Advocating Tips & Tricks
Regardless of your political orientation, it’s good to know how your government is structured, who represents you at the different government levels, and how to get involved in the political process that underpins the success of our country.
The Advocates for Public Policy Committee (APP) has a few tips and tricks from their experience advocating on behalf of families, women, and children throughout New York City and State. In this article, we’ll address how to contact your elected officials and exercise your political power.
Government Structure: Federal, State and City
Federal: The United States’ Legislative Government is organized among Federal, State, and Municipal (or City) levels. At the Federal Level, Congress is divided between the Senate and the House of Representatives. While both bodies work on legislation, there are a few key distinctions between the Senate and the House. The Senate has the power to confirm or reject Presidential appointees while the House has the “Power of the Purse” (meaning they can raise revenues and fund projects). In addition, Senators are elected to 6 year terms but House members are on the ballot every 2 years.
New York State is represented by Senator Chuck Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. In addition, there are 27 representatives in the United States House of Representatives. You’ll typically want to reach out to your senators on things like presidential appointees, and large scale, multi- year initiatives. With more than four times the number of members in the House, Representatives will generally be much more responsive to other constituent demands.
State: At the State level, the Legislative branch tends to follow the bicameral structure, with a Senate and House (here in New York, the houses are referred to as the Senate & the Assembly). Generally speaking, these bicameral state governments follow similar modes of operating — reach out to your House/Assemblyperson for most of the items on your agenda.
City: At the Municipal level, City Councils govern local affairs. City Council Representatives typically work together on matters impacting the local community. In New York City, there are also Community Boards which help link neighborhoods to the Mayor’s office. It’s important to remember that much of what happens at the Federal level may not be as immediately impactful as the laws and ordinances passed at the City & State levels, so it’s just as important to follow local news and engage with your elected officials at those levels.
Here are some of the tactics we’ve found that work best in order of impact:
In-person Meetings. When your representative gets to meet you, and understand your position, that creates a much more tangible impression than anything else. There are a few ways to set up meetings:
- Call your representative’s local office and schedule a meeting. Their office phone numbers are listed on their websites.
- Attend Town Hall Meetings. Most staff members will tell you this is one of the most underutilized tools for connecting with your representatives. Find out when your Rep will be in attendance at a Town Hall Meeting on his or her website/mailing list/social media outlet and then take a few friends with you to go ask questions and voice your opinion.
- Organize with other like-minded individuals and take a trip to see your representative.
Personal Letters. Remember that your representatives and their staff are people too. While policy positions are important, the most impactful arguments are those that explain why and how an issue matters to you and your community. While stock postcards and letters have their place, they aren’t necessarily going to resonate as strongly as a personal narrative. Additionally, while emails are useful, there’s something to be said for the tangible impact of seeing large numbers of envelopes and letters piling up on a given issue. Most importantly, note that our government officials are trying to respond to their constituent demand. The best way to let your representative know that you are a member of their district is to include your full address, especially your zip code, on all mail that you send.
Phone Calls. Most often you will be speaking with the staff of your representative. Keep your calls simple, straightforward, and respectful. If you’re comfortable doing so, be prepared to state your name, your address, including zip code, and your call to action. Also, save your representatives’ phone numbers in your phone so that it’s easy to call them to discuss issues that matter to you!
There’s Always More To Do
Other tools for getting involved in the political discourse:
- Submit an op-ed column to your local newspaper
- Join a Community Board
- Donate to and/or volunteer for causes and candidates you support
- Run for office
Lastly, remember that it is our duty as Americans to engage with our elected officials to make sure our democracy is robust and representative. Thank you for doing your part!