In light of the recent release of the budget and the coronavirus pandemic that is shaking our health care system to its core, many of us are left wondering how can we fight for change in such uncertain times? We The Patients advisor, Chuck Bell, has pulled together a 101 guide on how to express your concerns to your elected.
*Note that during this public health crisis apply these tips to emails, phone meetings, social media, and other creative virtual ways of reaching electeds to keep everyone safe. Also many legislator’s offices are overwhelmed dealing with the crisis response. That doesn’t mean don’t speak up, just apply patience and respect, knowing the legislator and their team are working very hard right now.
Tips for communicating with legislators
>> (For in-person meetings, post-quarantine) Most legislative meetings are 20-30 minutes.
- In Albany, you can potentially have 8-12 meetings in a day, if you are well organized and have booked all the appointments.
- In the legislative districts, you can often meet with legislators one-on-one on Fridays or other “non-session” days.
>> Work as a team! That way, no one person has to know everything! And you can help each other by making points the other people might have forgotten.
- Make introductions at the start of the conversation. Say who you are or who you represent, and have each person introduce themselves. (Note: Often the legislator will want to know if you live in their district or not. Always point this out if you do, or if you grew up in their district. You can also say you are part of a citywide or statewide organization, and that way they may also feel an obligation to listen to you. But remember – legislators are elected to represent their constituents, so they are usually most concerned about the people who live in their district who can directly vote for them.)
- Provide materials. It important to have a good fact sheet or bill memo summarizing the proposed bill, to email/mail to the staff person or legislator or share on social media (don’t forget to tag them!). Draft messaging around this fact sheet/bill memo and send it out to your networks asking them to share on social media. Again, we’re stronger together!
- Describe the problem the bill addresses, and the solutions it creates. Repeat your messaging! You make the same the basic points and the problem and the solutions, over and over again. If you keep saying the same thing, you will become very knowledgeable and experienced about these basic points.
- What’s the problem?
- How does it affect real people?
- How many people are affected?
- How often does it happen?
- Do we have a personal story or anecdote to share?
- How to fix the problem (summarize 3-5 key points)? (Hint: 1-2 sentences for each point. Don’t get into the weeds.)
- Point #1
- Point #2
- Point #3
- What is our response to any issues or problems that the legislator may have heard about?
- Is it controversial?
- Is there opposition?
- Does it cost too much?
- Has any other state or anyone else ever done this before?
- Make an “Ask” or Request. Make sure you know what your “Ask” or request is or your “Call To Action” on social media. Are you asking the legislator to introduce the bill, or cosponsor, or vote for it in committee, or when it comes to the floor? Know what commitment level is acceptable to you.
- Remind the legislator who is on your side and supporting the bill. If the bill is supported by a coalition of 80 organizations, make sure the Senator or Assembly Member knows that, and give them your list of members or supporters. Similarly, if some other experts, legislators or media organizations have endorsed the bill, mention that too. There is a “bandwagon effect” in legislative work. The more the merrier. Momentum is important. You want the legislator to think you are are winning and picking up support, and that their support is now essential and urgently needed.
- If the legislator or staff members has questions or concerns – find out what they are and write them down. Oftentimes the legislator or staff member will ask you to follow up with them. Usually your group will have a form or google doc for reporting back on what happened at meetings, so you can systematically follow up with any people who have concerns and/or are undecided.
- Report back to the coalition or sponsoring organization on how the meeting went.