They make the decisions, but they work for you. I used to be so intimidated by elected officials. But, that is exactly what they are – elected. By us!
However, they don’t know what is important to you unless you tell them. Think about it for a second. Do you put the interests of your friends before those of a total stranger? Most of the time, I do. Why? Not because I care less about the stranger, but because my friends’ needs are more frequently in front of me.
Personal relationships are the fertile soil from which all advancement, all success, all achievement in real life grows. – Ben Stein
The key to successful advocacy is building relationships. I stand firmly behind this, and you will here me say it a lot. In fact, move over Margaret Meade, this Ben Stein quote has become a new favorite!!
So, let’s take a look at how to start building a relationship with your elected law maker. I must say, I kind of get a little nerdy about this and keep notes on my legislators. It started out as a sticky note – another obsession of mine, and has since evolved into a spreadsheet because I have a few more to keep track of for work! 🙂 So get out your pen and sticky notes-
1) Know their name. Sounds simple, but when I first started I only knew who a few of my legislators were. True confession, I rarely even voted! But, that’s another post…
Let’s start with your federal lawmakers. You can find out who your 2 Senators are by visiting Senate.gov. You can figure out who your Representative is at House.gov. These are great websites because it tells you a little about your legislators, where their offices are and how to email, call or write them.
At the state level, it is a little bit more complicated, since it varies by state. By visiting the State Legislature page at Thomas.gov, you can find your state’s website. Then you will need to search for your local representative(s).
2) Know what is important to them.
My family is very important to me. I make a lot of life’s decisions with their best interest in mind. The same goes for politicians – look at their political priorities, social issues and any other background information that might paint a picture of how they make decisions. This will help when thinking about what to say to them. I have worked with a Senator with very extreme political views, I make sure that I talk about what is important to me in a way that won’t offend him. When I research a legislator, I start with the legislator’s website. I have also used a good ‘ole Google search and discovered many revealing news articles. Lastly, check out the Caucus page on the Adult Congenital Heart Wesbite (ACHA) to see if you Representative has joined the Congressional Congenital Heart Caucus.
3) Determine how CHD fits into their world.
As an advocate, CHD has likely impacted you very deeply. It is very helpful to find ways to make this same connection with your lawmakers. Since nearly 1 in 100 are born with a CHD, it is likely that somewhere, your legislator has been impacted. A few things I look for include: whether he or she has a family member with CHD or other chronic disease. If not, I consider whether they work in the health field or simply, if they are a parent. I was very lucky to discover that one of my Senators has a daughter with CHD. It worked to open a door that would have otherwise been closed. News articles and campaign websites can be helpful in uncovering these deeper connections. Campaign information often shares more personal anecdotes. But, don’t get discouraged, sometimes it takes time, and a personal visit, to learn how to best make the CHD connection.
Don’t forget, they may have power, but they are people, too! By learning how to relate to your legislators you can develop a lasting and beneficial relationship!
Your Turn: How well do you know your legislators? Let us know if you uncover anything interesting!
This blog is the first in an introduction to advocacy series. Click here, for the summary post.