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Community Justice Project: Effective Advocacy

The Community Justice Project offers an opportunity for students to integrate the University’s mission into their Clinic experience as they work for justice and reconciliation. This guide presents resources and information for guided research into topics

Advocacy Toolkit

Research the Issues

Before contacting your elected official, take the time to educate yourself about the issues underlying the proposed legislation. This involves not only reading--and re-reading--the legislation carefully, but also reviewing the existing laws (if any) affected by the legislation and identifying key supporters and opponents of the legislation and their respective positions. Potential sources of such information may include news article databases, indexing and abstracting databases in law and the political and social sciences, and, of course, the Internet. 

Become informed about the issue and its history. Before approaching your elected officials you must have a clear, specific objective as to what you want him or her to do about an issue. This requires being informed with the subject and how it affects the district, county, or region that the elected official represents or how it may impact a particular subject area that the legislator cares about. Thus, be knowledgeable about how the State Budget or state or federal legislation concerning UCR or public higher education will impact the legislator, the legislator's constituents, or the district or region at large.

Know the problem. The problem you need solved must be specific and only involve one issue. Many advocates get too wrapped up in details or jump around between issues, and as a result do not clearly articulate their ultimate goal.

Know the solution. In other words, it is extremely important to be able to request a specific action from the representative, as well as know the legislative process well enough to be able to articulate how you think the problem can be solved through the legislative system. If you must, make your best guess, because it is much easier for the representative to at least have your ideas as a starting point.

Show evidence of support. Advocates immediately garner more attention from representatives if they demonstrate that they have an organized group of supporters for their issue. Therefore, one of the most effective ways of communicating the impact of your issue is to approach the legislator with one key person who is representing a group. The focal person should bring to the meeting information regarding the organization and be prepared to answer questions such as who funds the group, how many members there are, when and where the group meets, and who some of the members are. Invite the representative to meet with the group and address the issue.

Contact Your Representative

Often the most effective method of contacting your representative is to meet with him or her in person. Make every effort to arrange meetings early in the legislative session; the later in the session, the greater the chance of having your meeting canceled due to increased demands on the legislator's time. Following the conclusion of any meeting, be certain to send the legislator a letter of appreciation.

If an in-person meeting with your representative is not possible, another effective method of making your views known is to send the representative a letter or position paper. Given the volume of correspondence received by legislators on a daily basis, you should endeavor to keep your letter brief and focused. Personalized letters are more effective than boilerplate letters, so do take the time to write the letter in your own words. Keep the tone of your letter professional and non-adversarial. Most importantly, be mindful of scheduled hearings on your legislation and transmit your letter in sufficient time to permit it to be considered by the legislator in advance of the hearing. 

If the time remaining before a bill is acted upon does not permit an in-person meeting or transmittal of a reasoned letter or position paper, you may also express your views on legislation by contacting your representative or committee members by telephone. 

Develop and Maintain Personal Relationships

Work to develop relationships with your local legislatures.  Understand legislators personal issue areas and communication style and do not only communicate when you need something.  Invite legislators to community events or host and event for them.  Ask how you can help the legislator.  Be sure to say thank you!

Encourage Others to Get Involved

Encourage others to get involved in your issue. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, post a message to a blog, or organize a grassroots campaign in your area.

Attend and Testify at Bill Hearings

Try to attend the committee hearing on your bill or request permission to testify from the author of the bill. To prepare for testimony, take the time to read all analyses prepared by the hearing committee so you will be ready to answer any questions the legislators may have.

Law Library Guide to Legislative Advocacy

For more information on the Legislative process both nationally and in Minnesota, check out our Legislative Advocacy guide.