Power Up to Work with Elected Officials
by Vicki Barnes, State Coordinator, American Promise and Take Back Our Republic
Now that the State and Federal legislative sessions have started, let’s power up for the new year. And I mean POWER. Remember, we are not consumers of government, we are constituents. We cannot boycott and think it will change things, and that has basically been what we Americans have been doing. I monitor a lot of social media sites of groups that are pushing for change. They make a lot of noise and bombard elected officials with emails, faxes and texts through programs that enable us to contact lawmakers with the touch of a few buttons. But what is the most effective way to achieve success in the policies you are fighting for? A face to face meeting. As an individual, you actually have a lot of power.
Offer solutions, not just problems
First of all, when you meet with elected officials, you see them in a different light. They are humanized. They have family photos on their desk. You can bring them into the conversation. Generally, your lawmaker will listen to you. The way they respond to your concerns is in direct response to how you present them. Be heartfelt and genuine, and they should respond accordingly. And have an action you are requesting. Don’t bring up a problem unless you have a possible solution. It may not be one they agree with, but you have a starting point. If you have a piece of legislation you want them to support, ask them what they think of it. If they are not in support, ask them how the legislation could be amended to get their support. If they do support it, ask them what additional steps they can take to help move the legislation forward. And follow up. Until you see their name as an author or sponsor, you are not done.
In the social media I monitor, people are very angry. Their comments are rude and disrespectful. I find they are not interested in working with elected officials, just getting them out of office and electing someone who agrees with them. I get that. But when you make no attempt to work with the person whose job it is to work for you, you give them a pass. Sure, it is hard to believe that you can find common ground with someone who believes in separating children from their parents at the border, but you can gauge how they feel about it in person. Do they feel as bad about it as you do, but feel as powerless as you do? The way our Congress is set up, the leadership is in control. Members of Congress – even committee chairs – have little say in policy. I have found that when you have a genuine conversation with a lawmaker, they will have a genuine response. Even if they respond that they would support your concern but it would go nowhere because of the leadership, you at least have an honest answer. Does that response leave you with no other option? No, you must persevere. Do all you can to put pressure on your lawmaker. Incorporate small business owners and leaders of faith to join in. Write a letter to the editor and inform the community. When elections come around again, make sure your topic is a major campaign issue.
Put your face on your issue
If your elected official only hears from those that support their work–and lobbyists–they have no reason to change their perspective. And when they have a face in their mind when they think of an issue, they have a visual reminder of what their constituents feel. That outweighs the emails and voicemails they have received. In the old days, lawmakers could tell leadership they cannot support something because their constituents will not back them up. Let’s give our elected officials a reason to support what WE want, and the ammunition to back them up.
Once we have bill numbers to share, we will be reaching out to all members to take action on the issues MnCCE is working on. Talking points will be sent along with that information. Take some neighbors with you when meet with your legislators–no more than two. Let your legislator see the topic is of concern to more than just you. And meeting with a legislative assistant is a good second choice. Afterward, share who you have met with, how the meeting went and how you will be following up. We are all in this together!