I recently watched a National Audubon Society live webinar on How to Speak with Elected Officials. It has become important that all young people (even non-birders) know more about how to make our voices effectively heard by our elected officials. You can listen to the webinar in its entirety HERE. And while most points involve the idea of showing strength in numbers by physically gathering together, which is at the moment impossible, I do think we all should be made more aware of how to express our disapproval and to effectively work to advocate for change.
The Webinar included guest speaker Andrew Meyer from San Diego Audubon. Andrew talked about his proposal to change Mission Bay Park into a space for wildlife, and how despite his proposal losing a vote in city council, he was able to turn his loss into a win by gaining publicity and forming a coalition through reaching out to other groups. A single group can hold some power over lawmakers, but a combined effort from multiple groups -a coalition- can hold even more power. It’s just not what you say, but how many people say it.
What was said by the moderators can be broken down into 7 steps, and while some of these steps may not be possible to do right now, they are still important to know.
Step 1: First you should identify who your local decision makers are. You can find out who your New York State Assembly member is HERE, your New York State Senator HERE, and your congress member HERE. Obviously there are many other local legislative bodies, including city councils, town councils, local assemblies, and many others, and I hope that you will look into them.
Step 2: Once you have decided who your decision maker is, do your homework. Look at their track record of voting. Also, research their past jobs and their interests. Your representative might not connect with you over your concern for birds or understand the significance. So knowing more about their past can help you with your argument. For example, if they happen to have been a nurse you can go for a health angle.
Step 3: Recruit a team of people to meet with the lawmaker. Make sure that the lawmaker can relate to some of the people you bring with you. Maybe they can tell a story that they can relate to. Also make a plan that someone in your group will take notes.
Step 4: Set up a meeting. Call and send an email to your lawmaker’s staff. If they are a local representative, call 2-4 weeks before you want the meeting, if they are a congressperson, call 1-2 months in advance. The less local your lawmaker becomes, the more difficult it will be to get a meeting. Do not give up if you cannot get a meeting on the first try, lawmakers have busy schedules. Be persistent. Even after you get a meeting, make sure to follow up, and always be nice to the lawmaker’s staff.
Step 5: Prepare a script. Identify your goal for the meeting. This could be to gain the lawmaker’s support, or to get them to create a bill.
Step 6: The Meeting. Remember that elected officials get their job because they like talking to people! So don’t be nervous. The key is to make sure the conversation doesn’t go off track.
Step 7: Debrief and follow up. Just because your meeting is over doesn’t mean you have to stop working. Send thank-yous to the lawmaker and remind them of what was discussed. You should post the photo you took on social media. Review the notes that were taken by the notetaker during the meeting. Most importantly, you should reconfer with your group and discuss whether your goal was met.
Even though we are all stuck in our homes right now, we can help impact legislation from our couch. Check out the New York Audubon site and find out how we can email our support for bird legislation. To support Protecting Seabirds HERE and support for the Migratory Bird Treaty Act HERE. This is an election year. Officials need to hear our voices. When we work together, we can’t be ignored.