General Tips for Being a Children's Advocate
Being an “expert” is not a requirement: It is important to recognize that the best advocate is not a slick lobbyist or public policy professional who “knows it all.” The most effective advocate is one who believes in what he or she is promoting and whose sincerity and commitment to the subject are readily apparent. Your expertise and interest in children’s issues makes you a trustworthy and effective spokesperson.
Be yourself: Sincerity, honesty and a strong belief in the concepts and programs you are advocating for will come across loud and clear. If you are passionate about an issue, you already have the most important skill needed to be an effective advocate.
Know your elected official and their contact information: Between federal, state and local level representatives, keeping track of who represents you can be difficult. To identify your state senator, state representative and state board of education representatives, and to access their contact information, enter your zip code at www.votesmart.org. Visit your school district website to find your local school board members.
Things to Remember:
a) Communicate with your elected officials! You can write letters or emails, call them, or meet with them in person. In order for your representatives to represent you, they need to know what you care about.
b) When you talk with your legislator, remember to address them appropriately, for example Representative _____ or Senator _____.
c) Always introduce yourself when you speak with your elected official. Let them know why you are interested in the issue and where you live, so they know they are your representative.
d) Don’t be afraid to speak from your experience. If you are a parent, let them know where your children go to school, what you are concerned about, and how they can help. Let them know your position and why you feel the way you do. If you are part of a coalition or group, make sure you mention the group you represent.
e) Be respectful! It’s important to remember, especially when it comes to politics, that we are all working to make Colorado the best state for our children.
f) Don’t forget, above all else, that your voice matters. - Don’t be afraid to speak up and speak out on policy decisions that impact you, your family, or your community.
g) Understand the issue that you are speaking about, but don’t worry about being an expert. It’s important to go into a conversation understanding where Colorado stands today and how the policy could positively/negatively impact kids, but don’t worry about knowing every little detail.
h) Develop a personal relationship with legislative champions. You can find out who chairs the committee that is dealing with the issue, or talk to the sponsors of the bill. This information is available on the General Assembly website.
i) Get involved as early as you can. It’s always easier to change a bill or stop something from moving on if you get involved earlier rather than later.
j) Stick with the most critical issues from start to finish and know when to get involved in the details and when to rise above the noise.
k) Ask for something specific. For example, “please vote yes on House Bill X,” or “please voice your opposition to X proposal”.
l) Be specific and brief. Many legislators do not have a lot of time to discuss the issues at length. Hearing from you in a strategic and concise manner is helpful.
m) Make sure your materials are only one page. It’s helpful to have bulleted materials that get to the point and are easy to understand.
n) Leave contact information for questions and follow-up.
o) Network with others. Educate community leaders, “talkers,” and community members individually to raise awareness and ask for support for your issue. It’s always easier to make your voice heard when your voice is amplified by others that feel the same way you do!