By Amalia Corby (Senior Legislative & Federal Affairs Officer, APA Public Interest Government Relations Office)
Interest in our political process has dramatically increased across the U.S. since the last election. People want accountability from their elected representatives and are ready to engage on complex issues such as health care coverage, immigration, and tax reform. The demand for grassroots advocacy training has grown along with this increased engagement. Allow me to share a little secret that may eventually put lobbyists such as myself out of a job—being an advocate is easy. You likely already have all the tools you need!
Here are some tips to help you get started.
Tip 1: Show up!
Take advantage of opportunities to meet your Senator or Representative, visit their in-district offices, or to attend town halls. If you can’t meet face-to-face with your Member of Congress (MOC), spend time with one of their staff members. Congressional staff are young, sharp, and motivated to serve their constituents. They are the eyes and ears of the office and if they care about your issue, chances are they will talk to their boss about it.
Tip 2: Share a story.
If you’re able to secure a meeting, remember that Members of Congress love a good story. A personal connection to an issue, either in your personal or professional life, can make a huge difference. As a psychologist, you may have both a personal and professional connection to the issue—this is an amazing advantage—in sharing your story, you may also have the opportunity to talk about the underlying research or clinical implications tied to your concerns.
Before you talk to congressional staff, think not only about what you want to communicate, but why. What is your underlying motivation? Share it.
Tip 3: Know your issue.
Do you know the underlying legislation or funding mechanism tied to your concerns? News and the internet will give you some information, but this is also where your professional association, advocacy organizations, or fellow activists can help.
While at times there is a fair amount of crystal ball-gazing in Washington, the legislative calendar is somewhat predictable–for example, appropriations (funding) activity always ramps up in spring. Government relations offices will know what’s happening, bound to happen, might happen, or definitely will not happen.
Tip 4: Talk about it (respectfully).
Respectful political discourse has become increasingly difficult, and while social media can be a great way to communicate, it can create problems as well. Before you post, take time to think about your audience. What will your message contribute? Will it change anyone’s mind, or lead to further entrenchment? Is this conversation best had in-person?
Likewise, when you call your congressional office, be nice to the tired soul on the end of the line who has to field constituent calls all day. They will listen to your concerns, and take note for the MOC.
Tip 5: Act locally.
There are many opportunities to be a catalyst for change closer to home. Even in Washington, D.C., arguably the most political city in the U.S., city council seats go unchallenged for years.
State level legislation is another opportunity. Grassroots movements often begin in the states and eventually get attention on the national level. Hot button issues that are stagnant at the national level can move quickly in the states. In recent years, state legislation on firearms, abortion, and campus sexual assault reporting has changed the national discourse on these issues.
For more information on advocating for psychology, please check out APA’s Guide to Advocacy. While you’re there, please join APA’s Federal Action Network (FAN), an e-mail grassroots network to help interested psychologists advocate for their discipline. APA Government Relations Offices disseminate information and action alerts to FAN members focusing on recent or upcoming federal legislative or regulatory action of concern to psychology.
Our Science Directorate colleagues recently produced this advocacy training video.
For a list of useful advocacy tools, check out the APA March for Science page.