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That's part of the process. It is ethical. For issues you care deeply about, it may be your responsibility to watch, and then when necessary, to show your strength. Your implied message is, in effect:. We're watching you.
We're not like most people who have no idea of what goes on at the State House every day, and don't know how you vote. We're organized. We know. We will know. And we want you to vote the way we want you to vote, or we won't vote for you anymore The 1 step here is knowing who the decision makers for your issue are.
This is relatively easy for political issues, at least those requiring legislation, because the names of the legislators who will decide on your issue must be public knowledge. However, this does not mean that you have that knowledge. Do you know the names of all your elected local legislators?
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If you don't, sad to say, you are in the majority. And if you don't, it's up to you to find out. Fortunately, this is not hard to do. Many citizen advocacy groups or taxpayers associations produce lists of legislative names and numbers and make them available. You can also get them from the local library, the phone book, and almost always from the government itself. For county, state, and higher levels, matters can get more complicated, because proposed legislation often goes to one or more committees for review and recommendation before a full legislative vote is taken.
It's not unusual for the legislation to get stuck in those committees and never emerge. So it's also your task to know both:. Of course, while knowing committee members may be helpful, it's not the same thing as knowing how that committee works in practice. That takes experience, some of which you can gain by talking to well-connected friends or acquaintances, or to people who have gained that experience through possibly-painful trial and error.
If your issue involves non-political decision makers, you may have a slightly tougher row to hoe. If you want the state university to open its gym to the public; or if you want public computers in post offices; or if the children's library should be open on Sunday; or if the recycling program should be expanded -- who makes those decisions where you live? You may need to do some checking around to find out.
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Some discreet inquiries will often do the job, but occasionally you may need to dig a little deeper to learn how those kinds of decisions actually get made. Once you know who your decision makers are, you need to know how to contact them. How do you go about it? In legislative situations, there are two basic ways. Legislators can come to you, or you can go to them.
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They can come to you? Is that a real possibility? Actually, it is. Many legislators have community office hours when they are available to their constituents. This is true even for legislators who work out of town, in county seats or state capitals.
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Check this out. Even if they don't have such regular hours, you may be able to schedule an appointment in your town when the legislator is back home, or at some other location not far away. This is also a good place to get acquainted if you haven't met already. Better yet, you can invite the legislator to come to a meeting of your group.
Not possible, you say; the legislator is far too busy. But have you given your legislator a good reason to be there? And have you asked? The answer may surprise you. If you ask well in advance, if you have some persistence, and if the legislator sees the meeting in his or her self-interest e. Reminder: Legislators expect to be contacted, and actually need to be contacted in order to do their job well. They may be helping you; but you are also helping them.
If you are part of an ongoing group with ongoing legislative interests, it may not be realistic for your legislator to attend all the time, but don't let a year slip by without creating the opportunity for a legislative visit. Going to them. But you can also make contact on the legislator's home ground. If your experience is like ours, you may find there is no uniform best way to do so. Some legislators like postal mail, to see things in writing. Some legislators especially when a vote is coming up soon will record and log phone calls, yea or nay. When you are just getting started, and don't know your legislator well, it's perfectly fine to call in directly, and say, "We want to get a message to X.
What's the best way of doing it?
If you are making phone calls, you need to be careful about boundary issues - when you should call, where you should call, and so on. The following example illustrates why this is important.
When you do make contact with the decision maker, you want to be concerned both with what you say and how you say it. The details will vary, depending upon your method of contact--in person, over the phone, or by writing--and depending of course upon your particular issue. But here's the basic framework. In almost all cases, it will help if you include the following points:. The reasons why the actions you recommend will advance the decision maker's interests. For example:. You are probably not the only one who should be sending a message.
So encourage those working with you to follow the same steps above. These general principles above apply regardless of your method of contact. It's good advice, though, not to get too caught up on the details, or on rigidly following a script. Decision makers often, but not always tend to respond to human feelings; they sometimes respond to feelings as much as or more than fact. Particularly when it comes to writing letters, one professional lobbyist has this perspective:.
And I vote for you, and I grew up in this town, and I knew your dad.
Thank you very much. Name, address, phone number.
You know, that end "God bless you, sir.