by Sandra Roper, ELCA Hunger Advocacy Fellow
I feel like I often fall into the trap of seeing and hearing about different issues in our world through news or social media, but not quite knowing how to engage in a meaningful way. When a local non-profit that I support posted on social media asking people to contact their legislators in support of a bill, I realized that “Hey! That’s something I know how to do!” This call to action came shortly after I virtually attended the Days for All Peoples event through the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy (VICPP), an ELCA-affiliated state public policy office (sppo). Over 300 people gathered to advocate on VICPP’s 2022 priorities, but it was one of the opening plenaries that really prepped me to confidently reach out to my own representatives.
Insights from a Delegate
Former Virginia Delegate Lashresce Aird spoke at the opening plenary on Wednesday morning, sharing the importance of advocacy from the delegate’s perspective. She shared a few tips on what makes impactful advocacy. The three main things she shared were to share personal stories, to not be afraid of being the expert, and to focus on building relationships with delegates.
- Share personal stories: Former delegate Aird shared a story of her own. When she was a delegate, she met a constituent at a conference who shared their personal story and connection to an issue. Months later when there was a vote on a piece of legislation related to it, Aird said she remembered that story vividly, and it helped inform her vote. Sharing a personal story helps delegates connect an issue to their constituents’ lives, needs, and well-being.
- Be the expert: No one can be an expert in everything, and legislators are no exception. Former delegate Aird said not to be afraid to make yourself an expert in an issue when you talk to legislators. Know how your delegate has voted in the past on related issues, so you know if you are asking them either to continue that trend or to change their vote. Know the statistics and facts surrounding your issue and share them with your delegate when you meet. Make yourself a source of reliable information on the subject. That way, as you continue to build a relationship with your delegate, you can be a trusted voice on the issue.
- Build relationships: The best interactions are the ones that are not one-and-done. Former delegate Aird suggests building relationships with delegates during legislative breaks*, so that when pieces of legislation come up during a session that you want to advocate on, there is a history of conversation and a relationship to build off. It is important to follow up on these conversations, thanking legislators for their time and engagement, even if they don’t vote the way you would like, so that you can continue using this relationship to advocate on the issues that are important to you.
Putting It Into Practice
Because of former delegate Aird’s advice, I felt confident that my voice could be heard and listened to, that by reaching out to my representative and having continued conversation, I could help make a difference. Because I am not a Virginia resident, I chose not to sit in on the actual meetings with delegates that took place over zoom that week. However, these tips imparted by former delegate Aird have been helpful as I craft letters to my own state legislators in Massachusetts around issues that I am passionate about.
ELCA advocacy resources “In district meetings with your Representative” and “Virtual Visits” offer additional tips and guidance if you plan to reach out to your representatives on a state or federal level. Interested in state level advocacy? Use this map to see if there is an ELCA-affiliated SPPO in your state and go to their website to see how you can be involved.
*August Recess is one such opportunity with federal lawmakers. Find more information in the ELCA advocacy guide, which is supplemented annually with timely issue suggestions.