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:
- City Council member
- Board member (if public school district issue)
Your Senator and your House Rep. can be found using the links below.
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:
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.
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:
- Senator or House Rep
- Chief of Staff or Executive Director
- Policy Director (in Austin for Texas Lege or in DC for MoCs. There is usually one for each major issue).
- Regional Director
- Deputy Regional Director
- Local Office Staff Member
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.
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
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
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.