Advocacy & Legislation
ANYONE can be an advocate!
An advocate investigates, educates, and may seek additional funding for specific programs. An advocate speaks up where others haven’t, can’t, or won’t. Advocacy is a year-round process that requires communication with members of elected and administrative bodies, so they know exactly where you stand when it comes time to vote or make a decision.
“If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.”
Issues must be kept in the public eye, or they are easily forgotten. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Advocacy should occur anywhere where decisions are being made that affect the lives of persons for whom you are advocating for: community mental health centers, hospitals, alcohol/drug use and mental health/community mental health boards, city hall, county government, courthouses, state capitols, state and federal government agencies, Capitol Hill, etc. Get media attention, speak out at meetings, assemblies, and public hearings. An advocate must go where the people are who have the power to change things. Advocates must join with others to create a unified voice. There is power in numbers. Advocates are there to increase awareness about issues others may not be aware of. Advocates work on identifying solutions to problems.
"If you are silent, you will be forgotten; if you do not advance, you fall back; if you cease to grow greater, you become smaller."
It is important to plan and organize, know the facts, speak up, join forces with others who have your same beliefs and passion, develop relationships, create awareness, and lastly NEVER GIVE UP! Whether short-term (a single piece of legislation) or long-term (attitudinal changes in the community – stigma), set your objectives and establish measurable steps towards accomplishing them. The actions of our government have an enormous impact, so don’t wait – take action today!
General Tips for Contacting Elected Officials
Elected officials appreciate hearing from their constituents. Don't forget, they are elected to represent YOU. Most importantly, always be courteous and clear when communicating with your officials. Avoid being partisan or being argumentative and making enemies – today’s county clerk might be the governor tomorrow. One enemy can haunt you for a long time. At a minimum, do no harm. Also, avoid jargon. Spell out your case in an easy-to-understand and simple format. Other important tips:
- Be specific (try to have only one ask);
- Ask for action (what do you want them to do?);
- Use time wisely and be on time if you have an appointment;
- Plan out your remarks. Always have an elevator speech ready (you might only have 30 seconds of their time to make your case) and a longer presentation if they have time and really want to dig deep into your issue;
- Ask them where they stand on your issue/solicit their support;
- Always be honest and tell the truth;
- Be respectful;
- Follow-up: write a thank you note.
Click the link below to find some additional tips to assist recovery advocates when speaking with policymakers.
Tips for Talking to Your Legislators (actmissouri.org)
Timing is very important:
If your issue is imminent, contacting your elected officials quickly by phone or e-mail can be most effective. However, if time allows, take advantage of additional influential techniques, like writing a letter or having a personal meeting with the elected official or their staff. Meeting with your elected official or staff in their district or capitol office is an excellent way to voice your position. An in-person visit will give you a chance to look them in the eye and you will stand out from many phone calls, mail and e-mail messages.
Forge relationships with staff
Staff are extremely important, and it is very beneficial to develop a working relationship with staff assigned to your issue. When it comes time for action, knowing someone to call will pay off. Whether meeting staff located in the district offices or capitol office, these relationships will prove invaluable. Don't be discouraged if staff members are young. These individuals will one day be old hands and appreciate your relationship -- they will be able to open doors previously closed. Always keep your long-term goals in mind.
Provide your information
Elected officials and their staff want to know how their constituents feel about certain issues, so once you identify yourself as a constituent (not to mention a voter), they will be much more receptive. If you are not a constituent, make sure you know something about their district (is there another person in their district affiliated with your organization?). Also, know something about their background -- read their bio and look at pictures and awards in their office. These things can give you a helpful connection to the lawmaker (maybe you went to the same school, served in the military, attended the same church, etc.). Making a personal connection can make a big difference!
Knowledge is power
Lawmakers are concerned with multiple issues. A quick and factual call not only saves time, but is easily absorbed and remembered by officials and their staff. Report facts and figures and stay on message to make the best argument for your issue. Lawmakers want and need good information! If you can make yourself the “go to person” for information on a specific topic, you have achieved a major victory. Never give false or misleading information – that will be the end of your relationship forever!
Voice your position
Lawmakers act on behalf of their constituency. Even if your elected official does not currently support your position, contacting them and voicing your concerns is a good way to put your issue on their radar screen.
Have a “Leave Behind” for Visits
Offer a packet of information, including background or outcome measures and statistical materials explaining the issue (organized in a folder with your contact information and logo on it so they can call you if they have questions). NEVER TAKE A GIFT OR POLITICAL CONTRIBUTION to the official office of an elected official. This can cause a very uncomfortable situation and might even land you in jail. Don’t even mention a political donation while in their government-funded office. There are other forums where you might give a pollical donation to a candidate, but not in their official office.
Thank staff for their time and consideration
Offices of elected officials hear complaints all the time, and just like anyone else, they feel rewarded when their actions are appreciated. Always say thank you and send a written thank you note after the visit.
Share the Results
It is very important to relay any information you receive from your elected official to your organization, community, family, and friends. Information helps to broaden the audience by increasing awareness of your issue. You may want to consider submitting an op-ed or letter to the editor of a local newspaper. Sharing this information on social media is another great idea.