by Marisela Gomez
As the session has progressed I’ve learned that like me when I began this internship, many individuals lack a common understanding of the legislative process and how to effectively advocate for their issue or cause. So I’ve dedicated my last post to social work advocates who wish to navigate the legislative process in the future.
First and foremost know the representative that represents you and the district you live in. You can find out who your representative is at http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/mnuAddress.aspx. Knowing who your representative is is the best way you can set yourself apart from the vast amount of people who come and visit the representatives and their staff. Make a connection with the staff by letting them know that you are a constituent of their district and more importantly a voter! This is a perfect opportunity to put your social work skills to use; be personable and engage with the members and staff by smiling and simply asking them how their day has been or offering them your card and letting them know that you are available if they ever have questions in your area of expertise.
Second, KNOW YOUR CAUSE, which I’m sure most advocates do, and be prepared. But most importantly, know how your cause impacts the representative that you are visiting and his/her district. Do they support or oppose the issue that you are advocating for? Have they filed legislation that will positively or negatively impact your issue? Does this issue impact his/her district in a specific way? You can find all of this information on the house website www.house.state.tx.us. You can also learn more about your representative and how he/she has previously stood on issues that relate to yours by looking up your representative’s page on the Texas Legislative website. Once you have completed your research about your representative, make sure also to be prepared by knowing the bill number(s) of the bills that affect your issue. Have talking points written out for yourself and whomever chooses to join you on your advocacy day. Don’t be afraid to express your opposition, this is an opportunity for you to work collaboratively with the staff and member. I’ve witnessed several instances where members have worked collaboratively with stakeholders and advocates on an issue which has led to either a change in the member’s position on the bill or a change in the bill itself.
Also, don’t forget to show your appreciation to the member and staff if they’ve worked with you on a bill or issue. Even if you know your direct representative already supports your issue, stop by his/her office, and thank him/her for their support. Don’t take their support for granted, and let them know how much it means to you. You’d be amazed at how much simply expressing your support can dictate member’s actions, decisions or even how they perceive a particular issue.
Finally, before you come to the Capitol, try to make sure your day is planned. If possible schedule a meeting with any Representative or staff members you want to visit before you come. Don’t be discouraged if you are unable to meet directly with the Representative, all of us staff members are just as knowledgeable about the specific pieces of legislation under consideration by the Legislature, and are expected to relay all messages and concerns to the member in a timely manner.
There are so many other tips that I could include but I truly believe that following these three points will provide you with an effective advocacy experience.