Texans: Amplify Your Activism

Texans: Amplify Your Activism

Do you want to get your member of the Texas legislature or member of Congress to hear what you have to say on an issue that’s deeply important to you?

Are you frustrated by what’s happening with our democracy and do you want to get more involved?

I. If you haven’t already, begin by studying the Indivisible Guide: https://www.indivisibleguide.com. This is your army field guide for the war on our democracy.

Next, pick your issue. What mobilizes you to action: Healthcare? Immigration? LGBT rights? Voting Rights? Repro Rights? Disability Rights? Environmental Protections? Education?

Pick a primary issue (many issues are intersectional and will overlap) – one that energizes you or angers you the most. Then consider your personal connection to that issue: How does this issue touch your life? Does it threaten your health? Safety? Family? Finances? Future? Etc.

II. Find out who decides what will happen to your issue. Is your issue being addressed (or ignored) by bills, laws, or executive order? Find out where your issue belongs:

Local Government:

  • Mayor
  • City Council member
  • Board member (if public school district issue)

State Government:

Your Senator and your House Rep. can be found using the links below.

Federal Government

House of Representatives: You have one for your district

Each State has two Senators that represent the entire state.


When you know Who you need to contact and you’ve thought about Why the issue matters to you, it’s time to write your story.

  • Your story is what makes your stance on an issue so compelling: not only for your community or for the media, but for your representative. I can argue all day about how healthcare is a civil right and how a free market solution and the loss of a social safety net with cost human lives, but that argument is more effective and I’m likely to better argue it when you can tie it to something that personally affects you.

Put together your story in 200 words or less using this outline:

  • Cause
  • Concern
  • Connection
  • Consequence(s)
  • Call-To-Action

Always include your name, address, phone number, and email address so they can reply to you and so they will know you are a constituent (not necessary for letter to the editor submissions)

For example, the issue that drives me and compels me and keeps me up at night is health care. So let’s break it down here, as an example:

  • Cause: Healthcare
  • Concern: The AHCA bill will unravel ACA protections and gut Medicaid
  • Connection: My daughter needs life-saving access to care. She is disabled and has several pre-existing conditions including heart disease and Down syndrome. We are self-employed and qualify for ACA subsidies for access to insurance coverage and are grateful to not be charged more for my daughter’s care due to her disability and existing conditions.
  • Consequence: If AHCA passes and Medicaid cuts go into affect, we may be forced to close our small business and look for work for another employer. Contractors who work with us will not have work. If we can’t afford coverage for my disabled child she will go without treatment for her complex medical conditions, placing her life at risk. Cuts to Medicaid will prolong wait lists for waiver services, placing my daughter at risk of institutionalization.
  • Call-To-Action: Therefore, I ask you Senator Cruz to oppose Medicaid Cuts and Trumpcare.

Now you have your story. It’s time to get your representative to hear it and take action!

Below are the order of operations I like to take for advocacy. You will want to connect with the highest-level government official who can take the action you demand. Ask to meet directly with your representative but be willing to talk with someone else – for now.

Request an in-person meeting with your Representative.

Visit the State Legislature or Congressional website for your Representative to request an in-person meeting with your member of legislature (for State) or member of Congress (federal). Most of them will have an online submission form you must use to request a meeting. Tell them you want to meet and discuss an issue [describe in one sentence what that issue is] and then be sure to copy and paste include your story. If you don’t get a response in a few days, follow up with a phone call to their office to check on the progress of your request. If the representative is unavailable (as they will claim to be in most cases), ask to meet with the regional director (for members of Congress) or Chief of Staff (for state legislators) at the office nearest you. Keep up the request and don’t stop until you get a meeting.

Can’t Stop Won’t Stop

If you still don’t get a response within a few days, say so on social media. Tag your representative to let them know you’ve reached out but no one has answered you. Keep calling and emailing to follow-up until you get an appointment. You may also wish to drop by unannounced at your nearest field office for your representative. Then you can ask them in person about your request for a meeting. Bring a printed-out copy (and an extra) with you in case they offer you an impromptu meeting with the director, deputy director or staff member or intern. Agree to the meeting and at the close, get business cards, ask for a photo of you with the staff member, then ask for a follow-up meeting with the representative in person. Next, snail mail and email a thank you note, a copy of your story and mention your follow-up request to see your representative.

Get Creative!

Write a song, do some artwork, make a video, or write a poem about your issue. Have fun! I’ve seen activists do a “silent-film” style performance about the death of the ACA. It was awesome! Do your thing and deliver it to your representative. Post it on social media. Organize a demonstration with your local Indivisible group on social media and host a rally. Follow up from your rally with a small sign for your representative from the demonstration as a token of the demonstration and deliver your personal letter and call-to-action with your contact information included for follow-up. Photograph the delivery of that action. Spread it across all social media.

Aim for the Top of the Food Chain

The Congress person or State Senator/Representative will likely not meet with you, but they should offer you the opportunity for a meeting with a staff member at their regional office. You want to meet with the highest ranking staff member so ask to meet with the Regional Director (they will pawn you off on an intern if you let them, or another staff member and sometimes the Deputy Regional Director).

You can choose to meet with these other staff members if they don’t make a meeting with the Director available. When you do, take pictures, deliver a print copy of your story and follow-up with a thank you card, email, and post images on social media of your meeting (be sure to flag your MoC in that FB or Twitter post).

In every follow-up correspondence, in addition to thanking them for the meeting, restate your request to meet next with the MoC in person. If you must, settle for a follow-up with the next higher-up – usually the regional director for your Senator or Chief of Staff/Exec. Director for your House Rep. If that option isn’t available, you can also request a conference call with the DC policy point person for your issue.

For example, my issue is healthcare, so I ask to speak with my Senator’s healthcare policy director in DC.

And when meeting with my Texas state legislator, I ask to speak with their Chief of Staff and their healthcare policy director.

Chain of Command

It’s worthwhile to know the how the chain of command works so you can work your way to the top:

  1. Senator or House Rep
  2. Chief of Staff or Executive Director
  3. Policy Director (in Austin for Texas Lege or in DC for MoCs. There is usually one for each major issue).
  4. Regional Director
  5. Deputy Regional Director
  6. Local Office Staff Member
  7. Intern

Follow-Up Procedure

VERY IMPORTANT! Following up correctly is arguably as important as the meeting itself. After every meeting or phone conference, email and snail mail a thank you note and a request to meet with your Representative or MoC (or request a follow-up meeting again if they actually met with you in person).

Remember: you are building rapport with staff. By being persistent in your efforts, they will understand that the only way to get rid of you is by granting you access to your representative or MoC. And when that happens, you will build on that relationship as well. They work for you, after all.

 Your Team

In addition to getting to know the gatekeepers for your Representatives, you will want to get to know and follow reporters and fellow advocates that have access to networks and media. These will be the folks you will notify of all your actions. They will be the voices who will help you amplify your efforts. Find them, friend them, and follow them:

  • News Media, local, state and national
  • Issue-Related Group Networks on Twitter & FB
  • Local and Statewide Issue-Based Advocacy Groups
  • Local and Statewide Indivisible Groups

Helpful links:

Here’s a guide to writing and sending your personal story to members of Congress: http://guides.lib.berkeley.edu/ContactingOfficials/Tips

How to testify at the legislature: http://covertexasnow.org/Resources/How-to-Testify

How to set up a meeting with your MoC: http://familiesusa.org/product/how-set-meeting-your-member-congress

Other Tips:

Don’t forget our Representatives at the State and Federal levels WORK FOR YOU! If you feel intimidated by the process or afraid to ask for what you believe in, don’t be. They represent US. They work for US. And while you don’t need to threaten them with the fact, remember that if they don’t represent us, we will VOTE THEM OUT.

You don’t have to go it alone! It’s great to show a united front for an issue and to show how this affects many people. So bring a buddy! Or two, or three. I would limit visits to Legislative and Congressional staff to six or less people. More than that will usually be too many to accommodate in a meeting comfortably and for whatever reason, in my experience if you have more than half a dozen folks they will ask you to split into smaller groups or come back later. If you do go as a group, make sure you decide in advance who will speak first and what you will say. Make sure everyone is taking the same stance on the issue so there is no divisions among you. And everyone in your group should bring a one-page letter with their story, contact info and call to action –preferably.

Keep up the fight until you see the change you desire. And if you don’t, find out who will run for office to unseat your representative and start working for their campaign. If no one is running, consider a run for office! There is always something we can do. Our democracy depends on our persistent efforts to defend our civil rights and to protect the future for all Americans.

In solidarity,

Julie Ross

 

 

 

Daily Resistance at the Capitol

Far-right extremists in the Legislature are waging an all out war on Texas’ rural familiesmothers, people of color, workers, women, retired teachers, and schools. The harm they have done to our communities are not because of just one bill, or even a few. The oppressive state of voting rights, worker rights, women’s rights, health care, education, and basic services for Texans in need is the cumulative effect of thousands of bills passed over decades.

Our Chapter has aligned with a broad coalition of progressive advocates to focus on building the collective power of our movement in Texas and in the state legislature. Whether you can join us for a few hours on one day, or every day, your support matters, and it will make a difference.

Every Monday through Thursday, we’re asking anyone who’s able to join us at the Capitol to register FOR, AGAINST OR NEUTRAL ON EVERY BILL that is scheduled for a hearing on that day.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Sign up to get emailed the next day’s bill list here. The next day’s bill list will go out the night before. 
  2. Every night, you’ll get a bill list with Committee hearing times. Keep in mind that hearings are generally in the morning, with the latest hearings usually starting in the afternoon, at 2:30pm. Generally, you can register your position electronically on every bill or issue at a kiosk, but for some bills that won’t be the case.
  3. Hearings are generally in the Capitol Extension. Sometimes, for some of the more controversial bills, the State Affairs committee will hear testimony on the Senate or House floor. If that’s the case, you can just walk in, ask a clerk where the form to register your position is, and wait your turn to testify. But mainly you’ll be in the Extension. To get to there, Walk through the Rotunda, towards the elevators, and go to E1 or E2. There are also staircases leading down into the extension behind the large staircases that go up to the Senate gallery. Don’t be afraid to ask anyone you see–they’ll tell you how to get to where you need to go. Here’s a map.

If you plan to testify, but are unsure about the process, don’t worry! We’ve got an informative, easy-to-understand how-to here. There’s really nothing to it.

Even if you don’t plan to testify, we hope you’ll get to the capitol to register your opposition or support for the bills we’re tracking. It takes two minutes. You step in, sign onto public wi-fi, navigate to , register your position on a bill, and that’s it. Super easy. NB: The Senate is not as electronically savvy as the House, so you’ll need to register your position on Senate bills at a kiosk.

To help inform positions on bills, we’ve asked numerous progressive organizations to share their legislative agendas, as well as drawn from our own priority bill list. Based on that information, daily bill lists of every bill scheduled for hearing will be emailed and available at the Capitol for advocates to reference.

We’ll be at the capitol as a point of contact. You can reach us most easily via DM on Twitter. The packets will also be posted in the private Facebook Group here.

You can also receive the packets via email by signing up at http://bit.ly/txlegeresistance.

The goal and strategy of the #txlege resistance is to harness and leverage the mobilization power of the various organizations and issues we support to 1) increase our impact on bills that matter most to each our communities and 2) make sure elected officials know we are watching every bill, not just a few.

Now it’s time to let politicians know that we’re paying attention, we’re united and we’re fighting for all Texans, all the time.

Every step of the way our communities are committed to resisting. We will persist and we will participate in democracy to the fullest extent.

Join us at the capitol.

Actions for the week.

 

How to Make a List of Bills to Track in the Texas Legislature

The Texas Legislature only meets for 5 months every 2 years. Due to the condensed time frame, the sheer volume of bills can be dizzying, and covering them and knowing what fresh hell the Texas GOP and the mega-wealthy lobbies behind them are trying to push through can be hard to keep track of.

We’re doing our best to keep the process out in the daylight. First, have a look at our Intro to the Texas Legislature Online here, get familiar with the site, and create an account.

Once you’ve created an account, create a list of bills you’d like to track. Here’s how:

1. Navigate your web browser to the Texas Legislature Online:

http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/

2. Click on “My TLO”.

3. Click “Bill List”.

4. You’ll be prompted to sign in. If you haven’t already, create an account – it’s simple to do, just make sure you use a secure password and that the email account you use has Two-Factor Authentication enabled.

5. Enter a name for your Bill List and a brief description. Then click “Create”. You should then be able to Edit your Bill List.

6. Enter the numeric name of the bill you’d like to track in the left field and a brief description for your own reference (Such as, “HB1261” and “We support-would prohibit charter schools from discrimination against students on basis of their discipline history in admission policy”)

7. Once you’ve entered your desired bills, click “Save”, then click “Run”. You may then download your list of bills as a pdf if you’d like.

And that’s it! You’re up and running. Let us know how it goes in the Comments!

As always, be sure to like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter.

How to Testify at a Texas Legislative Committee Hearing

In Texas, mega-wealthy industrial lobbies have bought and paid for most of the GOP candidates at every level of our state government. This is a fact. These lobbies install hard-right extremists who vote the way they are instructed to by the lobby think tank, the shadowy industrialists get their rich friends rewarded, and their political arm–the Texas GOP, which exists only to do the bidding of the rich and powerful–stays in power.

But things are changing. And citizen activists terrify these people. Participation is fundamental in taking Texas back. But we can’t win if we don’t show up.

A huge component of showing up entails physically going to the capitol and testifying at a committee hearing. We’ll be doing this a lot.

However, most people have never provided testimony before a Senate or House Committee. Many of us are conditioned to equate things that are new with things that are uncomfortable or scary. Not to worry!

Donna Howard put together a wonderful infographic with steps on how to testify at a Texas Legislative Committee Hearing, and we thought we’d post on this subject and help demystify what this process is like and what you can expect. You can do it! In fact, you must.

For quick reference, you can quickly find upcoming Committee Hearings page at the Texas Legislature Online, under Committees. The most controversial bills are typically sent to the State Affairs Committee in both the House and the Senate.

Before the Hearing

  1. Know when to testify – Track bills, issue areas & committee hearings by signing up for alerts at http://www.capitol.state.tx.us. We keep track of harmful legislation here, and we’ve got a post that walks you through how to use the Texas Legislature Online here if you’d like to make a list of your own bills to track. You should also follow us on Twitter for up-to-the-minute updates about what’s going on with certain bills, and when we’ll be at the capitol to testify, where committee hearings are taking place, etc.
  2. Make sure you can testify – Many committee hearings allow public testimony, but some only allow invited witnesses. Check the hearing notice!
  3. Practice your speech – Testimony is generally limited to 3 minutes. Prepare 2-3 minutes of comments, and run through it a few times.

Getting to the Capitol

  1. Parking near the building – The Capitol’s Visitor Parking Garage is located at 12th & Trinity, but it’s just as easy to park on the street around the capitol. We use an app called ParkX whenever we have to park downtown in Austin–you can just link a debit card to the app and “feed the meter” from your cel phone, without having to go back to your car. There’s metered street parking around the capitol, so you might consider bring quarters. We haven’t had any problem finding a spot on the street lately (even during SXSW), but it’s a good idea to give yourself a good 15 minute cushion before registration begins to find parking.
  2. Getting to the capitol – There are entrances on the north, south, east, and west sides of the capitol. The security checkpoints are there for everyone’s safety; don’t let the state troopers carrying machine guns intimidate you! The troopers are really quite friendly. I mean, it’s Texas y’all.
  3. Find the kiosks – You’ll find electronic kiosks–essentially iPads in a black plastic frame–near each of the committee hearing rooms. This is where you will register to provide testimony. The interface is simple–it’s a web-based form that you enter your name, address, and then you’ll denote whether you’re testifying “On” (neutral), “For”, or “Against” the bill.

    You can even log on to the public Wi-fi and register your position on the bill on your own device, by navigating to http://hwrs.house.state.tx.us/ and just following the instructions on the screen.

  4. You don’t have to give spoken testimony – Remember that the kiosks will give you the option of registering support or opposition without providing testimony. So even if you aren’t planning on staying through the entire Committee hearing, it’s always good to get down to the capitol and register your support for or opposition to a bill.
  5. Get comfortable – Arrive early, but expect to stay late. The sessions are unpredictable. Some hearings are short, but some can be very long.

When It’s Your Turn

  1. How it works – Generally, your name will be called and you’ll be invited to the podium. State your name, who you’re representing, and whether you are for, against, or “on” (neutral) the bill. For example, “My name is Mary Ross, I’m representing myself, and I’m here to testify against the bill.” Simple, we know, but many folks forget this part only to have the committee chair interrupt them.
  2. Be nice – Your testimony can be passionate, but always be respectful.
  3. Be concise – You’ll probably only have 2-3 minutes, so make it count!
  4. Be personal – Tell the Committee how this legislation will impact you, your family, and your friends. Tell your story.
  5. Bring copies – If you’re providing written copies of your testimony (for example, you may have data and supplemental material that backs up the points you’re making in your testimony), the Committee will ask for 20 printed copies. At the beginning of your testimony you can just say “I’ve provided written copies for all the members of the Committee to supplement some of the points I’ll make in my testimony today and I’ll be glad to distribute those” and a page will distribute.
  6. Follow up – Email the committee members to provide additional information. You can find them here: http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/Committees/Membership.aspx

You did it!

Thanks to Donna Howard and her team for making this excellent infographic! Here’s the original infographic. Let us know how your testimony goes in the comments below.

New data on the Trump effect in Texas legislative districts

This morning the Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek published a fascinating look at how district-by-district data suggests that Texas State legislative districts that traditionally elect GOP representatives all went to Clinton in the 2016 election, based on some newly available statistics.

District-by-district data suggests Dems might be able to go on the offensive in 2018 legislative races

From the article:

The question in those districts, like so many surrounding Trump’s election across the country, is whether the dramatic swings in 2016 were meaningful shifts that could have implications in future elections. That question is particularly pressing for the 11 Texas Republicans now representing districts that voted for Clinton, all of whom are up for re-election in 2018.

What this ultimately means going forward is that it is up to us. Yes, Texas is traditionally thought of as a deep-Red state. In reality, Texas would be more accurately described as a non-voting state.

If Donald Trump’s historical unpopularity doesn’t drive us to raise awareness of how crucial a role the state legislature and Texas state government is going to play is going to play–in gerrymandering Congressional districts, passing racist voter suppression laws, deporting millions of people and herding them into modern day internment camps, and doing away with basic civil liberties–then this will all have been a moot point. We have got to step up at the state level and fight back.

So my challenge for each visitor to this page is: talk to 3 people a day, in person, about voting for in the Texas state elections in 2018. Talk about where your representative stands on the issues.

Now is the time for Texans to demand that our state government listens to us, not wealthy GOP campaign contributors, not lobbyists, and certainly not the Trump administration.

Texas Senate Bill 18 Update

The 85th Legislature has pushed a bill through the committee phase that would eliminate “provisions requiring public institutions of higher education to set aside portions of designated tuition for student financial assistance.” Next stop is the Senate floor.

What does this mean?

Currently, universities are required to put a portion of tuition toward scholarships for needy students. This bill would end that requirement.

SB18 will disproportionately harm Hispanic & African-American students. Access to higher education should be expanded, not narrowed in Texas.

The full text of the bill is available here:

https://legiscan.com/TX/bill/SB18/2017

 

Use this tool to call your senators. Tell them you oppose.

http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx