There’s a saying often used when referencing the act of sales which can also be applied to advocacy: It all comes down to relationships.
As an advocate, building relationships with elected officials is the number one way you can ensure that lawmakers across your state are educated on the issues most important to you. You’re the Cure advocates are given opportunities to strengthen their skills at building relationships with decision makers through the various advocacy activities offered while promoting AHA’s policy goals.
One key to building relationships with legislators is to understand their preferred method of receiving information. What are the best ways to reach out to them, communicate with them, and follow up with them? Sometimes, the timing of communication can be one of the more important variables. VA Delegate Christopher Peace [R – New Kent] suggests that getting in touch with him at his local office is best: "Usually, setting a meeting in my Mechanicsville District Office prior to session sets a more relaxed environment in which a citizen advocate may express to me their thoughts on issues of importance to them and about legislative matters that may arise during the impending session."
Not sure what your legislator prefers? Make a call to their legislative assistant—not only will they be able to direct you, but developing a relationship with this "gatekeeper" can also help you form a better relationship with your lawmaker!
Additionally, sometimes your elected officials will be the ones to reach out to you directly. NC Representative Becky Carney [D-Mecklenburg] said that in her opinion, the best way to communicate with her constituents is for them to "set up a meeting to talk about the issues that people have, or their concerns. I prefer talking with people – communicating with me through email is a great way, [including] phone numbers so that I can call them back. Personal dialogue is sometimes better than written dialogue."
Your legislators know that advocates are vital for them to keep a finger on the pulse of their communities back home.
Councilmember-At-Large David Grosso [I-District of Columbia] shared his perspective: "Advocates are a major driving force in the legislative process. They are boots on the ground and know intricately those issues that impact different populations and communities. I want to know what their specific concerns are. As a member of the legislative body, sometimes we have a 30,000 ft. view of issues, but the advocates help us to focus on the nuance and intricacies of various matters. Having that perspective is invaluable because it enables us to tailor laws and regulations to the specific needs of the communities that we serve. Through our relationship with advocates, we are able to identify the areas where we can have the greatest impact, ensuring that we are serving a wide demographic in the most effective and efficient ways possible."
Through the voice of their constituents, elected officials are in a much better position to stay updated with a focused view of what's happening in their communities.
From DC, Maryland, Virginia, and into the Carolinas, our legislative bodies may look different; however, at the end of the day we are all people, one and the same. Our elected officials have important jobs where they represent us by making decisions that ultimately affect our daily life – but their main focus is their constituents.
If you’re up to it today, we would like to challenge you to use this information and take action. Send an email, make a phone call, or schedule a time to meet with your legislator today! Your elected officials are ready and willing to get to know you and what is important to you and your community!
A special thanks to Councilmember-At-Large Grosso [I-District of Columbia], VA Delegate Christopher Peace [R – New Kent], and NC Representative Becky Carney [D-Mecklenburg] for their contributions to this piece.