Now more than ever, it’s time for citizens to speak up. But social media, as easy and gratifying as it may feel, is not a good way to make your voice heard. Instead of reaching your legislator, all those likes, comments and retweets will probably only reach “that guy” you barely remember from high school. And he’s looking for a fight.
And forget email. “It’s the most common way people try to reach their elected officials. It’s also the least effective,” said Randy Dunn, Missouri Representative and Greater Kansas City Food Policy Coalition steering committee member.
So, what to do when you need really need to make an impression? Mail an actual letter, pick up the phone or head to your legislator’s local office or at the capitol. You can also show up and testify before a committee.
“In every situation, the most powerful message is your own personal story, said Ashley Jones-Wisner, state policy director for KC Healthy Kids. “Be sure to tell it every chance you get.”
Sound intimidating? Don’t worry. This thing called advocacy doesn’t have to be arduous, and testifying doesn’t have to be terrifying. KC Healthy Kids’ policy team is here to help. We’ve recently launched a series of tools to help you organize your thoughts and speak your mind. Get Details
Here are four better ways to reach your legislators and tell them your story:
1. Make a call: It’s the “squeaky wheel” of advocacy.
“Communication by phone is very effective,” said Representative Randy Dunn at a recent meeting of the steering committee of the Greater Kansas City Food Policy Coalition. “If there is an issue on the table and the phone is ringing off the hook, I’m definitely going to pay attention,” he says.
Be courteous, keep your message short and concise, and clearly convey your message. Use our customizable phone script and you can’t go wrong. During office hours, you should be able to talk to a staffer who is keeping a tally of yays and nays and will share it with your lawmaker. Get the Script
2. Write an old-school letter: It gets more attention than email.
A letter sent by USPS is best. Snail mail takes more time and effort, but it makes a greater impact because it’s more tactile.
“Don’t forget to include staff in correspondence and communication,” says Teresa Kelly Roeland Park Councilmember and Greater Kansas City Food Policy Coalition steering committee member. “It’s easier to make a collective impact when they are included.”
3. Show up in person: It shows you’re committed.
You can schedule a meeting with your elected officials while they are in Topeka and Jefferson City or go to a coffee/breakfast event that state elected officials often host in their hometowns.
If you are meeting with staff, go with the intent to build a relationship. That person is a direct line to your legislator and at the federal level, they can connect you with D.C. office staff. (Consider it a bonus if your representative or congressperson happens to be there during a break. We hear some of them have gone missing.)
Just like in Twitter vs. Real Life, when you meet face-to-face, people are nice(r) even when they don’t agree.
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4. Submit testimony for a hearing: It gets you in front of everyone in the room.
Do you homework so you can connect your message directly to the committee members. Give specific examples and leave a one-pager (okay, two pages if you must). Before you testify, send a letter to the committee, and on the day of, call them. Be sure and ask your colleagues to do the same.
“At the local level, testifying equates to making a public comment, and there are different rules for different governing bodies and municipalities,” says Kelly. “Take some time to learn about the committee structure in your city or town.”
If you’re submitting written testimony, our template can help. Get the Template