“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead
There is no greater feeling than that you have made a difference in the world. But, when people think of advocacy, they usually think of contacting their senators or representatives in Washington. But, if you really want to feel like you make a difference, start at the state level.
Local lawmakers tend to be more accessible, and it is easier to build relationships with your state representatives than your MOCs in D.C. The state legislature can be a microcosm of what is happening in Washington. Issues being tackled at the federal level are likely to also be issues that are being dealt with at the state level. Take the Safe Communities Act (S1305 and H3269), for example. While the federal government is trying to increase ICE activity, Massachusetts is trying to curb the use of local law enforcement as ICE agents. And Massachusetts is not the only state to be taking up this issue – issues that get attention in one state quickly spread and get attention in other states. Then, these issues tend to get the attention of federal lawmakers. Many times, federal laws have begun as a multitude of state laws. State legislatures are really where the action is. Consider this, the 113th Congress passed 352 bills and resolutions. For the same time period state legislatures passed more than 45,000 bills and resolutions.
Whether you are advocating at the state or federal level, however, you need to be informed. This can be a daunting task. Here are some points by Senator O’Connor-Ives:
- Be informed as an advocate. Read the bill and do your research. Who took up the bill and why? Who is opposed to the bill and why? Sometimes, a senator or representative may have concerns about the wording of a bill and hold back his/her support until an amendment has been made. Before coming to a conclusion about what that means, call the office and ask. You may actually agree that an amendment is necessary.
- Often, the same issue that one state is considering has already been considered in another state. If that other state has enacted that bill into law, look at the wording of that law. What is likely to pass in one state, is likely to pass in another. Sometimes, a bill is drafted in sweeping terms and is unlikely to pass for that reason. A legislator may hold back his/her support until the wording is changed, allowing that bill to be passed “in reality.” If a legislator is holding back support, ask why.
- Find out how your legislators voted on similar bills. You are unlikely to garner his/her support for an issue that he/she has not supported in the past. But it will be an easier conversation if you understand his/her opposition to the issue and reframe your argument in those terms. To find out how a legislator voted you can call his/her office and ask the clerk or legislative director, or check his/her website.
- Register your opinion with your state senator and representative. And don’t forget to also register your opinion with the governor’s office. It is his signature, in the end, that enacts the bill into law.For an understanding of how a bill becomes law in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts see:http://www.mass.gov/mtrs/docs/publications/legislativeprocessinmass.pdf