Parents of children with a mental illness diagnosis or even a learning disability designation also need to be advocates of another type – school advocates. It is important that parents be aware of the resources that are available and how to advocate to get what is best for their children.
A great website to learn more about this is www.wrightslaw.com
Another valuable resource for school advocacy is a book written by a wife and husband team:
From Emotions to Advocacy
Pam & Pete Wright
Harbor House Law Press, 2001. ISBN 1892320088
These advocacy tips can apply to local, state or federal advocacy activities.
Is letter writing effective?
Yes, letters are very important tools for getting a legislator’s attention. A handwritten letter is most likely to be read by the legislator and many legislators have a policy of handwriting responses to handwritten letters they receive. An e-mail message will most likely be read by a staff member and is the least effective means of communicating with a legislator.
How can I get a legislator’s attention in a letter?
The first paragraph of the letter should state that you are a constituent of the legislator who voted for the legislator and followed his/her career (if that is true). This will get the legislator’s attention.
What is the most effective way to communicate?
Invite the legislator to your home to meet with a group of constituents. It is very difficult for a legislator to turn down a meeting with constituents. Be persistent in trying to schedule a meeting.
Do grassroots efforts pay off?
Absolutely. Sometimes, the only way to get a legislators attention is to bombard them with letters and phone calls.
1. Write a Letter
Letters are an important, even critical way to influence legislation. Legislative staff members have estimated that for every letter they receive on an issue, there are 200 others constituents that feel the same way, but don’t write. You can mail, fax or email your letter. Handwritten notes are best as they are not as common these days.
Letters to your own senator or representative are very important. You have three federal legislators: two senators and one representative. If you don’t know who they are, try:
- Calling your county clerk to find out who your state legislators, or
- Visit Project Vote Smart and type in your zip code to find your legislators and their contact information.
When writing a letter of this type try using your personal stationary or letterhead. Often times grassroots campaigns provide sample letters which are great, we have even included one here for you to use as a guide. It is always best to use a guide and then incorporate your own thoughts and words. Adding a personal story about how the legislation affects you or your family adds a personal touch and can be very effective.
Some extra tips:
- Introduce yourself as a constituent (if you are one)
- If you are part of a group, say so, including the number of people that your group represents
- Keep it to one page if possible – concise letters have the greatest impact
- Make your position clear and say exactly what you want your legislator to do
- Explain how the legislation will affect you
- Don’t worry if you are not an expert! Your personal experience is the best evidence
- Do not ever threaten, browbeat or get nasty
- Refer to bills or policies by name or number
- Ask for the legislator’s view on the issue
- When a legislator does what you asked (such as vote for a bill) – send a thank you note!
A great letter includes the following elements:
- Who you are
- What you want done
- A little bit about the issue or bill
- Who supports it, if you know
- What you want done, again, in slightly different words
- Your name, address and telephone number
View a Sample Letter.
2. Make a Phone Call
When Congress is in session you can call your legislators or their staff at their offices on Capitol Hill in Washington. Lists of members’ names, office addresses and telephone numbers are available for the House at (202)224-3121, the Senate at (202)225-3121 or on the internet at www.house.gov or www.senate.gov.
Some extra tips:
- Identify yourself by name and address
- Identify the bill or issue you wish to talk about by name and number (if possible)
- Briefly state your position and how you want your legislator to vote
- Ask for your legislator’s stance on the bill/issue and for a commitment to vote for your position
- Don’t argue if the legislator has an opposing view or has not yet decided on their position
- Don’t guess at answers to questions. If you don’t know, say so, and then get back to them with the correct information
- Never be abusive or use threats
- Follow up your call with a note restating your position and thanking them for their time
Source: “Tool Kit for Easy Advocacy”, Ohio Children’s Hospital Association, Original Material from Nancy Amidei, University of Washington; Adapted by The National Association of Children’s Hospital’s and Related Institutions, and with permission from The Children’s Hospital, Office of Government Affairs and Public Relations, Denver, Colorado.
A search engine that focuses on federal government services and resources with direct links and directories.
- U.S. House of Representatives
Direct links to every federal member of Congress and their web sites, congressional committees and the daily and weekly schedule of the U.S. House of Representatives.
- U.S. Senate
Direct links to the Senator’s web sites, the senatorial schedule and Senate committee listings.
- Write Rep
Helps one understand how to write emails and letters to the Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.
Searchable database of legislative information that permits users to search federal legislation by bill number, title or topic area. Contains the text of committee reports and the daily Congressional Record, the transcripts of both the Senate and House proceedings.
- Project Vote Smart
Find out who your elected officials are at the state and federal levels. During election years, you can find out where candidates stand on specific issues.