Advocacy: The Local Scene
Advocacy begins at home. In fact, doing advocacy begins first with yourself. When you make yourself aware of how the world is you are in a stronger position to persuade others of the need to act. Advocacy is about awareness. Raising awareness about issues at the local level is the meat-and-potatoes of advocacy work. When we can make a difference locally, we are more likely to make a difference internationally.
Edmund Rice International wishes to support strongly local advocacy action in relevant areas: education, children, and ecology. Much of the action required begins at the local level with local groups. If a local group does not exist, then the opportunity exists to create one.
What follows below is adapted from the Church Advocacy Days website. Advocacy Days is an annual advocacy event in Washington DC when over three thousand church and faith-based activists spend a long week-end exploring the issues and campaigning with their local representatives. These folk know how to do advocacy so their advice is worth hearing.
Making a Difference Back Home
Everything really happens locally, with our local communities and local involvements. Our voice must first be heard at this level, at home, in our local situations.
Educate Yourself and Your Community
Your first job is to educate yourself on the issues. If you are interested in how the environment is impacting negatively on poor people, being reading about this, talking to people, watching TV shows, reading your newspaper, go to lectures, meeting other people who are concerned about this issue.
The next stage, when you feel confident and passionate enough about the issue to do something, is to begin educating other people about the issues. Join a neetwork or build one locally. Write letters to your local paper. Find out who the people with influence are that might take up your issue.
Build an Advocacy Network
Bring the Message home to your Local Community or Church
As a person of faith you will want to share your passion with your local faith community. So, talk to your local church group, if you can. Or set up a group linked to your church, parish or religous faith grouop.
- Host your own local Advocacy Day when you bring people together from your local community.
- Host a community forum addressing the wide variety of international and domestic issues that you and they believe are relevant for your situation.
- Be sure to invite other groups in your community from time to time.
- Think about developing a newsletter that you can circulate to your membership.
Bring Together a Coalition in your Community
Building an advocacy network in your local community will demonstrate to others a commitment to a vision of a more just world for all, locally, nationally and internationally.
- Engage local justice organizations from your area with whom you already have an established relationship and begin to build relationships with new groups.
Organize your Advocacy Network to contact your elected officials through office visits, phone calls, letters and e-mails. In thinking about which form of communication to engage, the rule of thumb is that the more effort you have to exert, the longer you sustain your efforts and the broader your coalition, the more attention your communication garners and the more effective you will be.
Schedule a Visit with your local Elected Officials
The most effective way to lobby legislators is to schedule a face-to-face visit with them or their staff members when they are in their home district offices. These visits go a long way to establish the relationships needed to ensure your voice is heard and action is taken. Be sure to remember the following when planning your visit:
- When making an appointment specify the issue you would like to discuss.
- During the visit, deliver a clear and concise message. Include stories that personalize the problem and offer solutions that will be attractive to a whole range of viewpoints. Be patient and passionate; don’t react angrily even if you don’t get the response you want to hear. Remain polite.
- Following your visit, continue to build a relationship by sending a thank-you letter to the legislator and/or staffer for the time spent listening to your concerns. Also, remember to provide additional information and to call periodically requesting updates.
Write to your Elected Officials
Although it takes longer to reach your elected officials, a written letter will demonstrate devotion to an issue. Organize your Advocacy Network in a letter writing campaign. Although it is a good idea to develop a sample letter for the group, each letter should be personalized. Form letters do not receive the same amount of attention as individualized letters.
Work with your Local Media
Mobilize your advocacy network to contact local newspapers about editorials, Opinion-Editorials (Op-Eds) and letters to the editor. Media work can be very powerful in creating the political will for change and bring our vision of true security to a mass audience. Ways to influence public opinion via the media can include calling an editorial writer from your local newspaper to inspire an editorial, writing an Opinion-Editorial yourself, or writing a letter to the editor.
Editorials, Op-Eds and Letters to the Editor are powerful advocacy tools. Why?
The Opinion Page is one of the most widely read sections of newspapers and magazines. Therefore, having an editorial, Op-Ed or letter to the editor published will be seen by a large audience.
Tips on Writing Op-Eds and Letters to the Editor
- Check out preferred length, style and format by reading letters currently in the publication. Look for submission requirements, including word limits, in the paper or on its website. Note: For Op-Eds, many times you will need to submit a picture.
- Be succinct.
- Timeliness is key. Many major newspapers can publish letters responding to articles, editorials or other letters as soon as the day after they appear. The easiest way to respond quickly is via email (directly through their websites) or fax.
- A letter or Op-Ed is more likely to be published when written in response to something that has appeared in the publication. When you respond, include a reference to the article, letter or editorial. Also, try to show the impact of the issue on your community.
- Make sure your lead sentence is compelling. You want to draw the reader’s attention.
- Limit your letter to one topic.
- Make your letter lively but reasonable. Verify facts, and make sure quotes are accurate. Depending on the issue, consider using humor or a personal story. Refrain from personal attacks.
Also consider expanding your media activism to include contact with radio and TV shows, and writing articles for publication.