By |March 12th, 2013|Activism|

Trying to have a direct conversation with your Congressman can be a daunting challenge that involves weaving your way through a byzantine network of systems and processes that have been built over years for the explicit purpose of preventing direct citizen contact.

Reaching a state legislator, however, is another matter.

As more and more state legislatures take up powerful legislation that impacts our daily lives, citizen involvement is more important than ever. But what are the most effective ways to make our voices heard?

Here’s Three Do’s and Three Don’ts to becoming a more effective citizen activist at the state capitol.

1. Email state legislators

Did you know that it is impossible to send an email to your Member of Congress? The experts in Washington have it setup so we actually have to go fill out a web form if we want to communicate with our Congressperson.

But most state legislators still attach their public email address to their mobile device, which means if you send them an email, odds are that you are, in fact, actually sending that email to the individual who is your elected official. So leverage this opportunity to reach your state representative and state senator, but remember the rules of communicating effectively:

  • Be courteous
  • Be respectful of their time (no lengthy diatribes)
  • Ask for feedback

Using an app like Open States is a great way to quickly find your legislators — and their email address.

2. Use Social Media

Show me a state legislator who claims not to understand technology, and I will show you someone who, in fact, checks Twitter 15 times a minute. A lot of legislators love the real-time sparring on social media, so be a voice in that debate. If you haven’t already, sign up for a Twitter account here, then follow your state legislators. Often you can Google their name and just add “twitter” to the end of your search, and their account will pop right up.

Once again, if we’re going to be effective, we can’t just use Twitter as a way to yell at people all day (See our #2 Don’t below). Engage in conversation, be respectful of their time, and save your ask (“Please vote no on HB 12345”) for times when you really mean it. A conversation on Twitter is no different than a conversation in person, so we have to remember our manners, even as we fight tooth and nail for our cause.

3. Involve your neighbors

This can be the scary part for people who want to keep their political interests and personal lives separate, but to be blunt, our nation doesn’t have the time. We have to educate our neighbors on the impact of legislation being seriously considered.

Don’t yell “FIRE!” over every bill that is introduced, or your neighbors will not only look at you funny, they will tune you out. But when a bill starts moving through the legislature that could have serious ramifications, we have a responsibility to let our neighbors know about it. The Progressives are so, so good at this, as in the image below.

To effectively (key word – “effectively”) communicate with your neighbors about legislation, be very conversational in your online communications, just as if you were talking at the mailbox. Let them know you contacted your legislators about Issue X, and would encourage them to do the same. Communicate the benefits of your position, not just the “sky is falling” downside. What positive outcomes would result from your position on the issue? Build trust before you ask them to engage.

Ultimately, these are our neighbors and we need them involved. We want to persuade them, not turn them away. Let them know what you are doing, and why, and help them take the first steps to take action.

Three Don’ts

There are good ways to get involved as a citizen activist, and there are bad ways. Here are three things that will not win friends and influence people at the state capitol:

1. Don’t write a letter

All of the benefits of writing an email — timeliness, access, interaction — do not exist for the traditional written letter. This goes for submitting letters to the editor as well. Electronic submissions are fast and easy for an editor to copy and paste into their software. Snail mail is neither.

2. Don’t be a troll

There’s a name for people who are loud, insistent, obnoxious, threatening, bullying, or bitter-angry-hater online. They are called “Trolls” and you don’t want to be one. Not only are trolls ineffective, they can find their social media accounts disabled, or even find themselves under arrest.

If you are an advocate for Liberty principles, be vocal, but don’t be a troll.

3. Don’t stay home

The Progressives are taking over America at a fast clip. Freedom is under assault not only in Washington, but in every state capitol, city council hall, and school board across the country. It’s not enough to care about the debt, or school choice, or property rights. Unless we get off the proverbial couch and make our voices heard, we are handing over our country to the same failed policies that have led to failure time and time again.

What other tips do you have for becoming a more effective activist at the state capitol or city council?