Legislation Frustration: Tips to Create Change
By Andrea Miller, Executive Director
March 29, 2017
Last week, the American Health Care Act as a repeal and replacement for the ACA failed to attain the necessary votes. While this was a huge victory, unfortunately the collapse of the AHCA does not mark the end of the health care debate.
President Trump admitted that Obamacare is here to stay, but promises changes within the policy framework - in other words, his administration will likely attempt to sabotage Obamacare from the inside out. And the dangers to Obamacare represent only one of the threats we face under the Trump administration - just yesterday, the administration proposed incredibly harmful budget cuts that would slash funding to education and health initiatives, among other things. So where do we go from here? How do we create change in the face of these ongoing threats?
Colorado Youth Matter is visiting Washington D.C. this week to advocate for comprehensive sex ed, and we’ve been preparing our messages for visits with our senators and representatives. Not all those we visit will feel the way we do about youth sexual health, and we know we will not change those opinions immediately. However, there are some communication and messaging strategies we’ll be utilizing in our attempt to change minds and reinforce support, and we wanted to pass those strategies onto you for your own communication efforts with legislators in the face of intimidating odds.
Bring the right people to the table
Conversations surrounding big change need to start by including everyone involved in making, implementing, and using the policy you’re hoping to create or influence, as well as making sure to include the people who will be impacted by that policy. Here’s an example of what can happen when you forget to include others in policy planning and reform: a photo of the President, Vice President, and a group of nearly all white men sitting around the table at the Capitol discussing maternity leave and care went viral last week. The conversation was dedicated to the decision of whether to transfer all or some of the benefits found in the ACA to the proposed AHCA bill. Not one woman was involved in this substantial conversation. Not one.
As you work to create change within the legislative system, think about the people who should be at the table. Consider your multiple audiences, and who will be impacted by the policies you’re hoping to enact. Who are your decision-makers? Who has influence and sway over those decision-makers? If you’re hoping a policy change will impact a certain group, do you have someone from that group informing your discussion? Plan your communications strategy around these multiple audiences: their wants, their needs, and their interests.
Use the Right Type of Communication
When crafting your messages and communication strategies, it’s important to consider if you’re communicating through the right channels and within the acceptable formats. For example, many of us have been attending marches and rallies. This collective communication is making a difference with our policy makers, but I challenge you to take it to the next level: meeting with legislators or staff members face-to-face. While marches and rallies absolutely serve an effective purpose of getting legislators’ attention, face-to-face meetings allow you to delve further into the nuance of the issue you’re advocating for and more fully persuade legislators to support your cause.
It can be intimidating to schedule a meeting with a legislator, but remember that legislators want to meet with you. Politicians become public servants to meet people and be seen, so don’t feel like you’re stepping on their toes by wanting a face-to-face meeting with them. You might only be able to schedule a meeting with a staff member and not the legislator themselves, but don’t let this discourage you: some staff members stay with a legislator for years, so it can be extremely beneficial to build these relationships.
So how do you actually make these appointments? One of the easiest ways is online, through the individual legislator’s web page. You can also call the office directly. Once you have the meeting scheduled, don’t forget to create materials, called leave behinds, to take to the legislator and his or her staff member. Leave behinds don’t have to be fancy or complicated; their main purpose is to help the legislator remember your visit and the things you discussed together. That way when you follow up you can reference these materials. You can follow up in a variety of ways, including a thank you card, email, and/or phone call to the person you met with. Whatever you decide to go with, what’s important is that you make an active effort to stay on their radar.
Understand What’s Happening Behind the Scenes
The next step in taking your advocacy deeper is learning about the system in which you want to see reform happen. President Trump and his team made several mistakes with this last week in their “repeal and replace Obamacare” attempt. They didn’t care about the details, or have a desire to understand how healthcare works at the implementation level. This lack of attention to detail and unwillingness to explore the nooks and crannies of the healthcare system ultimately made their repeal and replace effort collapse.
Government systems and processes are complicated - period. Nuances, traditions, and deep-rooted habits can be difficult to change if you don’t take the time to discover the why’s and how’s. Politicians rely on their staff members to make policy a reality; it may seem like a myth, but the majority of employees in public administration actually examine their work for efficiencies and effectiveness, and work hard to become experts on the issues they’re attempting to change. Jumping into their projects or programs assuming you can do it better or that the system is completely broken can be a big mistake. Understand the nuances and pay attention to their bureaucracy. Take some time to listen, research, and attend public meetings around the subject. Your advocacy efforts will become more engaging, fruitful, and satisfying.
Ultimately, when it comes to your efforts to influence legislators the most helpful thing you can remember is that politicians are single-minded seekers of reelection. Use that knowledge to feed their intrinsic motivation, to hold them accountable, and to help them make smart policy decisions for the greater good. Use your voice and join us in advocating for a healthier future, and continue to remind your legislators that we all deserve a seat at the table.