember if you do not hear anything from them at first, keep trying! The more your name shows up on their emails/voicemails, the more likely you will get their attention.
Speaking of Twitter, you can always follow me there @tylerDPT. You can also sign up to receive emails whenever I post a new blog. I appreciate all comments and feedback as well! Let me know what you think about this post, and how I can improve my blog to fit your needs better.