I attended a NASW Annual Conference workshop entitled Legislative Advocacy & Campaign Building. Since presidential campaign season is in full swing and because New Yorkers have four chances to vote for a variety of offices this year, I thought to share the tips I gathered. Some of you might have a “cause” you want to champion.
Politicians want to get re-elected. First it takes more than one term to learn the job. Second, seniority comes with power and the ability to make change. Therefore, politicians make decisions based on what the voters in their districts want. You can register through the Board of Elections. If you’re not registered to vote, you’ll have to sit out the election on April 19th, but you can still vote on June 28th.
Know the Official
It’s important to do a little research on the elected official you want to reach out to. Does the person sit on or chair a committee that’s relevant to your policy issue? In regards to the problem at hand, is the official on your side, or against? How has the person voted on the matter? One good research tool would be Vote Smart. Do some research on elected officials who oppose your side. You may find it useful to hear their position and try to persuade them to your side.
Join an Affinity Group
There’s a group for just about every cause we want to champion. The Professional Staff Congress (PSC), for example, is rallying unionized CUNY employees in order to get a new contract. I also found Support CUNY via google search. There are other advocacy groups based on a host of other concerns. A google search should help you find whatever you want or need.
Build a Relationship
Affinity groups often organize legislative lobby days to visit elected officials. Politicians are accustomed to getting visits, and used to seeing people disappear until the next lobby day. Smart advocacy entails relationship building. After the visit, there should be follow up with a phone call or thank you letter. The organization should remain in touch with the official to regularly discuss progress on the matter at hand. You’ll know you have a solid relationship when elected officials begin to call you about policy.
Rhonda Harrison has just completed her studies at CUNY SPS to earn her post-graduate certificate in Adult Learning & Program Design. She is a social worker with a background in workforce development and currently works as an Advisor at a community college.